Jul 29, 2007
Meet Mr. Me Too
Greetings! Life is busy.

Anyhow, about two weeks ago I was at the Pitchfork Fest. I wasn't there for very long. On Friday, we got there toward the end of GZA's set, decided "why are we here" and ten minutes into Sonic Youth, left.

Saturday, the only full set I saw was Clipse. It was an excellent set, no doubt. Clipse has very much grown on me. It's hard to explain why I like them so much - their beats are very sparse and I do not connect with their lyrics. For someone whose favorite rap song is "Devil's Pie" by Rhymefest, a song that has an incredible hook and a great topic, it's odd. I tend to think the beats are very important - check The Hood Internet, and you'll see what I mean. Rap that I generally wrote off as tacky or music I ignored as dull is fused to create something wonderful. I don't much like I'm A Flirt, but I'm A Flirt (Shoreline) is musical divinity.

I have struggled recently with what I think is so enduring about the genre of rap - you could argue that the art of the mashup demonstrates a few things, how important a good beat is and how interchangeable a vocal track is. Even in the process of creating a mashup, I found that the primary link between the two, other than general song structure and the organization of thoughts into couplets and so on, is the rhythm. And of course, a good rap song relies on a beat and a vocal track to work - as I pointed out re: "Tooken Back" by Ghostface, a good beat can change the entire mood of the song.

And I think the whole idea of it as poetry is a sack of shit. I ain't no poetry buff.

I think what's great about hip hop as a genre is that it allows a rapper to take different attitudes toward his work. Other music relies on crafting a song, but I think that you can really get a feel on a good rapper's personality by listening to him rhyme. You can like the music a group makes, and like them from getting a feel on their live personality or media personality, but much more often you actually get to like a rapper as a person not just because of their verbal acuity. Rappers and comedians, moreso than how Dave Chappelle linked them together in his film, are very similar to one another - out of all media personalities, they're the only ones who really give you a piece of their mind.

So yeah, that's the je ne se quois on why I love Clipse. De La Soul was there too, and damn, I love me some Jazz Rap. We skipped out early to avoid traffic. Finally, Girl Talk = disaster. Why put him on a small stage? Totally disappointed I missed it.

Here's my self-promotion - my video for I'm a Flirt (Shoreline), mentioned earlier.

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Jul 13, 2007
I am not fit for this office and never should have been here
It's been a busy week!

But you're not here for excuses. You're here for Presidents. Let's do it.

One time when I told someone I am a political science major they asked me if George Bush is really the worst president ever, and I responded with a nonanswer. I haven't done any work ranking the presidents, and I'm done with outrage over the Bush administration. I am just waiting them out at this point. He is a lame duck now, the worst is over. The beauty of the American system, especially following the 22nd Amendment, is that there is a time limit.

There are two ways to illustrate the relative poorness of this administration compared to others. The first is to illustrate their failings. That has been done ad nauseam. The other is to redeem other reviled presidents. So, first in a series.

Let's start at the bottom of the barrel. The president ranked, on average, as the worst ever. Warren G. Harding. Ranked the worst president in history in Schlesinger's 1948 poll of Presidential Historians, in his 1962 poll, in Murray-Blessing's 1982 Poll, and in Siena's polls in 1982, 1990, and 1994.

Why do we hate Harding so? He is largely reviled for his corrupt administration. Few will defend his administration against those charges - his Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall was the first member of the Cabinet to ever go to jail (peculiarly, the only illegal thing Fall did was accept bribes. The leases he issued were perfectly legal). Several other high-level government officials were involved in similar bribery and fraud. Harding, however, appeared to be completely uninvolved, other than appointing a completely corrupt cabinet.

No one knows how much Harding knew about the corruption in his administration, but we do know he received a lengthy message directly preceding his death detailing illegal activities that he likely did not previously know about. When he died, the corruption charges had not yet come to light.

Harding knew he was unqualified for the job, he knew he had lost control on his cabinet. But what can we blame him for? Being a poor judge of character? Dying before having a chance to redeem himself? It seems very hard to fault him too much for this.

What did Harding do that should give him more historical credit? Here are several things:
  • He held the first disarmament conference in history, the Washington Naval Conference, despite the US being outside the League of Nations, and it was largely a success, maintaining peace throughout the 1920s and establishing China's sovereignty.
  • He pardoned Eugene V. Debs.
  • He established the Bureau of Veterans' Affairs
  • He compensated Colombia for the loss of Panama
  • He made peace with the Central Powers to end World War I.
Great things? Hardly. Good things? Good enough. Good enough that Warren G. Harding should not be ranked as a necessarily bad president. Just a mediocre one.

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Jul 10, 2007
How we do it in the Chi
Over the weekend I re-watched Dave Chappelle's Block Party on DVD. I caught it in the theater when it first dropped - it was really a good portrait of DC's frame of mind in the time between his signing a 50 million dollar contract and ditching the same contract. As there were no Presidents in this movie (except for the song "If I Was President" this entry is about the rap in the movie.

Almost every musician in the film were from either NYC, Chicago, or Philadelphia. And while the old woman from Broken Angel wasn't a fan of how negative hip-hop is, how much cussin' there is, it was an overwhelmingly positive lineup. Very soul based. What would you call that style? Socially conscious rap, since everyone had a message?

It's peculiar that rap is so localized. I'd like to explain, but I'll let MIMS do it.




I represent New York
I got it on my back
Niggas say that we lost it
So I'm gonna bring it back
I love the dirty, dirty
'Cause niggas show me love
The ladies start to bounce
As soon as I hit the club
But in the Midwest
They love to take it slow
So when I hit the H
I watch you get it on the floor
And if you needed it hyphy
I take it to the Bay
Frisco to Sac-town
They do it everyday
Compton to Hollywood
As soon as I hit L.A.
I'm in that low, low
I do it the Cali way
And when I hit Chi
People say that I'm fly
They love the way I dress they like my attire
They love how I move crowds from side to side
They ask me how I do it and simply I reply...

Etc.

The West Coast is still the home of Gangsta, the Yay Area is the home of hyphy, dirty south, etc. Why's the northeastern quadrant of the country so synonymous with socially-conscious, well-intentioned rap?

Don't get me wrong, it doesn't matter to me whether or not a rap song says something - I think T.I. has some great shit out there that says absolutely nothing (What You Know About That?). But what is it about the northeast that compels rappers to make a point?

What's great about the film, though, or perhaps about the genre of rap we're talking about, is how easy it is to tell that everyone really cares about the music, that the art of it is the most important part. Perhaps it's showing the divide - someone like 50 Cent, whose flaws I addressed previously, seems to be primarily a performer. A half-assed one, but he's a businessman, a character, a performer. What's more important - image, lifestyle, business, or the poetry of it? Can you describe it as poetry to a beat? I think that's what really sets these goddamn northeasterners apart.

Side note: dead prez was in this movie. Last time I saw them, they got a whole bunch of white people to yell "REPARATIONS NOW." fucking white people.

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Jul 6, 2007
Woodrow Wilson Defense Fund
Until recently, I took it for granted that Woodrow Wilson was one of our most influential and respected presidents. And then I found that he has nearly as many detractors as he has supporters.

So it's time to teach you motherfuckers a lesson.

I am going to go through every criticism of Woodrow Wilson that I can think of and explain to you why it is wrong. OK? Let's do this shit.

1. He was a racist. He had KKK ties. He reinstituted segregation. He was quoted extensively in "Birth of a Nation."

Far be it for me to ever endorse racism, imply that racism was ever socially acceptable, or to defend a racist president. Instead, let's break down Wilson's positions on race.

For instance, regarding the KKK: "...no more obnoxious or harmful organization has ever shown itself in our affairs."

Sounds like a big fan of lynching, there. He, in fact, disliked Birth of a Nation and had it banned during wartime. Even funnier, his quotes largely related to the reasons the KKK was founded - that because southern racist whites were not represented during reconstruction, they instead elected to try to accomplish what they wanted via intimidation. So, yeah. Big racist, that Wilson. Always trying to offer different perspectives on slavery.

What of the segregation thing?

Well, what of it? Plessy v Ferguson was decided in 1896, a mere 16 years before he took office. Brown v Board of Education was decided in 1954, 34 years after he left. Wilson himself said there were benefits to segregation - "If the colored people made a mistake in voting for me, they ought to correct it." Blacks attacked him for instituting segregation at all, and southern racists attacked him for not going far enough. It is very easy to look back with some perspective and say everything ought to have been integrated, but a president reflects the people who elected him.

In any case, Wilson's alleged racism is such a non-issue, that he segregated government jobs, compared to his impact on American history that it seems pointless to even dwell on it.

2. Espionage Act of 1917? Worse than the Patriot Act.

Before we start, I'd like to say Fuck the Patriot Act.

First and foremost: Congress passes acts, not the President. He signed it, but it needed the support of Congress first. Thought I'd throw that out there.

You know what else happened? Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus, FDR set up Japanese internment camps, and Truman took loyalty oaths from government officials, firing many and letting more resign. What is it about national crises that make presidents need to exert a greater degree of control at home?

In each of these cases, the Union was threatened like never prior. First, by civil war, then by the largest war to date including a certain Zimmerman Telegram, then by a war even greater than that, then the threat of Soviet nuclear annihilation. Presidents take more power during wartime. Was it unconstitutional? Not according to 1919's Schenck v. United States (validated by three branches! You owe me a quarter), but it probably was unconstitutional. Great presidents expand the power of the office to the point where it can be considered unconstitutional, though the converse doesn't necessarily hold true (see: Nixon). The powers of the act were undoubtedly abused (Eugene Debs). However, I don't think that something like this is enough to condemn Wilson entirely. No deduction.

PS: Fuck the Patriot Act, because the War on Terror? Not a national crisis.

3. Because Wilson elected to enter World War I, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, leading to Germany's post-war crippling and humiliation. Because of this, Hitler could come to power and kill all the Jews.

This is the dumbest fucking one.

To start, I'll play in your space logic world and pretend like Hitler would have never risen and whatever. Let's say that the conditions did not exist for Hitler to come to power and Germany remains a fantasy paradise.

Do you know who else was in Europe around that time? Stalin. Think he'd be on our side?

Anyone who has played Red Alert knows that with no Hitler, Stalin proceeds to sweep through Europe. BAM! Things are more fucked up than before. Do you know how many fucking people Stalin killed? So very many.

OK, let's say you disagree with my version of history and believe that post-WWI Europe, after a long and bloody stalemate, would have turned into a bunny-infested paradise.

Wilson's Fourteen Points hardly have anything to do with humiliating the losers. He was clearly the only true statesman present for the negotiation of the treaty, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for spearheading the League of Nations. But beyond that - if one is to argue that Wilson should have somehow known the result of the war would be the rise of fascism, it is either to suggest that a) Wilson ought to have had supernatural powers or that b) no one should ever do anything, because of unforseen consequences. James Watt, you asshole. You invented the steam engine which led to rapid industrialization of the Western World which haphazardly produced loads and loads of pollution which caused global warming which will destroy the planet, you ASS.

Perhaps one of the stupidest things you can do is blame World War II on Woodrow Wilson. If the rest of the world wasn't ready to hear him, perhaps that's his fault.

4. Sure, he proposed the 14 points, but they were mostly ignored and we didn't even join the League of Nations.

He had a fucking stroke. He was out campaigning for the League so hard that he had a stroke and became bitterly uncompromising. Republicans were strongly opposed to the League in the Senate, and Wilson had a stroke and was unwilling to compromise. So we never joined. It's unfortunate, and if we would have joined, Wilson would be undoubtedly even more highly regarded. These don't really count as points against Wilson, but aren't exactly points for him.

Anything else? I'm glad to continue to defend WW with whatever you wish to throw out there.

Now, let's look at why one should consider Wilson among our upper echelon of presidents.

The League of Nations was effectively the model for the UN three decades later, and shit like the War Industries Board were models for the New Deal. He was the architect for the plans that would end up so widely revered by the Second World War. Wilsonian Idealism has been the primary influence for foreign policy throughout the Western World throughout the 20th century. Self-determination, collective security, democratic government, international law. We take these things for granted by now, but Wilson was the perhaps the most brilliant and influential foreign policymaker of the century, if not more. Before the USA got the poor reputation it enjoys today, we were the shining example of a benevolent empire, the superpower that can end the dopey territory wars, that can settle issues with diplomacy rather than militarism. Wilson set that example. He expanded the role of the president to include the diplomat to the world, and embraced a New World Order. We now have that order, and it is described as Wilsonian Idealism.

Think about what the Constitution means. Ignore our current administration, the politics, all of that, and think of what it means. It's a pretty fucking good American ideal to try to live up to. The document might not be perfect, but we all know exactly what it's trying to live up to - a perfect fusion of freedom and order, of safety and expression. Where we are welcome to live our life to the fullest under our own control, with a government to ensure it stays that way. Where everybody gets a shot. Imagine the rest of the world given that kind of liberty. I don't mean the imposing democracy that's so trendy, I mean what a true, kindly American empire could be. Making the world more perfect by example.

That's what Wilson means to me.

Don't fuck with Wilson. I might be more of a Tru-Man, but Wilson waits in the wings.

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Jul 5, 2007
Sydney and Long Beach Together
You heard that Snoop Dogg is moving to Australia?

For real.

This from a country that when I type "Australia Rap" into the Firefox Google Search-Guess-Thing it predicts I will be searching for "Australia Rape."

If you want to learn more about Australian hip-hop, check the Wikipedia.

So Snoop could become for Australia what Michael Jackson is for Bahrain.

I really don't have any great insight on this right now. Snoop is moving there to "slow it down [and] enjoy the women."

This is like the Cavs getting LeBron James. Culturally speaking, Australia = Canada, rap scenes included. Right now, the biggest rap star between the two is Tom Green. But now? Snoop owns the South Pacific.

Maybe this'll help him get into England.

Check out That's That Shit for evidence on why the flyest girls are from the Chi.

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Jul 4, 2007
You forgot...
Check this shit out.

If you're done (or don't want to take it) click for the jump.

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Jul 3, 2007
You went behind a tree and peed
As much rap as I like to listen to, I do not listen to much associated with the Wu-Tang Clan. There's a Rhymefest track that features the ODB and I've got a copy of Fishscale that I've not listened to very much, but that's about it. I'm pretty well versed in most other areas of the rap world, but I'm behind the times on the Wu-Tang. I don't know my RZA from my GZA.

There's a track by the Hood Internet, though, that features "Tooken Back" by Ghostface. The mashup really brings a new dimension to the song, that makes it sound a whole lot more desperate and vulnerable. But Ghostface had the balls to record a song like that in the first place.

It's a rap love song.

I don't think I've ever heard anything like that before. I've heard plenty of rap songs about moms - it's cool to do that, everyone almost respects their mom. But no love songs. Not the probably-bisexual Kanye West, with his "We all self-conscious, I'm just the first to admit it" (I'm OK with bisexuals! Kanye is the man!). Lupe Fiasco, for all the credit his album got, still maintains a relative distance from his subject matter. Even if you take, for instance, anything Jay-Z does with Beyonce, you still have the context that Beyonce is among the hottest women alive and that Jigga is allowed to brag. Is there another major rap act that could get away with "you know I always love you, never meant to hurt you"?

Shit, I gotta start listening to more Ghostface. Dude's got balls.

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JFK was a handsome man
This week's edition of Time Magazine is "The 6th Annual Making of America Issue." Previous MoAs have focused on Lewis & Clark, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. So which American History great did they focus on this week? King Andrew Jackson? Diplomat to the world Woodrow Wilson? I hear FDR did some notable things. Perhaps James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump?

Oh, fuck everybody. It's JFK.

I am not a huge JFK fan. He's on average ranked our 6th best president of the 20th century in a field of 17. It's hard to say he should be much further down. It's hard to say that his abbreviated presidency makes him less influential by default than, say, Carter or Hoover. But I've always been more of an LBJ man, Think that among assassinated Presidents Kennedy was only marginally more attractive than Bill McKinley, and, I mean, come on. Grover Fucking Cleveland (Benjamin Harrison was notorious for his promiscuity).

After reading this article, my rankings remain unchanged. However, the article offers a perspective on JFK I wasn't aware of - namely, his commitment to peace that could have easily improved that status of the Cold War. Apparently, Khrushchev broke down in tears upon learning of his assassination, and was immobilized for days. Despite the Bay of Pigs, Castro never blamed the Kennedys for the assassination plots against him. JFK opened a peace channel to Castro to ward the end of his administration.

I can imagine that had JFK lived out the rest of his term, perhaps we would have avoided a big chunk of Vietnam, maybe even the latter half of the Cold War. I could even believe that his extended presidency could have stunted the neocon movement that's been decimating the country for the last quarter century (isn't that what it is, Star Wars and all this post-Soviet fearmongering?)

It's to the point where it's sort of trite to have an opinion on JFK. I'm coming around on him. I don't think he was a great president, but he could have been. After all, two-term presidents get chapters, and one-term presidents get paragraphs.

Also in that issue: a decent article about JFK and Civil Rights, and a bunch of fluff bullshit on Kennedy and religion, golf, assassination conspiracy theories, public service, and the part about his presidency that pisses me off the most - his "effortless American style." In short, everything I expected to read.

GRANT QUOTE TUESDAYS:
I know only two tunes: one of them is 'Yankee Doodle', and the other one isn't.

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