June 29, 2009

No Night Sweats

Phil Turnbull's excellent Australian Post Punk site No Night Sweats is back, bigger and better than ever after moving from BigPond to new hosting (and its own domain). I'm not exactly a totally disinterested bystander, but take a look… (and check out Phil and Rob's A Slow Rip blog too while you're at it).

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June 27, 2009

All That Jazz

It's hot, at least by Bay Area summer standards (20C by 10am, but probably at least 40C just twenty minutes' drive over the Hills), and they've thrown open the roof and front walls of the Milano for the breeze. At the back of the upper level three very nerdy and earnest-looking students are gathered around a laptop and a textbook labeled "Modern Piano Jazz" (or something like that), absent-mindedly drinking coffee. At one point one of them looks up and loudly says to no one in particular "E9th!" as though he's had a revelation. I can't help hearing it in my mind as played up the neck on my old blue Strat.

Down the street at Moe's a Famous Author who I don't recognize but feel I should is bantering with the staff. They know who she is; me, I just trawl through the architecture section for low-price gems. There's a large cut-price hardback on Frank Gehry which I just have to buy — you can't spend much time in LA without running across his buildings, where they tend to seem more at home and less forced than in the wider world. As I leave the Famous Author glances at the book under my arm and asks whether there are any Gehrys in the Bay Area? I'm ashamed to say I don't actually know, which feels weird.

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June 18, 2009

Imagination Run Riot

"The great instrument of moral good is the imagination" (Shelly, quoted in Charles Simic's review of Slako Goldstein's "1941: Godin koja se vraca" in the latest NYRB).

No, it's not imagination, it's that special form of imagination, empathy. Imagination without empathy too often becomes the sort of murderous paranoia that Goldstein's book describes (and that periodically plagues America). When that sort of imagination runs wild, people tend to die in real life, people tend to forget that there are individual humans at the center, the start, the end, the sights, of even the most imaginative movement or abstract noun.

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June 11, 2009

Australialand

The NYT's Gail Collins made a joke in an editorial column the other day about how good it feels to have a US president who knows that Australia and Austria aren't the same country. Yes, on an old joke in US and other intellectual circles — I suspect every modern-day president has (probably wrongly) been accused of not knowing the difference — but it brought back some mildly funny memories for me, for sure (yes, I've had surreal conversations where it slowly (or even quickly) became obvious that the person I was talking to to didn't know the difference. It does actually happen, you know). But in my experience it's actually surprisingly difficult to come across an American who doesn't have some idea what and where Australia is (that idea may not be particularly accurate, but it's usually at least based on fact); it's just also quite difficult finding Americans who have any idea what or where Austria is.

The sobering thing is, of course: why the hell should the average American — or even the president, for that matter — know or care about either Austria or Australia? Our Governator might, I guess, but who else?

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June 04, 2009

Can't Someone Else Pay For It?

Huero

"'It shocks the conscience that we have to throw sick children off of welfare to satisfy Wall Street,' said Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), the budget committee chairwoman. She added: 'This used to be the Golden State, and now it is a sorry state and it is not my California.' (from a recent article in the LA Times on our Governator's plan to cut a mere 5 billion dollars from California's budget).

California's been living so far beyond its natural and financial means now for so long that when it's time to pay up and face the consequences, I guess it's no surprise that we Californians turn to blaming anyone else but ourselves, and to bemoaning how badly the Golden State has lost its way. But California hasn't lost its way — it's right on track for a course set decades ago by the anti-government whackos, and helped on with varying amounts of gleefully-populist and self-satisfied gusto by voters over the years. And pace Ms Evans, it's not (primarily) Wall Street that got us here; the current deadlock and paralysis aren't an act of god, but the fairly predictable results of California voters quite deliberately voting to tie the hands of politicians with mandates for this, mandates for that, super-majorities for budgets and tax increases, etc. — and then sitting back and saying they (the voters) just aren't going to pay for it all when the bills come due (i.e. now). And then blaming the increasingly powerless politicians for not being able to do anything about the results. It's a classic self-fulfilling prophecy: politicians are useless money-grubbing bastards, so let's tie their hands with impossible voter-mandated propositions, then wait for the inevitable failure, then blame the politicians even more and restrict them further, then blame the politicians again… all while furiously denying any responsibility as voters for getting themselves into this mess.

(From the cozy confines of arty Little Jingletown, things sometimes still seem OK, but walking through the landscape of garbage-strewn streets, burned-out cars, and graffitied trees of my greater neighbourhood, or slinking past the shambling mentally ill and the homeless beggars on (and off) the sidewalks in Berkeley, or driving past the boarded-up malls and empty construction sites in suburbia, and negotiating the unrepaired roads and axle-breaking potholes of local streets, or waiting through the unanswered phone calls to City Hall and the two hour delay (yes) on the police response to the 911 call for last month's serious car accident near my place, it's hard not to think it's the long-awaited California Apocalypse. Hollywood's always loved the California destruction trope in movies, but giant quakes and alien invasions taking out LA to the squealing enjoyment of audiences everywhere doesn't quite catch the banal reality).

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