Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pleonasm Humor

Sometimes on Wikipedia when a "citation is needed," it doesn't really matter whether something is true or's great either way.

From the article about pleonasm:
Some pleonastic phrases, when used in professional or scholarly writing, may reflect a standardized usage that has evolved over time; or a precise meaning familiar to specialists, but not necessarily to those outside that discipline. Such examples as "null and void", "terms and conditions", "each and all" are legal doublets that are part of legally operative language that is often drafted into legal documents. A classic example of such usage was that by the Lord Chancellor at the time (1864), Lord Westbury, in the English case of ex parte Gorely,[1] when he described a phrase in an Act as "redundant and pleonastic". The fact that this phrase in itself was a pleonasm is something which probably had not escaped the learned judge, and could be suspected to be evidence of a particularly Victorian legal sense of humour.[citation needed]

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Black Women Less Attractive." - A Scientist

This is not a new idea. It's not a news story. It's not notable that a highly-paid scientist at an elite university would use statistics to pretend to prove it, apart from any social or political context.

The author, in true keeping with the thinking of the Bell Curve, finally says that black women are probably less attractive because they naturally have more testosterone than other women.

His job requires, he seems to think, that he leave out any social or political aspects of the aesthetics of race and beauty, that he look at race as a purely scientific phenomenon, even after generation after generation of legal segregation, police and state violence, and social divisions which substitute race for class.

But race is not a scientific category. Or it is scientific to the extent and in the sense that the Eiffel tower is scientific: it's a real construction of human society.

So we have to look at race, particularly the binary imaginary of black and white, as we might look at the Eiffel tower: as an aesthetic monument which was built in a particular political context for certain reasons. Because we don't have black people or white people--we have various shades of brown and beige. And black Americans have far more, genetically, in common with white Americans than with most Africans, which is linked to a history of nonconsent.

Ultimately we can't put this task in the hands of scientists alone, especially not people like this author who seem to want to ignore both politics and aesthetics completely. We should listen to philosophers, artists, and literary critics, not merely because these are three areas where black women are far better represented in numbers than in the so-called "hard sciences," for some answers about the entanglements of race and beauty. Hortense Spillers can redirect us from this madness:

The black body "brings into focus a gathering of social realities as well as a metaphor for value so thoroughly interwoven in their literal and figurative emphases that distinctions between them are virtually is as if neither time nor history shows movement...I would call it the Great Long National Shame...We might concede, at the very least, that sticks and bricks might break our bones, but words will most certainly kill us. ("Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe," Diacritics, 1987, 68)."

In other words, blackness as a real category, as a reflection of something we see with our own eyes in the world, as with skin color or body language, is so thoroughly interwoven with various metaphors of value (economic value, the value of beauty, moral value, etc.), that we cannot make any useful distinctions between them.

In order to see black women as beautiful, it's not enough to throw around the slogan "Black is beautiful," although this is a nice start. We need to revalue all our values, in politics, science, art and history, as Nietzsche and Achille Mbembe have called for, in order to begin to poke our heads out of the garbage heap of guilty racist eroticism.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The hipoisie: a blase attitude

Frank Chu, a San Francisco eccentric who is venerated for his dedicated campaign against the 12 Galaxies, quadrogonic hyponetikalism, Clintons and Bushes, Thomas Jeffersons, and any number of other crimes against himself and his character. His worldview is as complex and ornate as the interior of a Gaudi cathedral, and no less dramatic:

Like many bay area residents, he commutes to the city every day by train, arriving at Montgomery Street around 8am and going home on the last train at midnight. He suffers from autism and other psychological disorders--when he was 24 he took a few members of his family hostage, firing a bullet at the police which, luckily for him, missed. He has had a bar named after him, which has since closed.

Like Portland and Brooklyn, the bay area has in the last ten years been hit with an influx of young people, mostly middle-class and "alternative" in style, who might be well described with a term from Kodwo Eshun: the hipoisie, the hip new bourgeoisie, who worship Bob Dylan just as much as Fela Kuti. There's no point in raging against them, since anyone who does so is probably part of them, trying to mark a line in the sand which does not exist (at the same time, the spatial and political effects of gentrification which they leave in their wake are very serious and need to be looked at more closely). But there are some awful qualities:

The worst thing about the hipoisie is its blase cynicism. The definition of the word blase explains it: "uninterested because of frequent exposure or indulgence." This is the attitude of the people who have seen it all, who hide their fascinations under a thick layer of irony. As soon as a band comes out, it's no longer the coolest thing around, as soon as more than a small group of people has heard of them they're not worth talking about anymore. This blase cynicism betrays an enormous fear of the outside, of the world, of people who think and act differently from oneself. This fear is felt to be necessary for a group of white kids who are "slumming," placing themselves on the borders of working or workless class communities in order to prove themselves, to extract some style from a region and a people and turn it into a product.

This hip comedian is "interviewing" Frank Chu, in a style that reminds me of nothing more than Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity: interrupting the interviewee, repeating certain phrases with a sneering tone. He's afraid that if he does a good interview, which requires a real sympathy for one's interviewee, that it might not be funny enough to show to his friends. He wants to put Frank Chu "in his place," by proving him wrong. When he starts calling him a nutcase, Frank Chu makes a really salient point: Bush and Clinton are nutcases too, "crazier than any bacteria or nutcase in Africa." Chu has argued for years that Bush and Clinton are war criminals, and despite the complexity and bizarreness of his other convictions, he might be the only person speaking that kind of truth, on a daily basis, on the streets of San Francisco, especially in this era of ignoring the ongoing wars so as to avoid criticizing Saint Obama.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"On This Earth" by Mahmoud Darwish

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: April's hesitation, the aroma of bread
at dawn, a woman's point of view about men, the works of Aeschylus, the beginning
of love, grass on a stone, mothers living on a flute's sigh and the invaders' fears of memories.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: the final days of September, a woman
keeping her apricots ripe after forty, the hour of sunlight in prison, a cloud reflecting a swarm
of creatures, the peoples' applause for those who face death with a smile, a tyrant's fear of songs.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: on this earth, the Lady of Earth,
mother of all beginnings and ends. She was called Palestine. Her name later became
Palestine. My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life.

Isaac Cohen - Jtree!

The True Prison by Ken Saro-Wiwa

It is not the leaking roof
Nor the singing mosquitoes
In the damp, wretched cell
It is not the clank of the key
As the warden locks you in
It is not the measly rations
Unfit for beast or man
Nor yet the emptiness of day
Dipping into the blankness of night
It is not
It is not
It is not

It is the lies that have been drummed
Into your ears for a generation
It is the security agent running amok
Executing callous calamitous orders
In exchange for a wretched meal a day
The magistrate writing into her book
A punishment she knows is undeserved
The moral decrepitude
The mental ineptitude
The meat of dictators
Cowardice masking as obedience
Lurking in our denigrated souls
It is fear damping trousers
That we dare not wash
It is this
It is this
It is this
Dear friend, turns our free world
Into a dreary prison


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


another research team that administered questionnaires about emotions four times a day for a week reported that Japanese people feel emotion — any emotion — less often than Americans. And the Japanese respondents tended to rate their emotional events as more neutral than Americans rated theirs.

Maybe the Japanese just get more easily fed up with questionnaires...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Slip N Slide: A short introduction

Warning: this might offend you. For a couple of reasons. There's some connection between the lyrics, which are brilliant in an amoral way, and the technique of the production, the way the bass is layered with the samples, which is just undeniable. If this were representative of hip hop in general, and if the music were taken just for its lyrics, it would be easy to argue that hip hop has no political meaning whatsoever. But the bass is deep, and Trick Daddy's voice is deep, as deep as Florida is South. His interjections placed over his own verses press down on the entire song...

It all began here, after Trick Daddy caught the attention of the infamous Luke, the man almost solely responsible for those little black and white stickers on CDs. Trick and Trina establish themselves as the king and queen of Miami here, and there's even a hairspray-wearing court jester running around. The production is strengthened by the bouncing echo of Trick's voice (ah-ah!)

I do think in this video Trina became the first woman to name her price on MTV ("twenty G's for the nut, what"...). She is much more believable than Lil' Kim or Nicki Minaj--even if she did get plastic surgery, which is unlikely, her style of presentation is more honest than either of theirs.

Trina - by Warner-Music

A classic pan-Southern collaboration:

Trick Daddy - In Da Wind by freship

With one of the coldest verses since the Geto Boys, Trick Daddy raps "fuck the judge and C.O.'s, fuck the family of the victim, witnesses, snitchin' ass ho's, cuz I'm a thug." Love that shot of the white kid getting pulled away from Trick Daddy by his mom as he waves at his hero. Trick Daddy taunts bougie black folks just as mercilessly: if I'm your worst nightmare, get ready for some sleepless nights, cuz I'm a thug.

He puts words in the mouth of his rival, whose girl he may or may not be interested in: "'Bitch, I been watchin you watchin him/ you must wanna fuck this nigga,'" and adds, "My name alone/ been known to break up happy homes." Rest In Peace Family Values.

TRICK DADDY - I'M A THUG by hushhush112

Probably the best song ever made for and about basketball. Again the vocal echo is used in the intro

Trick Daddy - Take It To Da House by freship

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The significant overlap between babysitting and standup comedy

A friend of mine wrote a fascinating blog post about the overlap between computer repair specialists and therapists. More and more, he said, the person who fixes your computer is prepared to, basically, counsel you, because the trauma of losing access to your workstation is increasingly enormous.

I notice a similar kind of occupational drift with regard to standup comedy. Today the way comedians practice their art has everything to do with the way they deal with "hecklers." A drunk man, in 2003, kept yelling "yeee-haw!" from the back of The Fillmore at Dave Chappelle. Eventually Chappelle found a way to incorporate this guy into his act, asking the crowd, "who here likes to give head?" and, after a beat, "thought I was gonna hear you, yee-haw guy." This is the traditional formula: a heckler is hostile and disruptive, the comedian makes fun of him, the crowd returns its focus to the comedian.

But in the two clips above, something different might be going on. There are basically three hecklers in these videos. During Hannibal Burress' set, a man, who's probably tripping on something psychedelic or maybe just a nutcase, is publicly displaying his enthusiastic affection for a woman who seems to enjoy the attention too. During Galifianakis', it's a woman who gets on his stage and starts acting like an oblivious, rambunctious kindergartener. In both cases, the crowd members don't seem to want to attack the comedian directly, but just to get attention themselves, to be performers themselves. They are literally regressing, ignoring the standard procedures of adult events like standup comedy by acting like very young children. Maybe there's something to this idea that the generation of people born in the 80's are now big, adult-sized children, unprepared for life as adults.

Monday, May 2, 2011

White voodoo

Apparently the word 'voodoo' catches the eye of corporate executives looking for marketing research--or whatever it is these seemingly infinite urban 'consultancies' do. There are not one, but two such vague institutions within the city of London who have taken their name from the religion whose roots are in West Africa. They do things like "design, programming, e-commerce, search engine marketing and optimisation, usability, copywriting, fulfilment operations, store management and statistical analysis," as well as "rigorous analysis" and "candid explanation." Those last two quotes were from the trendier, hipper-looking firm, so hip that they don't have a picture of themselves on their website and it looks like it could be a site for an Urban Outfitters. They provide solutions, analysis, new ways of looking at things, and even ways to make a difference. I should be working for them, right?