Commercial music really has been getting better lately.

The following is from a commercial from the “You” for HTC, a relatively under the radar producer of smartphones that’s a supporter of the Android Linux-based open source OS introduced as a counterpoint to the iPhone. It’s basically designed for people who, like me, perhaps like the capabilities of Apple’s products but can’t stand the culture that comes with it. (Which, of course, is centered generally on seizing control of the Earth’s governments in the name of sleek, postmodern information technology.)

HTC’s Dream was released last year, which I wish I’d known when I went to replace my phone in May. Motorola’s new Droid is the most prominent phone to pick up the Android software so far, but HTC, with the release of their Tattoo in mid-October, definitely has the classiest marketing.

The song is a House remix of Nina Simone‘s classic “Sinnerman” by Felix da Housecat. (You’re right, I do feel really white typing that.) Full version here:

And for good measure, the climax of action staple/criminal John McTiernan’s Thomas Crown Affair, in which Pierce Brosnan sneaks a stolen Monet back into the Met, featuring the original “Sinnerman.” You lose something not having seen the whole movie, but still:

If you don’t love this, you’re not American.

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Sing it with me:

Incidentally, that strapping young black man is apparently Jaleel White, who would grow up to be both horribly typecast on Family Matters (which the kids starting college now probably don’t remember at all because they were 5) and ironically good-looking. He starred with Reginald VelJohnson, whose name is actually VelJohnson. My friend Amy would tell you that that’s nothing in terms of ridiculous names. But people don’t often get goofy with the surname.

Really I just wanted an excuse to post a picture of Reginald VelJohnson.

This post (I was trying to write something vaguely coherent?) has been brought to you by Charlie Brooker, who feels precisely the way I do about aging.  Of course he has it slightly worse: he’s old.

P.S. Though he’s totally right about old people and Lady Gaga.

Intarnets law?

4 October 2009

I’ll be honest.  I don’t spend a great deal of time being thankful I’m not British.  Quite the contrary.

Witness, then, a novelty.

Voters will be given the power to rewrite laws under Tory plans to transform the way parliament works by importing a popular scheme championed by Barack Obama in last year’s US election.

[…]

Under the Tory plans, a parliamentary bill would be introduced in the way it is now. The first and main debate – the second reading stage, in which the broad principles of the proposed new laws are debated on the floor of the Commons – would be held in the normal way.

But once MPs have held this debate, the bill would be thrown open to voters before it is considered line by line at the committee stage. A website would allow voters to comment on and rewrite the broad principles of the bill, and individual clauses.

Contributors would rank comments so the most popular suggestions appear at the top. This is similar to mixedink, which allows voters to argue for and against various policies and suggest their own ideas.

I have a question for the hapless Mr Hague, who has the misfortune of floating this trial balloon: have you ever been on the Internet?

Seriously.  The difference between an actual policy debate and that which you’re likely to find through such a “popular legislative process” is like the difference between Glee and, well, an actual high school a capella group.  Don’t believe me?  Go onto the comments pages of The Guardian, or Politico, or indeed the one or two occasions somebody I don’t know has commented on this blog.  If you believed what you see on the internet not only would you not want the people to make law, you wouldn’t want them to vote for the ones who do.

I feel a little bit of indignation bubbling up in you already.  What an anti-democratic argument!  Well, maybe.  But then the internet isn’t really democratic.  In the UK, as I’ve written before, things have gotten a lot more virulent even than America, but the question still remains: why do these evil corrupt Congressmen or MPs get to make our laws?  Because we keep choosing them.  They may be unresponsive, lazy sexual predators with their snouts planted firmly in the trough, but they are ours.  Both in theory and in practice there’s nothing stopping anyone from choosing somebody different. To go further there is no excuse.

But people on the internet – by whom are they chosen?  Who decides that they are “the people,” that they speak for some unrepresented segment of the population?  Precisely no one.  They choose themselves, and the reason indeed that they are so often ignored is precisely because of a chronic inability amongst much of the blogosphere to follow basic rules of civility and reason, much less digest complex topics like the cod quota or the politics of disarmament.

But of course this follows from a misunderstanding of “the people” that the political class, in its rush to cater to the Internet Generation, has all-to-quickly developed.  There is no People, at least not in terms of some vast group of unrepresented and unserved proletariat bubbling over with untapped ideas and revolutionary passion.  In both Britain and America there used to be groups such as these.  Something was done about it.  (And by legislatures bereft of these excluded masses.  Funny that.)

Measures like this are really just a reaction to general apathy towards the political process, not the exclusion of some mysterious silent majority.  In their effect they are not only dangerously populist but dangerously anti-democratic as well, in that they threaten to transfer under the guise of enhanced popular sovereignty a law-making power that previously was enjoyed by the people only through the representatives all had the right to accept or reject.  On top of this now will be placed a class of “law-makers” no one asked for and nobody wanted.  Good intentions being what they are, you put yourself on the receiving end of a downmarket House of Lords – the Senate meets the Sun.  (This really isn’t fair.  In the House of Lords there’s at least someone to check and make sure you’re not mad.)

Of course, one might reply, anyone can participate.  Those who do cannot be held responsible for those who do not.  True perhaps, but that is to elevate the theory at the expense of the practice.  If there were such a system, in which people could alter legislation, online, at will, and assuming in Wikipedia-style fashion anyone could, who would actually do it?  Not everybody.  Not the people without access to computers and/or the internet (in the US at least 20%, according to the International Telecommunications Union; I couldn’t find UK statistics but it’s probably comparable or higher; broadband penetration is far lower).  Higher proportions – far higher – for the poor, blacks, etc.  Scratch most of those who work full-time or more.  Mothers with children are probably out, especially if they’re single parents (of either gender).  Tinkering with legislation won’t pay the mortgage.

YOUR NEW GOVERNMENT

YOUR NEW GOVERNMENT

So who will be left, besides these groups too “apathetic” (i.e. struggling) to care?  The wealthy, the bored, and of-course-I-know-best political obsessives who are too reserved, selfish or extreme to actually seek office for themselves.  (Read: me.)  I don’t doubt a few decent people will trickle through – but I don’t doubt they’ll trickle back out again, most of them.  The effect will be that the best-off, most-driven and frequently most-extreme people will take advantage of the opportunity to wreak havoc on the legislative process.  They will be little dictators each and every one.

The example of Wikipedia is instructive.  From its roots as an open source encyclopedia, it has gradually resolved into an organization with permanent staff, a bureaucratic structure that includes courts to resolve disputes between editors and a model heavily-dependent on a few very devoted and profligate senior editors, trusted through their experience and seniority to protect the vast store of information from the ever-present prospect of vandalism.  At least with Wikipedia I can still, if I like, go in and make productive changes.  With the law there’s no such chance: once it’s done, it’s done.  There’s no “work in progress” about it.

This is not to defame the prospect of models like open source governance.  It is promising.  But it is also young.  And this is true of the whole Internet – it moves far faster than even the most youthful and adaptable of its users (and certainly moreso than the legislators tasked with putting it to some political use), and law as an institution depends on consistency far more than adaptability or representativeness.  It’s far more important than you can count on the law than that it be modern or include you in its construction.  Most murder laws were written under an incomplete franchise.  That doesn’t make them bad laws.

This policy, like most attempts to shoehorn the internet into law-making, is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole in an attempt to figure out where your sphere went.  It is the wrong solution to the problem of disengagement and inclusion.  Want the public to get back into politics?  Empowering a few frothing obsessives is not the answer.  Try public holidays on election day – public holidays in general.  A reduction of the work week so people have more time for politics.  Or subsidized child care.  Mandatory overtime.  Compulsory voting.  All very scary and socialist ideas probably.  But at least they have the benefit of being fair and of appealing to what is, in fact, the people, rather than those of their number who are indolent, obnoxious, and bored.

This is out of the English Der Spiegel in Germany, complete with video.  They’re in the final weeks of a relatively boring, sanitzed campaign there – it’s hard not to be boring coming from four years of Seinfeld government – and apparently some local wags have decided upon a relatively, shall we say, unique campaign.  Flash mobs are dispatched – a singularly inappropriate word, I know – to speeches by the Chancellor (and Chancellor-candidate for the CDU/CSU) Angela Merkel.  At the end of every sentence – every single one – the mobbers shout “Yeah!” in the manner of an American tent revival.

Behold:

At one point Merkel apparently chided the crowd for simply saying “Yeah!” to

Presumably, this is not what theyd intended to cheer.

Presumably, this is not what they'd intended to cheer.

everything, so the crowd immediately started shouting whatever word Merkel’s last sentence ended with, regardless of relevance.  The article cites cheers of, “Growth!” “Five!” and – yikes – “Back door!”  I’ll bet her speechwriters will learn a valuable lesson about ending sentences.  Or perhaps they’ll work with it?  Can you end sentences in a preposition in German?  I’d delight in the spectacle of 20,000 people shouting “With!  Of!  For!”

Most of the people interviewed for it confessed that it was basically for fun.  However assholes like me can’t help but search for political subtext in it.  (And to be fair there are reasons things come across as ironically funny.)  Spiegel suggested, via a blogger, that the “protests” (?) were “all about reclaiming public space for debate.”  Another confessed a desire to find “a subtle [Huh?] way of presenting the other members of the crowd with a big question mark.”

Personally, I see it as no small reaction to the scripted, anemic character of modern political events.  Anyone who has ever watched the excruciating display of a presidential speech, with every other phrase interrupted by polite semi-spastic applause from an acceptably docile audience (and despite exceptions this is no more true of anyone than of Obama) can appreciate the desire to break loose from this stultifying spectacle.  In this sense the crowd’s repetition of whatever word Merkel concludes with is rather trenchant, wrecking the careful rhetorical balancing act that has turned every political statement into an act of Byzantine diplomacy, endlessly-dissected by a political lumpenproletariat that would make Marx blush.

In the event, I would be pleased to see this trend spread.  Perhaps I could even recommend a theme song for the Yeahppie movement.

If you live in the Western world and have at any point crossed paths with a television set, you’ve probably seen, heard or rioted against this classic Kanye West moment:

(N.b. In order to prop up Viacom’s flagging market share this grainy, shitty video will probably be removed in fairly short order. This means you’ll have to do their own research. I trust you.)

Now it would be easy to simply dismiss Kanye as a gay fish, but I won’t.  I’m a sensitive man who understands the soul of the frustrated, lonely multi-platinum recording artist.  Indeed, I dare say Kanye’s story is not as  superficial as it seems. He’s not just some nutty overpaid radio star. Oh no, my friends. Kanye’s doing something here. Something big. Something, dare I say it, historic?

I must tell you first about a favorite philosopher of mine.  His name is Soren Kierkegaard.  His first name is spelt with that fucked-up Danish ‘o’ and I don’t have the patience to look up the alt-code.  But you get the idea.untitledLittle Soren was a strange child – needless to say.  There was a sense of brilliance to him, tinged distinctly with creepiness, perhaps inspired by his selfish siblings who insisted on dying of unpleasant 19th century diseases while Soren was young.  Except his brother. He became a bishop. It’s enough to fuck anybody up.

But eventually little Soren’s parents died and he now had both a solidly middle class upbringing and enough disposable income to avoid real work – as any true philosophical genius must.  And so he set off to make his great works, which challenged the assumptions of his society – and eventually all the world.

Starting to sound familiar?

Try this on for size:

“He writes because for him it is a luxury that becomes all the more enjoyable and conspicuous the fewer who buy and read what he writes.” – Kierkegaard, Either/Or

“I wanna make popular music, but I want less fans.” – Kanye West, Vibe Magazine

Kanye helpfully said that quote while I was in the middle of a second reading of Kierkegaard. It was thoughtful of him. I think it might have been fate.

Because you see, it got me thinking. The work from which that quote was taken, Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, was a really obscure attack on the philosophical mores of the time. He charged that it allowed only two ways of living life: engaged “aesthetically” in drinking, carousing, whoring and other assorted douchebaggeries; or “ethically,” which consists of getting married, being bourgeois and dying old with children. But Kierkegaard said no!  There is a third option. In his case it consisted of Jesus, but this was the sort of Jesus in whom belief and love are accepted as absurd and cherished for it. Kind of a bad ass Jesus.

Both you and Coach Carr need to step away from the underage girls.

Both you and Coach Carr need to step away from the underage girls.

In order to communicate this point Kierkegaard wrote stories, not works of philosophy, and made his point through characters of his own creation – all of whom were thinly-veiled puppets himself, buried deep within still more obscure twists and turns. The person referenced by the quote above was one of these, Johannes the Seducer, who busies himself by trotting around Copenhagen stalking, meeting and then seducing underage girls before he unceremoniously dumps them at the end of a six-month period. (Consumer protections have always been strong in Denmark, even if statuatory rape laws have not.) The book is about Johannes’ relationship with Cordelia, a 16 year-old girl. You might be forgiven for mistaking this character for Kierkegaard, who had his heart broken by… a 16 year-old girl.

Johannes the Seducer, Kierkegaard’s doppelganger, acts a lot like Kanye does. Kierkegaard did, too, at least in his youth. Both were devil-may-care; both stirred unending controversy in the media for their public comments; both, despite protesting about wanting fewer readers, could barely contain their word vomit. (Kanye shouts in that blog of his; Kierkegaard published constantly, including a postscript five times longer than the book it followed.)  Both have issues with their treatment of young girls. And both, of course, are deeply concerned about finding their place in a world in which they don’t quite fit, a world with nothing to believe in. Kierkegaard was never really accepted by anybody, or read outside of Denmark before 1900; as for Kanye,  as late as 2005 some of his plastics still said Kayne.

This is how I cracked the code, you see. Kanye is not just an out-of-control narcissistic superstar. He is not just the out-of-control narcissistic superstar. But he’s not doing it simply because he has everything a person could ever want and still finds himself empty, unsatisfied and alone. I mean, he’s not Michael Jackson. (Too soon?)

No. Kanye is in fact out to teach us all a grand lesson. Kanye is in the process of creating from his very own self a living embodiment of the philosophy of Kierkegaard, one that will make Kierkegaard’s own seem petty and silly and in the process shake our very world to its core.

First he attains his greatest success and greatest controversy. He’s young, insecure, desperate to set his place in the world. (Why else his madcap declarations about already being in the history books?) He does everything wrong and nobody likes him even as they recognize his brilliance. But it can’t go on forever, can it?

Him... or Kanye?

West 52, Monkey 48

He’ll have a change of heart, settles down. Pumps out some kids, maybe gets himself elected to Congress? (Don’t you even tut like it’s at all improbable. People in England elected a monkey.) He’s calmed down, got respectable. But he’ll still be missing something, as will we all, deprived of random outbursts of his lyrical genius and social insanity.

That’s when he reaches the third stage – the religious stage. But this isn’t the 1900s, is it? Maybe this isn’t anything like what Kierkegaard wrote. Maybe it won’t involve Jesus at all. I don’t know. Who can know what a genius like Kanye, who has by now transformed his entire life into a very living a work of philosophy and art, the greatest of all time, will develop when the glorious climax of his life explodes into our consciousness? Will he bring upon us an entirely new philosophy? A new religion? Will he, indeed, reveal himself as the Promised Return of Christ himself?

None of us can know where this onrushing epiphany will lead, or indeed when it will happen. None of us can dare to predict. But we can have faith – dear friends, we can know that it will someday come! Because the sheer tonnage of excellence that Kanye revealed last night, the depth and breadth of his long and tortured road into our very souls, cannot be foreseen any more than it can be denied. He is doing something great – just as he has always said. And we’ve never listened!

Kanye will teach us. He will teach us because he loves us… and he loves us because he loves himself.

Amen.

Where were they then?

11 September 2009

It’s always a sick little secret pleasure for me to watch old/older movies and see celebrities, especially actors, in unexpected microscopic roles from long before they were famous.  (This happens frequently as I’m uncomfortable with anything less than five years old.)  Just from the last week:

  • Taub and Cuddy from House as a couple on a date in Jack Nicholson’s restaurant in As Good As It Gets; and
  • Oscar from The Office as a security guard who calls a cable repairman at Edward Norton’s house in the remake of The Italian Job

Feel free to post others.  I’ll add more as I see them, since it means I can post without actually writing anything.

A blogger I am become!

Marked for life?

8 September 2009

One of the more curious features of the 24-hour news cycle seems to be that it contributes to this weird Lazarus phenomenon amongst disgraced public figures.  It’s inevitable that there should be a flip side to the intense, hysterical, vitriolic heat that falls upon a politician or celebrity accused of the most passing and insignificant of failings.  It appears to be that attention is so focused that just a year or two later we no longer remember who the person is.  Frankly I can’t help but acquiesce to that; if your life must be utterly destroyed it’s best that society at least grants you the opening to rebuild it.  Being all to human myself – to my occasional disbelief – I think that perhaps it’s better than the long, low-level shunning we used to dole out to reprobates in public life.

The newest member of this club since Eliot Spitzer‘s semi-resurgence is Mark Foley, formerly a Republican-Florida-Central Southeast and Everglades and inadvertent architect of the Democrats’ 2006 sweep. He’s apparently got a new radio show out called “Inside the Mind of Mark Foley” (if only it really were) to debut on “Adult Standards” AM Radio in the Palm Beach-Miami area.  He’s apparently being billed most for his health care savvy, as he was member responsible for the subject on the Ways and Means Committee.  This is one of like twelve committees dealing with public expenditure, all of which are apparently very powerful.  Let’s hope he’s been taught a little humility and doesn’t make the meal of it that everybody else in the media has.

Press release here.  Hats to the almost inevitable Politico Scorecard blog.