Sunday, May 29, 2011

Listening: 5/29/11

I was sorely tempted to avoid turning on my computer today and just listen to music, but I decided to limit my listening to three CDs.

1. Killing Joke, Night Time (1984)
This, it turns out, was the English postpunk band's most successful album. It just happens to have their most dated song ever, called, of course, "Eighties". I heard the other relatively big hit from the album, "Love Like Blood", earlier, and liked it; I have the original LP of their next album after this, Brighter than a Thousand Suns, and I hear that album's whole style in that one song. But "Love Like Blood" is track 3. At first, keeping "Eighties" in mind, I thought the first strains of the first song did sound a bit dated. Maybe it was the electronic drums that were the vogue in the mid-'80s (Van Halen comes to mind). But the New Wave Revival brought this kind of style back with a vengeance. And though they went through some personnel changes and went on hiatus a few times, Killing Joke never broke up. They're still around, and still recording.

Anyway, this was my chance to hear one of the postpunk classics. This is not one of their weaker albums. It did not disappoint.

2. Devo, Something for Everybody (2010)
I had heard that Devo's first album in years turned out to be their best album in years. I was already a fan of the video for "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)" since they released it months before the album. So when it popped up on the library's CD rack (along with the Killing Joke album above), I snapped it up. I had to hear the whole thing for myself.

They were right. The band proved they had recovered from their years of de-evolution in the late '80s and the '90s. They're back to their old form. Their style has evolved, but it remains true to the classic style of Freedom of Choice and New Traditionalists. They even have a bitterly ironic song title like the latter album's last song, "Beautiful World" ("It's a beautiful world for you/But not for me"), in the new album's penultimate song, "No Place Like Home" ("No place like home/To go back to").

I'd say Devo are back at full strength at last. So, judging from what little evidence I've seen so far (the video to "Sad Song"), are the Cars. But I'll have to get my hands on their new disc before I can tell you whether or not the Cars have really roared back...

3. Tegan and Sara, So Jealous (2004)
For a change, I found this at a thrift store rather than the library. In the seven years since it came out, somebody already got tired of it and dropped it off at Goodwill. But I remember hearing on the radio apparently two versions of their breakout single, "Walking with a Ghost", and getting excited on the second listen when that synth line kicked in, thrilling the New Wave Revivalist in me. So when I found their complete first album, So Jealous, I picked it up.

Color me impressed. These girls are two of the cleverest songwriters I've ever heard, and I pride myself on the cleverness of my songwriting. I'd say "Ghost" was the breakout single because of its eccentricity, which of course is guaranteed to appeal to New Wave Revivalists as well as indie rock fans in general. Turns out it was the weakest track on a very strong album. There's a reason I see these two on late-night TV a lot...

In Future...
So now I've shut off my home theatre system with its five-CD changer and gone back to the computer to do some important things (edit my novel, practice my instruments, relearn German, blog). But I've picked out some CDs out of my collection to listen to tomorrow. I figure they're worth a future post...

The World Will Not End Next on October 21

Now that May 21 is now past us with the world once again not ending, that Christian radio magnate Harold Camping refuses to give up and now says he got the date wrong: not May 21, saith he, but October 21. Just ten days before Halloween. One can easily guess what the wags will be wearing when they go trick-or-treating this year.

Like I said last post, these Christian end-of-the-world predictors keep insisting on ignoring those Bible verses which have Jesus plainly stating that not even he knows when he's returning, but only God. And yet they persist. I assume that those of them who are Pentecostal or Charismatic get a "word of knowledge" direct from God that tells them that the world is going to end on such-and-such a date. Mr. Camping felt he didn't need even that, apparently; he relied on numerology. No doubt this attracted cries of heresy from many other Evangelicals.

A personal disclosure is in order here. As a kid, I used to love reading those Jehovah's Witnesses books which spelled out exactly how the world is going to end. I found them lying around the house. Later I would find out that, according to the Jehovah's Witnesses, the world was supposed to end in 1914 and then 1976. But I didn't read those books to know the future. They were the tract versions of Bible-movie special-effects extravaganzas such as The Ten Commandments, only about the end of the world according to the Jehovah's Witnesses. You know that scene where Charlton Heston as Moses parts the Red Sea? Yeah. Like that.

It was these kinds of books, and not just from the Jehovah's Witnesses, that eventually soured me on the whole end-of-the-world thing. The world was supposed to end just like it says in the books, but it never, ever does. The dates always turn out to be wrong, and the predicted events never happen. So I leave that kind of thing to the movies.

Movies like 2012. Speaking of which, the world will not end on December 21, 2012, either. You bet I'll be posting about that non-apocalypse, too.
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Great Disappointment of 2011: or, The Rapture Didn't Happen, Yet Again

The Rapture, in which all devout Evangelical Christians are supposed to be "seized" up into Heaven by Christ, was supposed to happen today at 6:00pm whatever time. Problem is, the Rapture has a long history of not happening, dating back to just after the Crucifixion, around 2,000 years ago. There's also the little thing Jesus said, in Matthew 13:32 and elsewhere, about even him not knowing when he's coming back because that's for only God to know. But don't tell those Evangelical pastors with their Bible maps, Bible codes, Pyramid inches, and convoluted numerologies like the one Harold Camping, Christian radio millionaire, used to precisely date the Rapture to today at 6pm whatever time. They know exactly when the world is scheduled to end, right down to the second. Even though only God's supposed to know such things.

The Rapture is not actually in the Bible itself. Rather, it's extrapolated from various scattered passages in the notes of Cyrus I. Scofield, whose Scofield Reference Bible is the bible of Dispensationalism, that school of Evangelical Christianity started by John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren sect. It holds to the strictest historicism in all Christendom, particularly concerning the origin of the world (creationism is one of its core tenets) and the end times (eschatology). The "Bible map" phenomenon which became so familiar to me years ago when I watched Christian TV, in which the whole history of the world from the six-day Creation back in 4004 B.C. to the future Eschaton is precisely dated and placed on a timeline, is wholly Dispensationalist. Dispensationalism is not an orthodox Christian doctrine, but a strictly Evangelical one, and one not believed by all Evangelicals; non-Dispensationalists, including those Evangelical sects not influenced by the Brethren movement and which reject the Scofield Reference Bible, consider the doctrine heretical. But it's a major force in American Christianity, which is overwhelmingly Evangelical, particularly in the South and parts of the mountain West. As long as this is the case, you'll keep hearing about the Rapture a lot.

What we're witnessing here is yet another in the long series of Great Disappointments that plague the history of American Evangelicalism, the most famous of which is the Great Disappointment of 1844 which destroyed the Millerite movement but, amazingly enough, spawned a host of new sects from the Seventh-Day Adventists to the Jehovah's Witnesses. The next one is scheduled to hit the New Age movement, a religious group not normally susceptible to Evangelical manias, on December 21, 2012, according to the "Mayan calendar code" of José Argüelles, the guy behind the Harmonic Convergence of 1987. December 21, 2012 is when the Mayan calendar is supposed to end, you see, and the world with it. I'll post here about it the day after it doesn't happen.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thoughts While Reading: Idea for a Thriller Movie Script

Reading: The Suspense Thriller: Films in the Shadow of Alfred Hitchcock by Charles Derry

So I was reading chapter 5 ("The Thriller of Murderous Passions"), and, sure enough, my muse went into action. Intersecting love triangles? How about a full-blown Love Dodecahedron? Did Claude Chabrol make slick thrillers about repressed French bourgeois exploding into murder and then trying to repress all over again what exploded out? Well, I'm American, not French, so my upper-class intersecting love-hate triangles involve the far more predatory corporate-raider class, with much more pyrotechnical results. Of course, a thriller of murderous passions must include the tropes Love Makes You Crazy, Love Makes You Evil, Murder The Hypotenuse, and other jealousy tropes.

So here's the story concept for the script I have in mind, with the working title "Triple Cross". The players:

  • George Sasser, tycoon in the defense industry.
  • Evelyne Lee Sasser, his highborn Southern-belle wife.
  • Gary Pace, hitman.
  • Starla Pace, his sexy and amoral gold-digger wife.
  • Hugo Wells, Sasser's chief engineer.
  • Roy Larkin, Wells' predecessor turned Sasser's bitterest competitor.
  • Lina Strange, exotic dancer and the story's Only Sane Person.

The plot goes roughly like this: Evelyne is sleeping with Hugo, and they decide to hire Gary to kill George. Well, turns out George is sleeping with Starla, and they're plotting to kill Gary. Chaos and nasty plot twists ensue. Roy decides to secretly encourage the others to kill each other and manipulate the stock market so he can scoop up Sasser Engineering at a discount. Lina gets caught in the chaos by being the one all the guys and Starla sleep with and ends up being the one who survives to tell the tale.

Right now this is just a concept and needs to be worked out into a full script. The specifics aren't written in stone, so some things could change as the plot (or my muse's whim) requires. But I do think this sounds interesting enough. Maybe I could even find a way to turn it into a movie myself...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thoughts While Reading: Can Society Be Run Like a Business? I Don't Think So.

Reading: Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

I'm reading chapter 10, "Failure for Free", and a light comes on in my head when I read the passage about how a small Canadian laboratory beat a larger Chinese scientific community with more sophisticated technological infrastructure in sequencing the genome of the SARS virus. In recent months, the US Republicans have apparently been trying to repeal democratic politics in this country, and all the states under their control, so they can privatize the governments and run American society like a business. More efficient, they insist; besides, if you put power in the hands of the perfidious people, they'll make this country communist if they aren't stopped. Or so the official spin goes.

Here's the thing: China really is run like a business. A giant corporation whose holding company officially calls itself the Collective Property Party of China (with "Collective Property" usually translated "Communist", though under its current policy of state capitalism [though some would not call it "capitalist"] "Corporate" would probably be a better translation) but might as well be called the Chinese National Management Corporation. China, following the example of large American corporations known for their paranoia about their precious trade secrets, has a perpetual ban on horizontal communications; information can only legally be shared along the established hierarchical lines of authority. The small Canadian lab that beat it to the SARS genome, the Genome Sciences Centre, used all open-source software tools and took advantage of the Internet and the public database of genetic sequences called GenBank. That is, all its information sharing outside the organization was horizontal. In the end, this proved to be GSC's unfair advantage. China ended up acting like a large, unwieldy conglomerate top-heavy with management. Like, say, AT&T.

China is what the Republicans want to turn America into. That is, they want to abolish "politics" and replace it with "business". Run government as a business! Yeah, right. Run it like Ma Bell, especially before she got broken up into several regional telephone companies back in the day. Since the most militant corporatists in America today are the brothers Koch, the better comparison would be less AT&T and more Standard Oil (that is, the oil monopoly J.D. Rockefeller built), as they seem bent on consolidating the oil industry into a colossus that can overthrow the American government. Looking at China, what would America be like if it came under corporate management? Heavy restrictions on information sharing, of course. Also, considering that the Kochs are trying to force their employees to vote for what they tell them to vote for Or Else, any criticism of national management would be ruthlessly punished, as in China. Already the Republicans are trying to shout down all the liberals and even claim that dissent is by definition treason. Just as in China!

Meanwhile, smaller companies tend to clump in big cities where the social and business ecologies are structured like internets (as explained by the Small World theory of social networking). It is in these environments that the real free markets thrive, where new companies and new ideas proliferate. Giant corporations like Koch Industries, however, strive to destroy such ecologies by consolidating them into monolithic hierarchical structures of management. The Chinese government has structured the entire society of China that way, like a gigantic monopoly conglomerate. The thing about these corporate hierarchies is that they entail monster overhead, especially the bigger they get. On the other hand, open systems can have no businesses and no employees, and yet, amazingly enough, they can work a lot more efficiently than hierarchical control systems such as, say, the management of AT&T (as Shirky shows in a personal anecdote).

The reason is that open systems, such as the open-source software movement, reduce the cost of failure to almost nothing. In a traditional corporation, there's a high inherent cost to failure because the company invests a lot of money in paying professionals (IT specialists, R&D specialists, marketing specialists, etc.) and the extra overhead needed to maintain these employees. Because failure can be disastrous to the company, it needs to filter out potential failures beforehand. That's why companies (and bureaucratic governments) are so conservative. Now look at SourceForge, where the vast majority of the open-source software projects have precisely zero users. And yet since there's no business organization and no employees, this open system has all but eliminated the cost of failure, so filtering can occur after publishing rather than before it.

Now look at the difference between democratic and authoritarian societies. China may be prospering right now, but all power is in the hands of the holding company's management, and if Chinese Communist Enterprises management becomes incompetent, they can bring the whole company nation down with them. In America, even if the (at least nominally) democratic political infrastructure has long been corrupted by technocratic bureaucratism, it has a resiliency that no authoritarian system, corporate or political, has. If the Chinese workers launch a national strike against the nation's corporate management, the result will be devastating. The same thing, interestingly enough, is happening in Wisconsin, where a Republican government is trying to restrict voting rights along with worker rights and meeting mass resistance that is likely to spell a GOP rout in this and next year's elections. In a free democratic society, worker resistance may be bad for business, but it's part of the political landscape, and a traditional one at that. The Chinese Communist Corporation is determined to crush all democratic tendencies because a free market spells an end to its monopoly over politics and therefore the corporation itself.

And so I think it's a bad idea for a society to be run like a corporation. It's not just that society is structured much differently from any corporation. It's also because a managerial society is rigid and inflexible, and responds badly to both crisis and opportunity. Just look at Japan fumble after the Great East Japan Earthquake...

That's the thought that came to me while reading today. I realized right at that moment that I had to share it.