Sunday, April 29, 2007

Psychology of a Killer (Disclaimer: Nothing to do with Brandon Flowers)

The media, in an attempt perhaps to send a warning to society or address the natural curiosity that corresponds with atrocious acts, often focuses on the psychological aspects of the responsible party. Murders mean murderers, and the most compelling murderers are those who were never the "murdering type".

Kevin Underwood is a 28-year old man who bludgeoned a 10-year girl to death, raped her, and planned to eat her corpse. Wikipedia can give you the full story.

After the initial horrific account of the murder, articles began to focus on his public blog--a frequently updated and completely candid journal documenting his experiences and feelings over a span of almost 4 years. The journal is available to be read in its original entirety online.

The recently published writings of Seung Hui Cho are almost exactly what you would imagine them to be--a shoddy attempt at literature which only horrifies and disgusts. I acknowledge the imperfect comparison, but here are two men who committed horrific acts and had their writings made public.

I imagine that if Cho had a blog, it would be similar to his plays and poetry--purposelessly vulgar. The contrast is what makes Kevin Underwood's blog fascinating. It's not at all as you would expect--an account of murderous thoughts and sick obsessions. The entries include links to humorous articles, accounts of awkward scenarios, testimonials of loneliness, optimism, sexual frustrations, and even remorseful confessions about his disgusting and socially unacceptable thoughts.

Never before could you more closely analyze the psychological workings of a murderer. The reader finds a lonely, depressed, and obsessive yet seemingly harmless person's tragic descent to destruction. It almost forces unwanted feelings of sympathy. Read for yourself.

Mom, who do you love more? No, seriously, it's me right?

Dear 2008 Democratic presidential candidates,

Can I embrace all of you at the same time, give you each ten dollars and my public support via Facebook? I fear I will end up in such a fervent dilemma that I will end up not voting and pray to God that the American people will pick the right person. Perhaps I will put all of your names in a bag and draw one out (three-out-of-five of course in order to be fair). I’m addressing you guys: Hillary, Barack, John, Joe, Chris, Bill, and whoever else jumps on the bandwagon. I love all of you, just like mom says, equally.

Sarah Kang

Who do I think will be the best president? Well, definitely NOT John McCain. And not that either of these kids have a chance but NOT Duncan Hunter or Sam Brownback (although he supposedly might eliminate cancer). Mitt Romney’s distracting good looks, squeaky clean record, and perfect presidential voice confuse me until I realize I am anti-almost everything he stands for (especially after he backtracked on a woman's right to choose). I could go further but suffice it to say that I have some degree of hate or dislike for all of the Republican candidates.

Back to the Dems. Joe Biden has an excellent presidential aura. Hillary reminds me of a hyper-cheesy, ultra-political robot with heavy under-eye circles. Her glib responses and speeches turn me off sometimes, but her credentials and platform are NICE. Barack is that sexy, intelligent populist, but after a while you realize that his campaign has been just as political as Hillary’s. (See: Statement on homosexuality being immoral) He just delivers that "This campaign is about you" thing with more credibility than Hillary and her "Let's make this a conversation".

John Edwards—-five minutes of listening to him and you are willing to buy whatever he’s selling. I turn to him when I get really fed up with Hil and Bar. He’s actually much more populist than Barack (with his membership to every online community in existence, the One Corps, and the multifaceted blog). Chris Dodd is really likeable, although I cringe when he swipes his tongue across his lips throughout his speeches. I mean, all of us (people in general) get chapped lips, and it could be a nervous habit, but I’m watching a close-up of your face so I implore you to spare me. Those eyebrows too... 'Nuff said. Bill Richardson is a wealth of experience without any charisma whatsoever.

It’s difficult. I also forgot to mention that minor but significant predilection for the woman or the minority candidates. I wish that wasn't a factor. Also, I don’t really think Dodd or Biden can sell. Also, it’s so early in the game. It’s hard because it’s like really enjoying baseball, but having no team to root for and furthermore, kind of enjoying every team. And you know that when you finally do "pick a team", you won't really support the best team, but the team that you feel most superficially connected to. Sucks.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Let's Go Politics!

Check out this article in today’s Washington Post.

The Clinton camp is going after Obama because he didn’t respond tough enough to a question at the debate the other day regarding the candidates’ respective responses to a terrorist attack.

Oh baby, we’re back to politics. Nothing quite like some political “science” to get a Saturday started. Seriously, who hasn’t been itching for some campaign muckraking? I, for one, am simply losing my head over here anticipating all the enlightening mud-stories that are bound to surface from the political bog's bottom.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sometimes Life is Worth Dying For


Golazo De Messi

I think that where baseball has history and football has athleticism, soccer has a distinctive aestheticism that elevates it above the other sports. This is an amazing goal, scored at amazing speed. Control. Grace. Power. Look how the players and coach don't celebrate this goal with perfunctory excitement. They don't whoop and holler. They show their respect for Messi's brilliance in the same reverential manner one might applaud a poet or a scientist. True genius. True art.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

32 Dead and Counting


Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t it pathetic?

Though we know little of the shooter or his motivations, we know from profiles of other spree (that is, multiple homicides with unknown motivation) shooters that the perpetrator was probably mentally unsound. We also know that like Charles Whitman in Austin, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in Columbine, and John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo in DC, he had access to guns.

Now let’s put this together. What happens when someone without practical reasoning capability has access to guns? Well, he might only use them for self-preservation, hunting, or simply to hang around the house in some kind of shrine to the second amendment. But he also might use them in an impractical way, like say, shoot up a post-office, a McDonald’s, a cafĂ©, or a school.

Somebody has to explain to me how someone’s right to recreationally or defensively own arms is worth the risk of a Virginia Tech type shooting. Somebody has to show me that it balances out--that the joy and power derived from owning a gun can equal or outweigh the economic, personal, national, and international implications of shooting sprees. . Because it’s completely obvious to me that it doesn’t.

What about self-defense? Please. If only select authorities had guns, there’d be less need for self-defense. And (here’s the kicker) there’d be no defensive killings. No random shots fired at the club. Biggie and Tupac would still be around.

What about hunting? I think hunting is an acceptable (and fun) example of guns’ positive use, so long as it’s practiced within the proper regulations, but there are already countless game laws: there are restrictions of what types of weapons are fair, what days of the year particular animals can be sought after, how many kills per person, and more. How much of a stretch would it be to completely outlaw hunting except on specially designated ares? That way, you could rent guns at the hunting club—or even have a gun of your own but keep it at the club—and have a real nice outing. Even a camping trip.

That way, people won’t take the guns home and use them to kill people! Come on, what the hell else are guns for?

Liberty!? “If you take away the right to own arms you trespass on personal liberty," someone might say. "What’s next? No right to kitchen knives?”

I laugh smugly and say, Yeah, buster, and then I’m taking your wife. Get real. Search the books. You tell me if anyone has commit mass murder with a serrated edge. Even if some psychotic ex-marine disenfranchised maniac tried such a massacre, it would be (a) harder to commit on such large scale because a knife’s range is a lot smaller than a gun’s; (b) easier to defend against because knife-wavers are much more easily disarmed than a sniper; and (c) inherently prohibitive because it takes a whole lot more effort kill 32 people with a knife, up close, than with a gun.

So go ahead, claim civil liberty. Call me a Communist. But if you show me a country with strict gun laws, I’ll show you a country free of the primitive and ridiculous fears that keep this country from ever placing among the great civilizations of history.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Thought that you would all like this.

bsto has informed me that I have the right to write a rebuttal. We'll get to that in a bit--we're headed off to the Bulls v Wizards at the Phone Booth.

back in a bit.

Why Hawaii is NOT Worthy

First of all, pro sports teams are not doled out to cities just because they are sufficiently populated. It’s not like Disneyland, where if a city has more than 200,000 people it’s tall enough to ride.

Secondly, do you really think the NFL would put a franchise in Oahu just because it can make cool hats?? What about UH? What about the fact that Nike hooks them up and it’s not like every weekend the town is buzzing with UH football fever (even though half the island went there)?

And more about UH, how can you describe Oahu as a fertile field for football when UH’s football attendance ranks 65th out of 117 schools?

Now I’m not saying that large college attendance directly correlates to big ticket numbers for the pro game—I understand that students inflate the numbers—it’s not like Ann Arbor should have a pro team. But I am saying that it shows a level of enthusiasm for the sport. For example, when the Chicago Bears were building the new Soldier Field (actually, they didn’t build it, they stole a huge toilet bowl from an alien colony near Jupiter and dropped it into the old stadium) they played the 2002 season in Champaign, at the University of Illinois, and the town went crazy.

I also agree that the problem with a team in Hawaii is not that players have to travel far. The bigger problem is that there’s no historical example, besides UH, on which to base any prediction of a pro team’s potential success on the main island. Who knows how many people would be willing to watch the NFL on a Sunday afternoon instead of going to the beach, taking a bike ride, or the numerous other ways of enjoying the weekend? We just don’t know. To write off a team like Oakland, though, is ridiculous. They are the perfect example of how an NFL franchise can do OK despite a crappy stadium and less than golden surroundings. They have some of the greatest fans in the country who have proven their commitment over years of passionate support. How does having two teams in the bay area cancel that out?

Of course, none of this really matters. There are 32 teams in the NFL and it’s not getting any bigger. If a team relocates any time soon, chances are it’s going to LA.

Friday, April 13, 2007

give me a pro sports franchise or give me death!

It’s time that a professional sports franchise comes to Hawaii. Logistically, a Hawaii team would fit best into the NFL.

Hawaii sports fans are very passionate--there is an ESPN sports radio station in Hawaii and not one pro sports team (I doubt any other city would stand for this). It amazes me that Hawaii is not being talked about as a possible location for a franchise. There are many factors that people have argued as the reason that a team in Hawaii would not be feasible—I will dispel those now.

The first reason that many people cite is that they claim Hawaii is too far away from the rest of the nation for a sports team to be feasible. This is a ridiculous argument—the NFL is going to play a regular season game this year in London, which is no closer from the East Coast than Hawaii is from the West Coast. This just proves that a five-hour flight is not too long of a travel period; why should this prevent Hawaii from getting a team? There was talk that the NFL and NBA wanted to expand to London and put real franchises in these cities—if it’s feasible there, it’s feasible in Honolulu as well.

NFL teams play one game a week—a five-hour flight would not be too hard to do, especially as NFL teams have one day devoted entirely to travel. Teams would go about their routines no differently, and with all teams having charter jets, I’m sure comfort would not be an issue. They would not “lose their legs” anymore than they do playing any other in-conference rival: the distance between DC and Dallas is similar to the distance between San Francisco and Hawaii. The argument that Hawaii is too far may be acceptable in the case of the NHL, NBA or MLB, but the NFL has no real reason for using the travel factor as a reason to deny Hawaii a pro sports franchise.

The next oft-cited reason is that Hawaii has no city big enough to house the team. I have one word for them: Honolulu. Honolulu has a population of around 327,000 people. This may appear small to some, but when looked at in context, it becomes clear that it really isn’t.

Miami and Oakland, who each have professional teams, each have less than 20,000 more citizens than Hawaii. And, Oakland plays in an oversaturated market—the Bay Area. If LA is granted an expansion team, the Raiders should move to Hawaii.

One must also then consider how Honolulu’s population only refers to “Honolulu proper”—the entire island of O’ahu has nearly a million residents. Since no point on O’ahu is more than an hour from Honolulu, this should really be considered to be Honolulu’s population. This would make Honolulu the tenth largest city in the US. How can it be said, then, that Honolulu does not have enough residents? This would make Honolulu more populated than San Francisco, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Charlotte, Boston, Washington, DC, Seattle, Atlanta, Kansas City, New Orleans and Cleveland—all cities that have NFL franchises.

If one thinks that this is unfair inflation of Honolulu’s population (well, you’re sour grapes), then look no further than the fact that Honolulu “proper” is more populated than St. Louis, Cincinnati, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Green Bay—again, all cities with NFL franchises (I omitted the Vikings because, if one was to amalgamate the population’s of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the population would be larger than that of Honolulu, although individually, both of these cities have less citizens than Honolulu).

It’s simple to see that Honolulu is a big enough city to be home to a proud NFL franchises—how about the Honolulu Kings, Monarchs, Ali’i, Dukes, Menehune, Sharks or Surfriders? Personally, I’d like to see the Hawaii franchise be named the Rainbows in homage to the great University of Hawaii teams of the past, but we are all aware of the unfortunate hubbub that this name generated to people who like to make mountains out of molehills. A team paying respect to the US Armed Forces would also be appropriate—not only because Hawaii has a large military presence, but because Pearl Harbor is visible from Aloha Stadium, where the team would undoubtedly play.

I’m tired of hearing that Honolulu is too small and too far for an NFL franchise—I truly believe that a team would flourish here and that the league would see a great return. Visiting fans would undoubtedly travel to Hawaii to watch their team play and would probably make a week-long vacation out of it—just what Hawaii’s economy needs. The NFL is experiencing a period of huge support by the American public, and I truly had no idea just how big this league was to America until I got to college. Everything stops on Sunday when games are on—and the NFL must tap into the Honolulu market if it wants to continue to grow as a league.

Think about the great marketing schemes: the Hawaii team could wear great aloha-print jerseys that would sell incredibly well on the “mainland”—I’m sure lovers of fitted hats would also love to have a colorful, aloha-print hat to add to their collection, regardless of where they are from.

The NFL wouldn’t have to even wait for a stadium to be built—it’s right there, in historic Aloha Stadium. And, the promise of an NFL team could probably get the potential owner to spring for improvements to the facility—the state would then be able to avoid paying for these renovations. And, seeing how the stadium is state-owned, the NFL team would pump money back into the state’s budget. Of course, if the potential owner did not want to do this, he/she could easily build a new stadium in Kapolei—there was, at some point, talk of building a new stadium there. The state has wanted to make Kapolei O’ahu’s “second-city” for the longest time—surely, an NFL stadium would encourage more hotels and businesses to shoot up out there and would definitely stimulate growth in the area.

The Pro Bowl is already a huge draw in Hawaii, and this happens once a year. What would happen if, for eight weeks out of the year, Hawaii had the same visitor numbers as it does the week of the Pro Bowl? This would be a definite occurrence if some rich Hawaii Kai businessman decided to stump up the money and tried to persuade the NFL to put a team in Hawaii. The NFL has been trying to move into the Asian market by playing preseason games in Japan—it’d be more than safe to say that Japanese fans would travel to Hawaii to watch the team play against NFL teams in games that actually mean something, as opposed to the exhibition games played in the Tokyo Dome between two NFL teams with no real playoff aspirations who aren’t even putting their best players on the field.

The NFL would be able to tap into a completely new market—definitely Hawaii, but also possibly Asia and the South Pacific (remember, many of the nation’s best linebackers are of Polynesian decent). The Hawaii team could hold its preseason camp in Polynesia and could play exhibition games in Australia and New Zealand—all areas where the University of Hawaii has been very proactive in recruiting players (last year’s leading punter, Matt McBriar of the Dallas Cowboys, is from Australia and played rugby growing up). Soccer has not taken a hold in Polynesia, and the NFL could definitely make football the pre-eminent sport in the area, enabling them to even further maximize profits.

This is clearly a win-win situation for all. The NFL would definitely gain fans, viewers and money. The state government of Hawaii would gain tourists, a newly revitalized second-city and, again, money. And the people of Hawaii would gain a great sports franchise to back every week, which would enable them to feel like a bigger part of the national picture—for the first time, Hawaii would be relevant on the national sporting stage. Imagine: we would no longer have to root for random teams from far away places at Super Bowl parties—one day, our very own Honolulu Rough Riders could be playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And no longer will I have to tell my friends that Honolulu is a great sports town and that it has put out some great major-league players through its summer and winter leagues or that Barry Bonds once played at Aloha Stadium for the Hawaii Islanders. The NFL needs to be in Hawaii; the people of Hawaii deserve an NFL franchise.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


isn't this debate a little moot? there just isn't enough vinyl-heads around anymore to keep up the necessary demand.

I honestly do not think that the point is moot: if you've been to a club, they're still mixing vinyl on the ones and twos. I used to think that turntables were obsolete and had no purpose, but when bsto brought his tables this year, I really got into buying records. the sound is incredibly different from mp3--i'm not going to be some snob and say it's better, but it's different.

And looking at the type of vinyl collection someone has really gives insight on said person. it's easy to amass a harddrive of stuff, but what someone is willing to track down on vinyl says a lot about what music that they believe is important and worth seeking. I recently dug for a few hours and found elvis costello's "my aim is true" and the beatles' "let it be"--it's one thing to go to a record store and pick these up or download these records, but it's totally another to go around a city and look for them.

And when bsto or I pull out a certain record when we have someone over and someone reacts, it's a lot bigger of a response than when you just play an mp3 on a computer. There's genuine excitement produced when madonna's "holiday" get's thrown on the jj tables--as opposed to when someone sets up their laptop in our living room and plays "borderline". There's a connection made--the DJ is saying this song is important to him, and the audience responds to this when it is a song that is also meaningful or dear to them.


Beyond this, though, it really isn't just about "vinyl heads". My argument was also about the rights that stores like Best Buy have on new releases put out by some indie labels--even when these albums are released on compact disc. The problem with vinyl is indicative of the problem that exists with the music business period. Again, I understand economics and efficiency come into play, but when a store like Tower is forced to declare bankruptcy and liquidate their assets, there is a much bigger problem. Tower was not a mom-and-pop store: Tower was a behemoth. When a juggernaut falls, it's a bad sign for the underlings.

Labels are making deals with big stores in order to keep the box stores happy--they are "feeding the beast". They see that small stores are closing and are clinging on to hope wherever they can. What they don't realize, though, is that they are expediting the process of closing mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar shops. These places are monumental in their scenes: ask any semi "in the know" rock music fan about Crooked Beat, and they'll be able to tell you that they have always been very influential in the "indie rock" scene.

I'm not just talking about vinyl. Crooked Beat had a hard time getting copies of the new Arcade Fire album in stock. Arguably, the Arcade Fire are the biggest band in indie rock, and no one should be okay with the fact that one of the world's biggest indie shops was not able to stock the album. I'm advocating for indie shops to have exclusive rights to sell albums within their first two weeks of release. This will make the big box stores mad, but what will they do? Stop selling records? No way. They'll realize that would be a terrible move. And it's not like they would lose a ton of profit--most of these indie releases just sit on the shelves at places like Best Buy and eventually get sent back to the label. As I said before, soundscan/Billboard sales numbers are not done based on units sold. Instead, these figures are done according to units shipped. The Shins had a great spot upon release of "Wincing the Night Away" a few months back, but that has more to do with Sub Pop pushing the record into stores than anything--it has nothing to do with the number of albums that the band actually sold.

Indie labels need to show solidarity with their label brothers. For the longest time, these small shops were the only places that would put out these records. I just cannot believe that they'd so easily turn their backs on the only places that, for the longest time, were the only places that would stock their records. Bands and labels so often talk about ethics and "not selling out"--they're not doing a very good job.

The indie labels running to the arms of big box stores is what is bringing down the sales of music. This took albums out of independent shops and gave the kids nowhere to go. Of course, online infrastructure changed and enabled them to get their music more easily. If it were easier to go out to the store to buy an album, you could bet that people would do it. There used to be a dearth of places that I could go and get the latest new release. Now, though, there is only Borders, Best Buy and Barnes and Noble (I can't even get an uncensored record at Wal Mart). We call this progress?

Indie labels turned their backs on their fans and their biggest backers--the independent stores. It's bigger than vinyl and "vinyl heads". Sure, I'm frustrated that I can't get vinyl--but it's a sign of bigger things to come. Less stores means that less albums get sold--and that labels are less profitable. This means that they'll take on less bands in the future and will only sign ones that they see as being profitable at some point. This means that safe bands are going to be signed, and creativity in the music industry could very well stagnate and become much worse than it is now.

If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.

(again, keep the comments coming)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Wanted: thoughts, comments

To whoever reads this blog: most of what we write is meant to provoke and stimulate readers--we don't write for self-aggrandizement--and we want to open this blog up more to conversation via comments. Feel free to comment on anything on the blog.

Who knows, maybe we can go Socratic on this piece and actually learn from each other.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Little Ditty on Hip-Hop

Hip-hop is a movement that started in the era of post-industrialism and urban reform during which little opportunity or jobs were available and the (mostly minority composed) “underclass” was contained within efficient but unlivable housing projects. Combined with the empowering movements that had occurred before or were ongoing through the 1960s and 1970s like Black Nationalism and the Black Panthers, or Civil Rights and peaceful demonstration, the socio-political impetus that was instrumental in hip-hop’s birth becomes obvious. Indeed, hip-hop arose as a way to express one’s self within the context of these surroundings.

What’s important is the way in which hip-hop’s inception was tied to its inceptors’ life and community. In hip-hop’s earliest years, it was impossible to have one without the other because so much of hip-hop was meant to influence (if not fundamentally change) its community. The fact that it arose through aesthetic mediums/elements—graffiti, bboying/break dancing, djing, and mcing—only adds to hip-hop’s appeal as a unique social movement.

Of course, it’s exactly because of these elements that so much of hip-hop is commercialized and commodified. The problem remains: because hip-hop is in its very essence a movement seeking social change, its message’s success is directly related to its dissemination. But the best way to disseminate hip-hop has been through the commodification of the aesthetics elements.

Is there no way to balance its popular appeal with its original socio-political goals?

(Is underground the only answer?)

Sunday, April 8, 2007

the first Building JJ Collective soundtrack.

So here, within this very post, is the first Building JJ Collective soundtrack. If you don't enjoy rap music, don't fret--the music on this collection is entirely instrumental (mostly ambient...but jazz lounge lovers will enjoy Air's "La Femme d'Argent"...the Kings of Convenience tracks are not instrumental, but they sound like Simon and Garfunkel and are not going to be unpleasant to anyone's ears). This soundtrack is perfect for the work place, deep thought, the ride home, going to bed--pretty much anything.

I've been working on this for awhile--I used to love making playlists and lists of random things and songs, and I decided to put together a soundtrack for a film.

This film has no real premise or anything of the sort (this fact either makes this playlist less pretentious or incredibly pretentious, but that's not important), but the two Kings of Convenience songs are meant to book-end the film.

"Failure" is meant to open, and the film's protagonists are meant to wake up to their bustling city lives to this track, look out their windows and either be depressed about the gloomy state of things or have a false sense of hope about the direction and prospects of their lives.

“Winning the Battle, Losing the War” is a fitting end—ultimately, I’ve decided, the film’s ending not be a cheery one, and the tone of the song makes it sound almost cyclical, and one would have no problem having the film start over again. I realize that the last song is the Field’s “A Paw in My Face”, but that’s the song that I envision playing over the credits.

It may take a while, but don't fret: it's worth it.

Anyway, here it is. Download.

You are going to need to extract the winrar file, and if you do not have an extractor, I have provided a link to download a trial winrar unzipper. Cheers.

You’re going to need to re-order the playlist after you download it and unzip it. Here is the order in which the tracks are meant to be played:

Kings of Convenience “Failure”
Mogwai “Yes! I Am a Long Way from Home”
A Sunny Day in Glasgow “No.6 Von Karman Street
Do Make Say Think “End of Music
Tim Hecker “Song of the Highwire Shrimper”
Explosions in the Sky “First Breath After Coma”
M83 “Unrecorded”
Hammock “Will You Ever Love Yourself?”
Broken Social Scene “Guilty Cubicles”
Air “Ce Matin-La”
Squarepusher “Iambic 9 Poetry”
Explosions in the Sky “Greet Death”
Hammock “The Air Between Us”
Mogwai “I Know You Are But What Am I?”
Radiohead “Treefingers”
Explosions in the Sky “Your Hand in Mine”
Phoenix “North”
Hammock “Before the Celebration”
Tortoise “It’s All Around You”
Boards of Canada “Macquarie Ridge”
Tim Hecker “I’m Transmitting Tonight”
M83 “Gone”
Air “La Femme d’Argent”
Squarepusher “Tommib Help Buss”
Mogwai “Stop Coming to My House”
Kings of Convenience “Winning a Battle, Losing the War”
The Field “A Paw in My Face”

Hope you enjoy it. Feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

we hate it when our friends become successful.

Recently, I decided to make the short trek up to Dupont Circle to go crate-digging for some vinyl. I stopped in at some used record shops and asked where I could get an LCD Soundsystem release on vinyl—I was told to visit Crooked Beat, which was only a fifteen minute walk from where I was. I decided to stop in at Crooked Beat, because, for the longest time, I heard about how influential the shop was on the DC music scene—notorious for putting out bands like Fugazi, The Dismemberment Plan, Q and Not U, Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Ted Leo (among a plethora of others).

I was a bit dismayed when I finally got to Crooked Beat, though. The shop did not have many of its own “Top Ten Albums of the Week”, though I decided that it was better not to ask why (it’s worth adding that they did not have CD versions of the releases, either—which really shocked me). I looked through the stacks of vinyl, hoping to find a gem or two—a record by Air, Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem or Death From Above 1979 would have made my trip successful; alas, I was to go home disappointed.

I finally settled on Gorillaz’ “Demon Days” because I knew that bsto had been after it for awhile, but I can’t say that I was thrilled that this was all I was going to leave with. I asked the solitary man working the shop if he expected any shipments soon.

“What label do you want releases from?” he asked.

“DFA, mostly,” I said.

He explained to me that many small labels were distributed by larger labels (a fact I had already been aware of—DFA is distributed by Capitol Records). What he went on to say, though, was that these big labels have deals with chain stores (Wal Mart, Best Buy, etc) that gives the chain stores the exclusive rights to vinyl for the first few weeks—even though these blockbuster shops do not ever sell vinyl. In addition, these stores get most of the first shipments of records—record sales are based on units shipped, not the actual number of records sold. This allows the sales figures to appear large when they are actually vastly inflated. Small mom-and-pop stores get smaller shipments—there are more Best Buy outlets than there are independent record shops in this country, and the labels are all catering to the larger stores. Economically, this makes sense, but I believe this is a very harmful practice.

Most people who are out to buy LCD Soundsystem records are not Wal Mart loyalists—and most Wal Mart stalwarts do not listen to LCD Soundsystem. This is exactly where the problem lies. I understand that it is hard for small shops to stay open in the age of downloading, and I also realize that bands love having their albums readily available to the public. But, why disadvantage the small shops even more? Would it really hurt labels if they made their releases exclusive to small shops for the first two weeks after their release? I really don’t think so—people after the latest Arcade Fire wouldn’t want to buy it Best Buy if they could buy it at a small, independent shop around the corner, and I’m sure that Best Buy would not lose all that much money.

This system would keep loyal music fans in loyal music shops. It would reward music shops for only selling music. And, after MTV hypes the hell out of a band, the record would have been out for at least a few months, and people would be able to go to any shop and pick up the album.

I understand that being in Wal Mart and Best Buy allows albums that would previously be called “obscure” to be purchased in out-of-the-way areas that are not big city music hotbeds, and I also hate the kids who hate it when their favorite bands get famous. But, really, the bands and labels have to think about what they are doing: putting the music stores that they loitered in during their idle teen years--the shops that probably instilled their love of music and made them want to make a career out of playing nu synth spazz jazz-- out of business. It’s great that people can go out and buy a LCD Soundsystem CD when they’re in the middle of Arkansas, because I know that the band puts out quality records that deserve to be heard, but there has to be a system that can be implemented that allows people to purchase vinyl of the band—the current system that gives vinyl rights to “big box” retailers that don’t even sell vinyl is ridiculous.

Then again, it’s not like anything is going to change. Small shops are going to be priced out because they do not have the purchasing power of big box Best Buy. Should Best Buy feel bad about that? It’s not bad business that they don’t—I just want the indie labels to consider the fact that their most staunch supporters—indie record shops—are being left to die a slow, monetary-deprived death.

D1 Soccer is Bad

I went in to speak with a philosophy professor recently and we ended up talking more about soccer than Aesthetics. She said her son, a Junior in high school, was just coming back from a serious injury and totally set on playing at a D1 school. She said that she wasn't sure that was the best option because he is really small and though technically sound, from what they heard from coaches she felt it would be hard for him to find a program that would help him achieve his goals. I agreed--in fact, I agreed so emphatically that I told her I'd send her son an email. The cool thing is that last week after class the professor told me that her son has stopped pursuing D1 so wholeheartedly and is looking more seriously at other options. Here is the email:

I see this less of a creepy random email to a kid I've never met before (or a bogus intrusion into your family’s private business) than an opportunity to help American soccer. The way I see it, the more talented players avoid the D1 college soccer vacuum the better. I want you to see—based on my own experiences, my friends' experiences, and simple observations of the state of American soccer—that D1 soccer is basically an over inflated promise that is rarely fulfilled. (I know this isn’t a formal paper or anything, but it progresses like a logical argument with two main aspects, your play and your aspirations).

First of all, consider your development as a player. From what your mom has told me, you play like a Carlos Valderrama or a Cesc Fabregas—you're a distributor, able to find the forwards, but less likely to win the big tackles in midfield. Further, your mom said you value the beautiful game. Now take the kind of player you are, the fact that you admire beautiful soccer, and your size, and think about how D1 soccer would help you become a better player.

Think about the style of play in D1 soccer—basically some twisted version of English soccer: a ridiculous dependence on speed and power and a focus on efficiency (so that you can get one shot on goal the whole game, but if you score and win 1-0 it counts as a great game). Think about how D1 soccer rarely goes through midfield, choosing instead to bypass the midfield and get up to the forwards as quick as possible. (At my high school, my Haitian coaches used to call that crap "Boom Ball" and if we were losing at half time to one of these teams we would get chewed out because they hated losing to teams that played crappy soccer.)

Every D1 team plays Boom Ball.

The result is that the best D1 players are less soccer players than track stars or weightlifters, picked because they can outrun everyone else or win balls in the air.

If you can picture yourself (or even Cesc) spending practice running and doing shooting drills instead of small sided games, skill/technique stuff, and tactics, then maybe I'm wrong and you should go D1.

A coach once told me that because he was teaching us to play real soccer, we would be great players forever because you never lose your skill. If you agree, and think that the best way to develop players is through teaching the beautiful game, then you’d have to pass most D1 schools and either play D3 or find a club in a different country.

Ok, now consider the development of your soccer goals: I assume you want to play somewhere professionally. I guess the argument goes that in order to go pro, you have to go D1, get lots of exposure, and then get drafted into the MLS or spotted by a foreign scout.

Is that really how it goes, though? First of all, you definitely do not have to play D1 to get recognized, that part is as simple as being a good player. I won't say "If you're good enough you'll get found," because that's a passive approach—it's better to be persistent and chase your goals (especially in the politically controlled realm of American soccer)—but it's also not true that playing for Indiana will automatically get you a contract somewhere. Dempsey and others on the USNT played for mediocre colleges that played real soccer and helped develop them. (The best players I grew up playing with are playing with PDL teams now, working their way through the system and using all their possible connections to get tryouts for small teams in France, Germany, Italy, and England.)

Also, I was watching the US-Ecuador game today and saw Bob Bradley’s son get some playing time. He’s my age and straight up skipped college to play in Holland. It seems to me, then, that taking a year off isn’t such a bad idea. If you go to Bolivia with that camp you can get up to top shape. If you go to Europe you can take classes somewhere or work to get by and play with local teams (like Demerit did).

Basically all I’m trying to say is that there are a million ways to get a professional soccer contract and only a few of them involve playing D1 soccer. It’s like saying the only people who get good jobs have Ivy League degrees.

I’m not going to even touch the fact that many D3 schools could beat most D1 programs (have you seen Hopkins play?) because soccer is a qualitative sport, unlike like swimming or track. Nor will I go into the obvious argument that you’ll get more playing time away from D1, where some schools take as many players as their football team. And I don’t expect you to take this advice as a message from god. I expect that you’ll take a long serious look at your current status and desired status and the best ways for you to improve the one and achieve the other.

If you think, after reviewing all these things, that D1 soccer is still that much of a necessary goal, then go for it. But hopefully, years from now, you’ll look back and remember how this email helped you avoid the horror stories that so many D1 players have told me and you’ll remember how a change in mind contributed to your success in whatever soccer goal you’ll be pursuing at the time.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Thoughts on Passover

Tomorrow (Monday) night begins the Jewish holiday of Passover, commemorating the Jews' escape from Egypt (where they had been slaves). I will not be observing the holiday, but I did read through the first 14 or so chapters of Exodus, where the story is laid out in full. Here's some evidence of my ponderings (not a word, I know):

An important note: the whole story occurs because (1.8) “There arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.” In other words, the whole reason why such a terrible act took place is simply because one king didn’t pay attention in history class…

How did the Jews become free? Did they bust free French Revolution style or were they helped by CIA-like God to overthrow a tyrannical government? I think that there is a lot of symbolism in the story that represents the real way the Jews got free: through a self-awareness/awakening combined with an emboldening spirit/strength that allowed them to rise up and do the impossible, escape.

(1.17) The first instance of rebelliousness occurs when some unidentified “midwives” (we don’t know if they’re Jewish or not) decide to ignore the law announced in the preceding verse: “if it be a man child, kill it; if a woman, keep it alive.” Why did they save some male babies? Because, it says, they “feared God.”
What does this mean, fear of God? Is he a deterrent, as in we don’t commit crimes because we are afraid of the consequences? Surely not. So we must consider the fact that the decree to kill Jewish males is an unjust law. Think about Jim Crow, Apartheid, etc. and the ways in which they were defied. Surely the rebellious pioneers recognized that the law was wrong and then mustered enough strength to defy it.
I think that God represents this strength within the midwives, that they should risk their lives to chop at the unjust institution they were living under.

(2.2-3) The second instance of rebelliousness comes from Moses’ mother, who saves Moses’ life by basketing him down the river.

(2.17) The third instance of rebelliousness comes years later, when a grown-up Moses witnesses the cruel treatment of Jews. Whether or not he recognizes them as his brethren is irrelevant because what matters is that what he witnessed struck a chord deep within his being. He saw a terrible sight of injustice! And it was not like seeing someone get mobbed in an alleyway, this is an unavoidable, systemic breaking of a fundamental law of nature (freedom).
The most interesting thing about this episode is that before he lashes out, Moses looks around to make sure no one is watching. What does this mean? It means that Moses had thoughts that what he was doing was unacceptable, similar to that yes-I-just-ate-the-garbage-boo-woo sad dog face we all know. You don’t make that face unless you know what you did or doing is wrong. But probably because his anger was so intense that he didn’t even care about the consequences, Moses lashes out anyway.
This is an instance of doing something immoral (killing somebody) in order to protest a larger instance of immorality. As we shall see, God him/herself is guilty of this crime.
As if to prove that what he did was wrong, the bible shows that he is ratted out by fellow Jews (!!) and is forced to escape.

(2.16-18) Moses does a moral act by helping to feed and water the priest of Midian’s daughters’ sheep. His reward is Zippora (one of the daughters) and some food and bread…Finally! A moral act is rewarded!!!

It’s important to remember that Moses is 80 when he goes back to Egypt. I think it’s perfectly possible that the next section, that with the burning bush and Moses’ lack of confidence, represents an old man’s self-reflection in his last years. He’s sitting around with his sheep thinking about the world and his life’s contribution and he suddenly remembers the injustices he left behind and the way he might destroy that institution.
Right on cue, our confidence-giving spirit arrives on set, assuring Moses that everything is going to be OK because, after all, I can turn your staff into a freaking serpent. As the story continues, God consistently assuages Moses’ fears with a word of inspiration, a show of power, etc.
This interplay is important because the more Moses tries to fight the injustices he sees, the worse the repercussions are. His first act brings expulsion. His second act—when he and Aaron go to Pharoah to request that the Jews be allowed to worship in the desert (5.3-9)—also brings consequences. In this case Pharoah not only denies them their request but increases the slaves’ load by requiring them to fetch their own straw to make the bricks while keeping the quota the same. Likewise, the plagues cause equal suffering on the Jews, who must subsist in the same land as those being punished.

Throughout this part of the story (while Moses bargains and pleads with Pharoah) God’s role changes considerably. He becomes the ultimate arbiter of events, controlling people’s minds and actions for his/her own benefit. The major players basically become God’s pawns.
First, s/he tells Moses exactly what to tell Pharoah. Then s/he knows that Pharoah will be on the bank of the river at a specific time and tells Moses to stand on the other side and point his staff at Pharoah and say, “The lord God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness” (7.16) He does not say “Let them go because what you are doing is unjust,” he says “Let them go so they can serve ME!” Wasn’t God supposed to be helping Moses?!!
There is one more instance of God’s selfish attitude towards the affair, which is typified by a quote from 7.3: “And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.” A few verses later, in what is basically a fancy version of an arm-wrestling match, God’s serpents beat Pharoah’s magicians’ serpents. (And God probably got all the babes too…).

But seriously, there has to be some kind of justification for these seemingly bogus acts on God’s part that appear to completely contradict the selflessness of the three rebellious actions in the beginning of the story. Is it possible that God’s intervention in the story is actually a negative thing???
I think there is a perfectly good justification for his/her intervention, assuming that by now we all agree that God represents an emboldening force, a confidence so supreme that it could make you delusional. Well it only follows that such a passion, such a zeal for justice, could get out of control. You only have to go as far as the Weathermen or environmental terrorists to find that. Indeed, our very own people, the Jewish Irgun in pre-mandate Palestine, were guilty of this same thing. They were out and out terrorists, fighting against the British and the Arabs in order to secure safe ground for a Jewish home land.
Perhaps, though, this explanation is too radical. And I don’t want to get too much into the strengthening of Pharoah’s heart because it is an issue of its own. I would only say that perhaps God showed so much strength—so much unneeded strength, after all, if he knew all of Pharoah’s actions and had the power to carry out the plagues, surely he could have ended this story much quicker—in order to make sure that Pharoah wouldn’t change his mind yet again, and further to show that these Jews mean some serious business, they have God on their side.

In the end, the Jews approach the Dead Sea and are petrified by what they see in front of them. Once more, God gives them the boot they need, convincing them they can indeed do the impossible, they can basically walk over water. And they do!

What can we learn from this? I think the most important thing to remember is the fact that some rebellious people recognized an injustice and were prepared to lose their lives fighting to undermine it.
We can also learn that God is a frustrating character (he/she also implicitly approves of slavery in 12.44). He/she seems to take over the process of freedom and turns it into a bloodbath. On the other hand, without such strength, it is likely that the Jews never would have gotten out. So we should be wary of God’s power, just as we should be wary of our own strength, and if we choose to fight injustices, we should do so in an appropriate manner—not by fighting fire with fire, but by dousing it with truth, justice, and even a little bit of love.

[These brackets denote a sort of irrelevant post script: There seems to be a hint of some kind of didactic statement regarding the Jewish people and their destiny. I might extrapolate and come up with this: The Jewish people are destined to be enslaved unfairly and the only way to extract themselves will be through recognition and blood-chilling force. There is textual evidence for such a nationalistic statement: 13.2 has God demanding that “whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.” God goes on to say that what links the Jewish people, besides their covenant with God, is their shared experience leaving Egypt. Of course, shared history is one of the tenets of a true nation].