Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fragments On The Good

To be good is the striving of man. The ultimate good is that which increases one’s happiness. This is what Aristotle says, but I am not totally convinced of it. It seems too cute to say that what we all truly seek is happiness from my experience. It is too common that conceptions of happiness clash that it is not, in a modern age, possible to say that the ultimate good is solely happiness. The term happiness itself meant something so wildly different to Aristotle and the ancient Greeks than it does to us now that it is difficult to conceive of their idea of happiness. We conflate happiness with pleasure and ignore the possibility that one can have a life well lived and that would be happy. But I’m not convinced that is the same as the good life as it was for Aristotle. It is still a pressing problem, but I think there is too much muck and mire to reality for it to be so simple as to say that if we live our lives well we will be able to look back on them and be happy. I think that ignores the fact that even while one is doing good, one can be completely miserable. This is not to say that it is necessary for one to be miserable to be doing good, but it is to say that good and happiness are not synonymous as Aristotle would have them.

It remains, though, to question what is good. Even in eliminating Aristotle’s conflation of good with happiness, we are left with so many other conception of good. Implicit to the rejection I have of Aristotle there is also a rejection of the Utilitarian pleasure as the ultimate good. Misery is a type of psychic pain. When we are miserable, we bemoan our lot and question our existence. We are in a terrible state, racked with questions and ambiguities. It is a state largely devoid of pleasure for most, although the pleasure seeker whom can conflated any state of life with pleasure will certainly find pleasure from a miserable toothache as well as from the sweets which brought it upon them. But that does not make pleasure, no matter how wide spread or what algorithm we put it through, as the Utilitarians would have, will make it so that we are necessarily advancing toward something which we may call good. No, it is far more difficult to find our way to anything which is good than to run it through a math problem and be able to say that it is necessarily the proper good.

And yet, even beyond Utilitarians, others do want to position good as an external answer. The religious in the western monotheisms often place God as the ultimate good. I can’t help but find this inadequate. I want to be, myself, good. Why do I need an external body with complete agency of its own to be good? God is, in western monotheism, an agent of his own design. He can make choices and do whatever he will. God is not some goal which we can strive for, as he is beyond the conception of our own humanity. The good, then, is its own agent, with its own will, and its own ability to act. We are not masters of the good, but the good is a master of us. And again, I find myself in want of a better way. I want a good which is attainable, which I can conceive of and understand.

So I’ve sat, and I’ve meditated, and I’ve thought about the acts I consider to be on a path in accordance with the good. It is not prostration to an external master, nor is it the greatest pleasure for the greatest number of people. It is much more expansive than the self, and yet it is decidedly personal. The good is divide between two halves, the community as well as the personal, and neither can be ignored. This does not answer what the good itself is, though it begins to assign aspects to it. The good is at once a personal autonomy and a sense of community. If one is only acting toward the ends of one of these positions, they are not truly living a good life. They are not meeting the good, nor are they anywhere within what could be their own personal good but only acting on their own personal pleasure. Likewise, if one is solely acting for what they perceive to be the good of the community, they are not acting toward the good either, but they are acting toward that which they consider to be the pleasure of the community. The good is not the self-immolation to the community writ large, for that is abandoning oneself to something external to them and that can never lead to the good as you must attain it yourself, yet nor is it the immolation of the community for the individual self, for that would be solely seeking one’s own pleasure, and that is itself not good either, as there is more to the good that the pleasure we can calculate for our own lives and for those beyond us.

As the human is a social animal, I must conceive of the good within society. As the human is an autonomous mind, I must conceive of the good within the individual. It creates an apparent contradiction, as what can be of one’s own pleasure may be largely damaging to the community at large and one could too easily lose oneself to the community. They must not either be lost or damaged within the good if we are too believe that there is such thing as the good. The individual must be a part of the society, and must not impress their will upon others. Within the good, there is the respect for other’s autonomy and their own autonomy as well. There is expediency toward the good of society within the individual. The individual’s role in society is to help the society, but also to use the society to help oneself. I am within my society, and my society is within me as well. I can use my society to allow myself to be influenced, but I cannot allow it to take away my own autonomy. I am not the only person harmed or helped by my actions, and yet I cannot use this as the measure of whether to act or not.

So, within that, we must find what the good is. What is that which would enhance society and the individual as well? Is there such a thing? Can we even know it? Therein lays the problem. With all of this, we are attempting to discover something which would be universal as well as truly understandable. Despite all of this, despite knowing the roles of the human within oneself and within society, one must acknowledge that it is difficult to decide that which is truly good. We have a problem of being human, of our minds not being completely reliable. While we can know some abstract concepts and some concepts which are intangible through some logic, it makes one wonder how much we can actually know, how much we can actually do to live through our lives. The problem of good is a particular problem of something giving us advice to live by. It is a problem because the good is often presupposed to be something of an answer. But for life to actually be livable, the power of answers must be questioned. Which I can act in such a way that it is apparent my life will be easier and that society may deem my acts a good, this is not the good. The good has within it a respect for autonomy, as previously stated, and the only way to respect autonomy is through ambiguity.

The one true good is, then, ambiguous and difficult to truly comprehend. Any action which we take is only good in its measure, but not in its nature, particularly in the case of the ascertaining of answers. While these all may appear to be good, as they appear to ennoble humans and enable them to have greater brevity of choice, this is an illusion as to whether or not it is actually allowing us to know that which is good. No, the only things which are good are those which respect the autonomy of the society and oneself and also enable both to survive. One cannot judge an act by its outcome, for in that it is a sum of prior actions, none of which actually create something good. Even if something is pleasurable, it may not be good, as the greatest pleasure, even for all people everywhere at all times, may destroy autonomy. Nor is it happiness which is the greatest good, as happiness itself presupposes an answer to life’s questions. No, it is those questions, those unanswerable questions, that the good lies within. It is something massive and something small. It is a thing of contradictions which can never, themselves, be answered.

-A Person Who Exists

Prologomena to Future Posts by A Person Who Exists

When discussing contributions to this blog with its moderator, she asked me to explain why I would be writing what I would write. I've been thinking about this since then. On one level, I'm writing it for my own pleasure and find things out as well as I can. I'm attempting to follow through the ideas in my mind. That's not a good reason to be a contributing blogger, though, because it only contributes to me. I am a bit of Sophist, to be sure, but I need a better reason to be posting on a blog like this than that. I mean, I'm not going to talk about things in a contemporary sense at all times, and many of my contributions will be essays in the most dry and boring sense. I'm going to be writing some straight philosophy without the filter of pop-culture. Why does any blog need this? I mean, there's a huge market for "_____ and Philosophy" books, I know I've purchased some.

The thing is, philosophy is what it all comes back to. An idea of what men and women are? That's philosophy. A stance on whether women's studies is equality or inequality? Philosophy. Whether you realize it or not, you're going to do a hell of a lot of philosophy unless you're merely doing things without thinking. That's what philosophy is at its core: thought. Sure, I could put "The pursuit of truth" and all that sort of stuff, which, yes, it is, but its got more than that. I don't need to pursue truth to be thinking philosophically, I just need to be attempting to understand the world. That's what any future posts I do will concern themselves with more than anything else. Why not do it in the form of pop-culture or politics? I will occasionally, but I want to show that you don't need those trappings for it to be readable. Blah, blah, self-righteous nobility and such.

The thing is, philosophy is important but its also just fun. Its thinking in a mode where you can think about it, which I hope will be enjoyable for this blog, otherwise I'll start a counter-blog and wage war upon this one.

-A Person Who Exists

P.S. Oh, and I will be writing a post calling all of this bullshit and saying that we need to justify philosophy. For funsies.

Editors Note: I think that everyone here enjoys thinking about thinking. No need for a war. Although, A Person Who Exists is infinitely smarter than me. - Shannon

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where Did All The Real Men Go? They Turned Into Women.

When I was younger, I used to listen to the older man discuss women.
To hear these men speak, you'd think that women were evil creatures
who existed only to drain you of your funds, withhold sex, and bitch
at you for enjoying anything involving a team of some kind, be it
Delta Force or the Eagles. Women were delicate swans who liked shiny
things and men were savage beasts who drank whiskey and ate raw meat
right off the bone of a creature they hunted themselves with their
bare hands. Thinking back, I have no idea who these men were. They
were probably stand-up comedians I saw on TV. The point is, men were
bad ass and physical, while women were soft and emotional.

Cut to my Facebook page in 2010. One male "friend" frequently posts
about how he just can't wait to curl up next to his girlfriend and
another one talks about a girl playing with his heart. Compare and
contrast with the women. One girl talks about whiskey and farting. A
few days ago, another girl posted about her boyfriend broke up with
her and the time is right to party. A rather large portion of my
female friends are constantly prattling on about sports. Pardon my
french, but what the fuck is this bullshit? This was not the world
late night comedians prepared me for! This some crazy bizarro world
where women open bottles with their teeth and men know damned well
that they have to have dinner on the table by 5, not 5:15.

I know what you're thinking. "Mike, you're sexist and I hate you." But
you're wrong! You don't really hate me. Not yet. This isn't about
"traditional gender roles," or any of that silly crap. This about
something even more terrifying than women voting or making decisions:
WE ACTUALLY LISTENED TO EACH OTHER! If you think back to your
formative years, you might remember men discussing women in the same
way I do. The consensus was that men wanted women that acted like
them. As a result, little girls began to act like men as they grew
older. They took an interest in sports and drinking and fighting. My
generation of males came of age in the time of Dawson's Creek. Now I
know that you're finding it hard to fathom that such an insignificant
part of the nineties played such a large part in guy-liner and the
wimpiness of today's male, but remember that I was 13 and Dawson's
Creek was the hottest thing going for the tween girls. It was the
first show I remember that showed males crying over girls. Now
McDreamy cries every week. And all the girls wanted a guy like Dawson.
Here's a guy who shared his bed with a girl he wasn't going to have
sex with, and we were all expected to act like him. Thanks a lot,
Kevin Williamson.

Now look at us. A generation of hard-drinkin', tough talkin' chicks,
and a bunch of overly sensitive, teary-eyed men. What does this mean
for my generation? Nothing really. It's just something interesting to
think about. Our gender roles completely flipped and nobody seems to
really notice. What happens here on out? Do women get tired of
candy-ass men? Do men get tired of women who drink them under the
table? Will there be a helpline for abused men? Will men get together
once a week to drink wine and gossip under the guise of a book club? I
hope so. I love gossiping about that fat cow, Joe, who lives across
the street. You know I heard he slept with two women last month. You
believe that? What a whore.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What, Exactly, Is A Woman's Issue? Or, Has Feminism Become Anti Human?

A few months ago, my philosophy professor and I had an extremely humorous classroom conversation regarding “women's literature”. I can't remember what spurred the discussion in that direction, but I am almost certain it was a student quarreling with his explanation of a piece regarding the absence of great women artists in historical texts. What I do remember clearly is the resulting exchange between the two of us. He asked me what counts for women's literature. My ever so articulate response went something like: “Umm, well, uh, it's usually literature which is written by women and concerning some issues that affect women.” He, being the wizened old wise ass that he is, pressed me further by asking who, exactly, decides what constitutes a women's issue. At this point, I was a mess of giggles (it was the end of a very long semester) and could barely stutter out my response “some invisible group of people.” Giggling aside, the point of that particular conversation was to highlight the fact that, whenever the artistic or intellectual output of one group is primarily defined as being for and by that group, the effect is not liberating, but further marginalizing. This marginalization is further highlighted when the definition or categorization is left to the will of some elite group of arbiters. In the case of women's lit, it has the effect of saying “hey woman, you should want to read this, you know, because you're a woman.” This is not, in and of itself, problematic as I, like all women, have the ability to merely bypass that particular section of the bookstore.

However, perhaps the more insidious section of the local book outlet is the “Women's Issues” section. Yes, like the women's lit section, I can easily walk past it in favor of other areas but the women's issues section offers a slightly more powerful and insidious message. The message emanating from that section is loud and clear “You must care about these issues if you are a woman. These issues affect you because of your sex and failure to pay attention to them will result in your oppression.” Obviously this is a slightly exaggerated characterization of the message which is being offered, but it has, like all good jokes do, an element of truth to it.

I, like many other people I know, am prone to simply wanting to know what is going on in any area of thought which claims to be about me. This desire has led me to hold, smell, browse, purchase and read many a book from the women's issues section of many a Borders and Barnes and Noble. I have learned a great deal from these books. I have learned that I am, alternately: oppressed and worshiped, oversexed and sexually repressed, lying to myself about not wanting to settle and continuing the good fight by not settling, a slave to my biological clock and fully liberated from the need to breed, empowered and victimized, forced into fetishistic submission by the dominant patriarchy and free from the shackles of oppression thanks to porn, comfortable in my own skin and a slave to cosmetics. The list is shrill, interminable and utterly confusing. In short, I have learned that I am a deeply disturbed individual with a tendency toward multiple personality disorder, simply because I have an innie instead of an outie. What is interesting to me here is that no one, ever, not once, has stopped to asked me how I feel about these so called issues. Instead, they are merely there, freely mapped onto me and every other woman as if we can not decide for ourselves which issues truly affect our psyches and our lives.

If the preceding complaint sounds familiar, it should. It is my understanding that this sort of condescending external prescription of what a woman should care about is exactly what the second wave of feminists were fighting against in the first place. Only now, instead of being told what she would want by some predominantly male power structure, a woman, essentially, being used as pawns in what can only be described as a never ending cat fight. We are constantly fighting over the right way to live our lives as liberated women. This argument is never ending and all encompassing. Are strip clubs repressive or empowering? Is being a stay at home mom a total dishonor to those who had no choice or is it a good example of a woman taking the reigns over her own situation and dropping out of the corporate rat race? Should we expect our societies to help us find solutions to issues such as rape (which, I have to point out, is not a crime which ONLY effects women, no matter what the makers of Rape-Axe say) or should we take matters into our own hands by sporting a newly minted vagina dentata? Again, we are faced with a never ending list of questions, only now, we are duking it out like Dynasty characters, only with less hair pulling.

I'd like to ring the bell on this grudge match for just a moment and ask what may be the most important question of all. I'll wait while we all re-fluff our curls and adjust our bras. Ok.. Now. Listen up. WHY ARE WE ASKING OURSELVES THE WRONG DAMN QUESTIONS? And trust me, they are most definitely the wrong questions.

I do not mean to indicate that I don't believe that oppression exists in our society, or that rape is a problem or that people are being abused and downtrodden every minute of every day. They are, it is, it does. However, when we take these issues and make them sex specific or, even worse, spend time squabbling over non issues such as if it's ok to simply be a mommy, we are reducing real issues to niche memes and clever bumper stickers and forgetting the fact that women once died for our right to make a choice, any choice, on our own. You see instead of worrying over what a woman ought to care about, perhaps it would be more fruitful to take advantage of the relatively new luxury of being able to speak out and make choices by focusing on those things which we all care about, and which affect all sexes.

The fact is that things like senseless violence, wholesale oppression, rape, poverty, starvation and a lack of care are issues which are extremely present in our society. Only most of them are not relegated to one sex, one race or one sexual orientation. They are nearly equal opportunity offenders. Of course there are still some battles to be fought on behalf of one group or another, including the right to marriage for all individuals and the fact that to be poor in our society is to have virtually no choice, but these issues are certainly blind to our genitalia, and when we pretend that they are not by engaging in such silliness as the so called Mommy Wars or psychotic infighting over how we cover our breasts we are merely distracting ourselves from areas in which we can all stand to suck it up and make some real changes. Furthermore, when we do this, we are dishonoring those who fought for us to have this luxury while they actually were being oppressed. To that end, I offer the following: Ladies, lets get the fuck over ourselves, stop engaging in this mindless fighting over non issues and get out there and help those who really need it. We can start by walking on past the Woman's Issues section in favor of the Current Events or Sociology sections and learning about what's really happening in the world.

-Shannon (Who Now Wishes To Be Addressed Exclusively As Shanwow)

Are You Experienced? The Degradation of American Drug Culture

In 1967 Jimi Hendrix asked an entire generation searching for answers, “Are You Experienced?”. For many growing up in the age of the sixties this question may have not been a sufficient answer to the unsatisfied cynics who just thought it was just another way to say “Are you stoned man?”. But, for many, it was a valuable key to a door leading humanity into the unknown.

I know, I know you probably scream and cry
That your little world won't let you go
But who in your measly little world
Are you trying to prove that
You're made out of gold and, eh, can't be sold

As Soldiers returned from the war that established America as a Super Power to be reckoned with, government propagandists responsible for selling Americans the Second World War were now in full effect, promoting the “Nuclear family” and the “return to traditional gender roles”. This short lived peace time was followed by the “Forgotten” War of Korea, the Failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, the assassination of Kennedy and a quagmire in Vietnam which, until recently, was the longest war in American history.

During this volatile time in the American “Nuclear” culture, which in retrospect disenfranchised the youth of a nation out of a future with an unjust draft, was precisely what fueled the fire of the “Counter Culture”. The youth of America began realize that the idea of armed service to the state in times of war was just a modern way of the powerful perverting the idea of “duty” in order to protect their land and resources by using the population to fill the pockets of the profiteers and banks, which were funding both sides of the war.

Little did people know that the miracle of LSD, which was invented by Albert Hoffman nearly parallel to the atomic bomb in 1938, was about to make a large impact on an entire generation. This small, yet very potent, values changing substance was about to open up a whole generation to the world behind the veil of deception, aided by the psychedelically charged music of Jimi Hendrix and the new and improved Beatles. As Bill Hicks said, “I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don't believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. 'Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years were real fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few tunes. ” Could anyone imagine the state of music today if the Beatles hadn't done LSD?

But the drug culture of the 60's does not go without ridicule, and not just from the politicians who had invested a lot of time and money into the acceptance of their world called “consensus reality”, but from the outspoken critics within the counter culture movement, such as Abbie Hoffman who carried this criticism to Woodstock before being struck upside the head by Pete Townsend's guitar when he jumped on stage to expressed his outrage at people sitting on their asses smoking weed, while John Sinclair was sentenced to rot in a prison for two joints for 10 years. Also writers like Hunter S. Thompson, know for his engagement in the counter culture, mocked it with his exaggerated excessive drug use and stated at the end if Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: “We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled that 60's. That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary's trip. He crashed around America selling "consciousness expansion" without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously... All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody... or at least some force - is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Counter culture icons such as Timothy Leary probably did not have the foresight to see how the excesses of the sixties would influence the further degradation of drug culture in the 70's and 80's with substances like cocaine or the horse tranquilizing potency of narcotics like Valium and Quaaludes. But it is precisely this drug culture that has provided a framework and a structure for a “good time!”, becoming a perfect prescription for excess and failure. Thus making the epidemic excesses of Ecstasy and Oxycontin possible in the first place.

By exploiting these substances that mother earth has provided us, and reducing them to just another commodity to be bought and sold we are allowing a further degradation between us and mother nature to take place. Responsible ritualistic drug use of archaic cultures has become a thing of the past, perverting these experiences to be included into the escapist drug culture that includes alcohol. Legalization is not the answer. Especially in a consumer culture so hell bent on escaping the world they are responsible for trashing, that they would give this sacred substances to the worst drug pusher on the face of the planet aptly dubbed “Big Tobacco”.

To be “Experienced” is to value the quality of the experience, not the quantity of the substance that produces the experience. Experience comes from delving as deep into the unknown as one can when afforded with such opportunities. Not just engaging in the same tired act of excess with little or no headway being made. The same familiar bean bag chair, while watching the Matrix is not only moronic but a waste of the opportunity to explore the deepest parts of the emotional core of one's soul. To avoid exploration of the unknown is to entrench oneself in a spiritually stagnating rut. The purpose of life is fostered in an individuals subjective experiences. The avoidance of any situation whether it be awkward, unknown or new does not assist a person in the attainment of individuation, which Carl Jung described as a process through which a person becomes his/her 'true self', which is seemingly a psychological interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche famous words, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Life is the struggle with the emotional core of human existence and experience, and art is the expression of that wholly subjective experience. By engaging with these psychedelic substances with little or no preparation we open ourselves to the loss of a focused, and purpose driven experience. By not setting our expectations for the experience we lose the ability to utilize these experiences to further ourselves psychologically. By engaging in escapist tendencies with substances not divinely designed to merely provide an escape from one's problems, but for complete and utter liberation from the clutches of our Ego, we grant our ego to have more power after reentry then prior to the experience. Making an individual more prone to the ego games of identity and acceptance that advertisers and marketers feed on.

Our drug culture has now become nothing more than an extension of the abhorrent consumer culture. A mere shadow of its former self on the verge of enslaving us in the prison of the material world, instead of liberating our true will from the Demiurge of bourgeoisie society. We smoke blunt after blunt and drink beer after beer to what avail? The satisfaction of being able to keep up with this habitual hazing, and consuming more then the next guy? How does this unenlightened, self-absorbed, and neurotic engagement in a habitual game benefit our species as a whole? It doesn't! And anyone who tries to defend this neurotic behavior does nothing more than further the establishment's agenda to regulate and control human consciousness by any means necessary, and that includes the encouragement of voluntary sedation as a “cultural diversion”. Terrence Mckenna pointed out that one of the fundamental problems with humanity is that, “We are led by the least among us and we do not fight back against the dehumanizing values that are handed down as control icons.” and that the only way out of this mess is to, “ reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that's being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world. Where is that at?" That's a good question. I don't know? Probably doped up in front of the T.V. or computer somewhere in a seemingly “free” country where citizens exhaust the little leisure time they have left watching vicarious television sitcoms, the mainstream “news”, or vegging out in front of the latest video game. In addition to your perfect prescription of excessive sedation. Just what you, the docile and apathetic masses, need... TO SHUT YOU UP!

-The Dead Guy

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ten Reasons Why Everyone Should See The Melvins Live This Summer

10. King Buzzo's Hair. - I'm pretty certain that, somewhere inside that massive fro, one could find Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart and every single sock and earring that has ever been eaten by the dryer or lost in a bar room. Trust me, this hair is legendary and it is impossible not to stare at it.

9. The Costumes
– If music was a middle school Halloween party, The Melvins would be the kids who sewed their own costumes out of scraps instead of buying them from the super store across the street. The hems are ragged and they often don't make any sense, but there is something undeniably engaging about watching four grown men traipse onto a stage in smocks and robes that look like they could have been refashioned from your grandmother's hope chest.

8. At $20 A Pop, Tickets Are a Bargain
– This may seem like a stupid reason, but ticket prices for similarly legendary bands who are also touring this summer (like The Pixies and Primus) are exorbitantly priced to the point of exclusion. The Melvins simply do not roll that way. The venues are small, the tickets are affordable, and you still get that same feeling of nostalgia and pride. Additionally, you can purchase records and T-shirts directly from the band here, without feeling like you're being asked to fill the pockets of some corporate whore.

7. Bragging Rights
- Cheap, yes, but let's be honest here: We all know that, one day, someone younger than us is going to ask about this band. Most likely, they will have learned about them via Nirvana and they will come to us and say “Hey, did you ever see the Melvins live? Kurt Cobain loved them.” You will be able to say “yes”, and then go on to bore them with endless details such as “King Buzzo had dinosaurs on his robe,” and “they played for a full hour and a half.”

6. It may actually be impossible to find a show with a more purely enthusiastic crowd of fans outside of a teeny bopper pop concert
- Yes, The Melvins are something of an indie music badge of honor, the knowledge of whom can often guarantee that one is, indeed, a tragically uncool music geek (read: pretentious pain in the ass who knows more than you). However, once faced with seeing their odd idols on stage, their primary fan base becomes a jelly-like mass of excitement. No crossed arms and ironic head bobbing here.

5. The Melvins Are Our MC5
- They are influential like no other band from our generation, yet they are relatively obscure. Sure, many people have heard of them, but they are not multi-platinum hit makers or aging rock demi-gods. They are simply amazing musicians who play what they want to hear and, in turn, what every band you have loved wants to hear.

4. The Melvins Play Like You Used To Dream You Would
– It is a simple fact that all rock fans have had, at one point or another, intense rock star fantasies. Chances are that these fantasies included facts like “I will always play like I love it.” and “I will never be jaded by my own fame.” This is one band who, with their costumes and feedback and excitement, never looks like are working. Instead, the Melvins play their entire set like they are simply happy to be there, doing something they love and playing what they want to hear. As we get older, and the bands we cut our teeth on do too, this is becoming more and more of a rarity.

3. Absolutely Insane Tandem Drumming
– Drummers Coady Willis and Dale Crover play in perfect tandem and with an insane amount of enthusiasm while also providing vocals. This may not sound like anything special, but consider that they do it without ever appearing as though they are doing anything that remotely resembles hard work. Watching these guys play could make even the most rhythm-less among us (read: me) believe, for just a second, that we could be doing the same exact thing.

2. Five Full Minutes Of Feedback
– It's pretty much guaranteed that, somewhere amidst the enthusiastic drumming mentioned above, a break will be required. The Melvins accomplish this by delivering a five minute bout of the least physically showy, yet auditory mind blowing, feedback I have ever witnessed. This is the kind of feedback that makes you feel as though you have entered another realm of existence entirely, the kind you haven't encountered since 1994.

1. If Phil Spector Created A Wall Of Sound, The Melvins Have Created A Fucking Labyrinth
- Many bands manage to make you feel like their live performance is a brick wall of noise, which is smacking you in the face at all times. The Melvins make you feel as though you are lost inside that wall, running your hands through it and trying to decide if you ever want to be found. Forget the old adages like “face melting” and consider that you might actually lose your fingernails in the excitement and power of it all.

-Shannon (whose ears are still ringing 2 days later)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


You were first perplexed by her emergence from nowhere. Then you were shocked by her lack of knowledge, credentials, and ability to form a coherent thought. You soon grew angry – angry that people actually took (and still do take) her seriously. Shame quickly ensued; shame to be a fellow American, Republican and/or Alaskan. You eventually got over all of this, thankfully, and even learned to find a bit of humor in her incessant, very public gaffes. But now, NOW – countless train wrecks later – you just. find. her. annoying. Her trite colloquialisms. Her mind-numbing rambling. Her nasally nagging. Argh. For the sake of the purity and sanctity of a true 15 minutes of fame, Sarah Palin, will you go away already?!

Ah, but do not fret; for here are ten ways you can help ensure this really happens:

10. Put off the off-putter. Attend an event in which Palin is speaking and repeat everything she says loud enough so she can hear just how ridiculous she sounds. Really practice the accent. You may be no Tina Fey, but that’s okay; the point is to come across as gratingly irritating as Palin is, which won’t be difficult.

9. Place the onus on somebody else. If a supporter utters Palin’s name in your presence, sniff both of your armpits and say, “Phew, thank god it’s not me.” Then look at the person accusatorily. Walk away.

8. Eradicate the virus. Whenever you see her name in print online, remove Palin from the tag cloud and add your favorite one-hit-wonder band instead.

7. Make lemonade from poop. Create a snazzy Sarah for Prez website. Pool some funds to purchase the following Adwords on Google: blockhead, dolt, dummy, fool, imbecile, jackass, ignoramus, moron, nitwit, twit, twat and you betcha. Link these relatively inexpensive words to the website. As for website content, upload people’s reactions caught on video to Palin’s speeches, etc. (similar to vis-à-vis the infamous 2 girls, 1 cup). Watch the traffic on the site explode; then charge for advertising. Send all proceeds to Planned Parenthood.

6. Bribe the willing. Since it’s obvious that Palin is purely money-driven, simply organize a fundraising campaign to raise enough cash to pay her to go away forever. Think about it – if every American donated $1, Palin would earn well over $300 million. That’s so beyond worth it – for her and certainly for everybody else.

5. Offense and defense. Use Palin to plug the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, yes. But why stop there? There are limitless gushing holes that need plugging. Hmm, are you thinking what I’m thinking? Palin as the new face of tampons? Nah, that’s offensive to tampons.

4. Promote brand awareness. You can accumulate (and delight in) as many Palinisms as you’d like – and there are already zillions – but the real way to taint (read: color) a legacy is to personify that individual’s most celebrated failure. So, for example, a person who quits halfway through a political term for no other reason than out of sheer laziness or opportunistic self-gain should be branded a Pali or Palinite or Palininny or Palinumskull or Palinincompoop. You get the idea.

3. Porn. Just, porn. Rent, buy or download Nailin Palin and request squeals. The porn industry is perhaps the most adept at quickly responding to market demands. And advertisers will no doubt follow suit. If there’s going to be a Palin empire, then it might as well be in porn (and at others’ monetary gain).

2. Boycott the products you’re not already using. Do not patronize any organization or company that supports, endorses or pays Palin for anything. Fox, no. TLC, no. HarperCollins, no. It’s not like you’ll be missing much from any of these companies. Glenn Beck? What Not to Wear? Whatever. Although, Toddlers and Tiaras is some pretty deep shit, if you ask me.

1. Out of sight, out of a job. Lastly, pretend Palin’s a panhandler or a Jehovah’s Witness or a crying baby, and, well, simply ignore her.


Is The BP Boycott Effective? Or Is It Like A Band-Aid on A Bullet Wound?

For the past 55 days or so, we have all been at least somewhat aware of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Among the people I know, reactions have ranged from sadness to anger to fear and even to nonchalance. Whatever the reaction, we all know it is happening and, I think, most people care. The problem is that most of us have no idea what the leak will do in the long term, or what we can do about it.

It is easy, in a situation like this, to see images of befouled birds and dead turtles and to point a big angry finger at the most easily recognizable target for our anger. That target is, of course, BP as they were the “owners” of the Deepwater Horizon well, and have stoked the fires of our rage by allowing their idiotic CEO to continue to speak, even after he has made several unforgivable gaffes. No doubt, BP needs to be held responsible for the damage of the leak and must be made accountable for the cost of cleanup and the loss of jobs along the Gulf Coast. However, the “hold BP accountable” battle cry, while satisfying in terms of providing a target, does little to affect any actual change, and may be distracting us all from the warning this disaster provides regarding our over dependance on fossil fuels.

One of the most visible forms of reaction to the leak is the 630,494 people strong “Boycott BP” facebook page. The page lists companies owned by BP, such as Safeway, Arco and Wild Bean Coffee, and asks members to boycott those brands and protest outside BP stations across the country. In addition to calling for the boycott, the page also provides news links and interviews with local fisherman and wildlife experts. On the surface, this plan seems like a good one right? As the children of Baby Boomers, we were raised to believe that we can affect change by voting with our wallets and taking our money to the companies which we believe to be responsible. On that line, if we avoid buying gas from BP, we are punishing them for their apparent negligence and sending the message that we are, well, angry with them.

As several news stories have pointed out, this approach is problematic at best and foolish at worst for a variety of reasons. First, all of the BP stations in the continental U.S. Are owned by individual franchise owners. The only profit that BP makes from them is the penny or so per gallon of gas sold. This means that by boycotting the station all together, one is actually boycotting a local business and removing their ability to support themselves while having very little effect on BP's bottom line. Isn't this one of the very things that has people so angry at BP in the first place? That they have destroyed hundreds of small businesses along the coast? I could be wrong here, but it seems to me that the call for a boycott is positioning itself so that two wrongs make a right. In fact, when asked about the damage that a boycott would do to independent businesses, the owner of the Boycott BP site mentioned that it was justifiable because of the loss of jobs in the Gulf area.

The second, and possibly more important, fact about the gas station boycott is that the call is to merely gas up at another station. Again, it seems logical. Don't like one company's practices? Take your business elsewhere. However, the problem with this is that the crude oil that BP is drilling is different from BP branded gasoline. BP's oil is sold to a variety of refineries and processing plants. This means that the gas at the Lukoil station across the street could very well have been made from BP oil and that, by purchasing that particular brand of gas, you are actually supporting the very company you are seeking to punish. Furthermore, nearly every item we purchase comes to us via oil based transport and most of them are made from, or contain some byproduct of, crude oil. This means that the plastic casing on your computer, your favorite lipstick or those hothouse tomatoes you ate last night may all have had a part in supporting BP.

The third problem with a boycott of BP based on their harmful and unsafe environmental practices fails to address the fact that ALL oil companies befoul the environment. It just happens in other, usually third world, countries. Our plastic goes to landfills in India, our refining waste is destroying the water in South America and much of our mineral and oil mining comes at the cost of human life throughout the world. George Carlin used to do a bit about how Americans only care about issues when they pop up right in front of them using the quote “Not in my backyard.” Sadly, the Gulf leak and the reaction to it has proven his point. We are angry that BP has shit in our backyard and want to do something about it. So, what can we do?

The simplest answer to that question is that we need to reduce the amount of petroleum we use. The problem with a simple answer, however, is that tends to leave us with a varieties of whys and hows.
In this case, the why seems pretty self explanatory: because, by continuing to use oil at this rate we are rapidly destroying the earth's ability to sustain us. It's the how that can be tricky. In a perfect world, we would all be able to simply stop driving, shop and eat locally, and decrease our dependance on fossil fuels quickly. However, this is not a perfect world and calls for total life changes are ineffective and short sited. Most people could not give up their cars without losing their jobs or ability to get around at all and most of us do not have the means to only eat from local sources.

This does not mean that there is nothing we can do. It only means that the changes that we need to make can be small and sustainable. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas. First, why not stop buying bottled water? I remember a time when bottled water was seen as a silly frivolity or something which popped up in the refrigerators of yuppies with too much disposable income. Now, those bottles are everywhere. Each one of those bottles is made from oil, shipped using oil, and disposed of via oil based transport. By not using them anymore, one can greatly reduce the amount of oil one is using, save a ton of money and stop looking like a pretentious douche when swilling from that bottle of Smart Water.

Can't give up the Evian? What about stopping at that farmer's market you pass on the way to the grocery store and supplementing your weekly food stash with just a few local items? You don't have to give up the big box grocery store altogether (although I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to), but every single local item you buy reduces the amount of oil you are using. Furthermore, if you live on the East Coast, like I do, why not grow some of you own veggies or herbs in the summer? Tomatoes and peppers can be grown in windows and require very little maintenance. Pull this one off and you are getting at least some of your food without driving at all.

Finally, when choosing products, why not choose the one that is going to last longest, as opposed to the least expensive. I know that it is easy to think of spending less as being more efficient financially, but if you think your decision out a little further, and consider the total cost of replacement when a cheap product breaks, buying the better built, more expensive product can actually save untold amounts of money and resources. You use less fuel to get to the purchase, make the purchase once instead of twice or more, use less resources in the manufacturing process and create less waste.

While the solutions I have offered will not fix the problem of the leak in the Gulf of Mexico, or give back those livelihoods which have been lost, they are small, painless steps which anyone can take. Instead of putting a band-aid on the bullet wound in our ability to sustain ourselves while the bullets of oil abuse as whizzing past out heads, why not try to cut back a bit, before the chance to do so is lost completely?


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We Are Not Lazy, Just Undewhelmed.

I don't remember when I started reading them, or even most of what I read about in them, but I remember the shape and smell of them well. They would arrive, already creased and sometimes torn from the mailman's efforts to fit them through the slot in our rowhome door, every month. Once delivered, they would sit in great, messy piles beside my father's corduroy recliner and he would leaf through them as he napped between night shifts. They were larger than my mother's monthly issues of Redbook and Cosmo and contained no advice on how to be pretty or keep a
clean house. Instead, the stack beside my father's chair contained a wonderland of pop culture writing and political discourse. The writers in these magazines seemed unafraid to offer an opinion on a particular band or political issue and peppered their articles with foul language. When my mother was looking, they were off limits, but I always managed to get to them somehow. Every issue was like a long car ride with my dad, where we would turn the radio all the way up, race over hills, sing along, and discuss what I knew about what was going on in the world.

Later, in sixth grade, I would notice books by one of the writers for the magazine on my dad's bookshelf and get myself in a great deal of trouble for bringing a dog eared copy of Hell's Angels to school. Trouble or no, I once loved every issue of Rolling Stone like I have loved nothing else in this world. For as long as I can remember, I have always felt that the really important stuff in life is that which is too often characterized as trivial: music, movies, art and debate. These were the things that Rolling Stone also seemed to hold in high esteem and, within the newpapery pages, I found some sense of community and connection which I could not find in my own little world of pink tricycles and itchy dresses. These writers were not concerned with how well I could french braid my hair, or what kind of sneakers I was wearing. Instead, they seemed to recognize me for who I was: a skinny 8 year old with a turntable and a collection of Beatles records who knew that people were starving in her own country and was angry that no one else seemed to care. They also seemed to know the most important fact of the human condition. At the end of the day, when you look back on certain events, you nearly never remember what you were wearing or what you were cooking, but you always remember what was happening in politics and what song was in your head. I would go to bed every night and tell myself stories about what my career writing for them would be like. What bands would I interview? Where in the world would I go? Which subcultures would I infiltrate? How would I accept my Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism? Which rock star would I marry?

Naturally, these are the sorts of questions that only a precocious child would ask herself and I have since grown slightly more realistic about my prospects for writing for Rolling Stone and for marrying a rock star. This realism, of course, has been helped along by the fact that the magazine is not what it once was. Gone is the record shaped format and drug fueled exuberance. Now the magazine offers articles on The Black Eyed Peas and pussy toned political writings which tap dance around critical thinking and seem to mostly pander to the social left,
while ignoring the political implications of either party. For me, the new, glossy version is as good as those Cosmos and Redbooks I skipped as a kid. It offers only advice and information on that which I am either wholly uninterested in, or already well aware of. Aside from that, I write this today in a world which I could never have imagined at 8, where no one buys records or magazines or even newspapers anymore and everything has become digitized. There are massive debates going on over the future of print media, and I tend to hold the belief, however depressing, that magazine and newspaper journalism has been forever changed and soon will be delivered only ia the internet and read on these spacey devices that feel like something from the Jetsons.

Still, even with the knowledge that Rolling Stone and other publications like it may be dying, I can not fully let go of that desire to write and debate about pop culture and politics. In fact, this desire seems to color nearly all of my decisions and conversations. Friends are chosen based on their ability to discuss such things, nothing is more important at the beginning of each day than what I will listen to, read and watch, and I am still frustrated by the lack of questioning that I see around me. While we no longer have Hunter S Thompson and Cameron Crowe now writes romantic comedy, I believe that there is still a need within us to explore, critique and question
everything and it is in that spirit that I am writing this now.

Although I am aware that world of web based writing is often one of blatant navel gazing or a great source of misinformation, I also believe that it can be, if utilized properly, a place where people can come together to discuss and debate freely. While my friends, who are something of conspiracy nuts, may be right and this may soon change, I want to take advantage of it fully while I still can, and invite others to do so as well. In that vein, my intention is to use this space as a place where we can write about all the things I saw in those magazines years ago. A place where we can come up with ways to make the world we have inherited as good as it possibly can be and define the future of our own culture. There's a lot of talk out there about how much we, as a generation, do not give a shit. Let's prove them wrong.