“Periods of transition are always periods of mismanagement; thus the predominant demand of the time was for efficiency. Acutely conscious of the prevailing insecurity, that small section of the populace which exercised its influence was in general prepared to accept any government which could guarantee peace and order.”

“Few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right rather than live in comfort under one which they hold to be wrong.”

– C.V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (pg. 19)

In the past two or three years I’ve grown increasingly skeptical– or simply cautious– of the distinctly modern worldview that views liberal democracy as the best recourse for effective governance the world over. Of course, this was a keystone in the now largely defunct Neoconservative philosophy for foreign affairs, but in another way it seems to have become part of the First World Left’s philosophy (only as much as the First World Left can be said to have a coherent philosophy, which is mostly does not anymore) as well.

The usual example cited in your run-of-the-mill Tyranny of the Majority criticisms of democratic systems is the one of the Nazi Party being democratically elected to office. The important part to remember about the Nazis’ ascension is that the citizenry of Germany had been suffering under the ineptitude and crippled nature of the Weimar Republic ever since the end of the First World War. To say they hungered for efficiency is most likely an understatement– and of course the Nazis marketed themselves as “National Socialists,” socialism being the Platonic image of efficient governance at the time (Market liberalism was not exactly in the hottest of states in the 1930s, was it?) Of course, I am not condoning the Nazi Party or any of their philosophies, but simply look at it from a Machiavellian viewpoint (something more intelligent people should be doing about more issues more often): For much of the 1930s provided one fit the ethnic, social and political criteria for Nazi affiliation, life in Germany was relatively good.

In Turkey, multiple presidents have been deposed by a largely independent military for attempting to betray the constitution of the Turkish state, in particular the clause establishing secular rule. As journalist and author Robert Kaplan describes in his book Eastward to Tartary, the majority of commissioned officers in the Turkish military are progeny of an established intellectual class: committed to democratic ideals, but even more committed to the preservation of secularism. And a majority of Turks support these somewhat systematic coup de’tat moves. Really, can you blame them? I’ve found that I cannot. After all, we’ve seen the effectiveness of theocracies in providing their subjects a stable, prosperous quality of life in the Taiping Rebellion and the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan, not to mention most all of Mesopotamia’s history since Hulagu Khan’s sacking of Baghdad in the 13th Century.

After all, aren’t all governments founded on violence either explicit or implicit? Social contracts are well and good, and I don’t say that sarcastically, but look at it practically: what is a law in its rawest form other than a promise of implied violence attached to a self-evident moral code of culture in which it is established? Again, that’s not to say that laws are ludicrous– I’m more or less through with anarchism– but is it not important to attempt to see things as they really are? (“Reality” is the providence of journalists, “truth” that of philosophers)

There are already books out that imply that the system which governs a polity is more attached to that state’s cultural and physical geography more than impersonal international political philosophies (Neo-Marxists are you listening?) With things going the way they are, I figure more books are on the way.

This is all pure speculation.

Not since Herbie Hancock’s 1963 album Inventions and Dimensions or the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat has there been such an example of a black American exploring the themes of a popular culture outside that which we now call “Urban American.”

Shakyamuni, the pseudonym of Chicagoan Antoine Philhellene, grew up in the outskirts of Chicago quite literally cutting his teeth on his father’s LP collection of innumerable Chicago House pioneers. In a Paris Review-published interview, he revealed that his first conscious memory is of his father beating him “within five centimeters of [his] life,” with a “plastic” when the veteran DJ returned home to find his son teething on the outer rim of a Sterling Void acetate.

It’s only natural then that Shakyamuni should so naturally integrate the classic Chicago sounds into his compositions, rarely, if ever, sounding like a shoe-in concession towards the navel gazer, NME-reader and trainspotter demographics. In the same interview he cites Afrika Bambaataa as one of his chief influences—a claim backed up in his previous work and as well on A Pale View of the Hill Batteries—a great relief for this reviewer and many others on staff. As we are all apt to know, Afrika Bambaataa is the Che Guevarra of contemporary music: adored, eulogized and marketed by hundreds of thousands of impressionable First World youths who haven’t the slightest clue who the man was or what he did.

Of course, A Pale View of the Hill Batteries is about none of this. A Pale View of the Hill Batteries is about territory rarely traversed by today’s popular musician and deserves praise simply for that.

The gestures towards the classics are sweeping, grandiose on this double album. Shakyamuni’s adherence to them is, like I have said, no cosmetic attachment to a preexisting pop shill’s copy-paste formula. He adheres strictly to the tried-and-true conventions of the classic Motown record:

1) Your record must begin with a blast of the brass section on a major chord.

2) Your record must have at least one down tempo ballad.

a. The ballad must be at a tempo slower than 4/4.

b. The ballad must have vocals.

3) Your record must be as much about the producer as the artist(s).

On the ballad “Never Quite so Good as Now,” the live hi-hats, played live by Shakyamuni himself, open up halfway through and sound for all the world like the wracked snorts of a weeping primary school girl sniffing a line of persistent snot back up her nostril time and time again in the most Sisyphus of futile gestures of grief.

A Pale View of the Hill Batteries, that is to say the title itself, is a reference to the experiences of Shakyamuni’s mulatto grandfather in the Second World War. In the title track on the album, Shakyamuni devotes all the tinny vocals of verse and chorus to recounting a story of his grandfather and the rest of his company storming a steep hill, obfuscated with thick thule fog, on which a clutch of Italian artillery guns are reputed to be entrenched. It is the worst song on the album.

Overall, this is an album whose rewards outnumber the challenges, and Shakyamuni is a new aural artist worth paying attention, if not listening, to.

There’s irony somewhere in the fact that this is an article from a newspaper abolished in its country of origin. Yasha Levin wrote:

Six Apart, the company behind the popular TypePad blogging platform, just went Marie Antoinette on us all. With all the jobs being cut in the paper industry and increasing numbers of reporters stuck with nothing to do but moan, the company decided to help out. Introducing the “TypePad Journalist Bailout Program”: a free TypePad Pro blog account for every unemployed professional journalist! A media famine is afoot, journalists don’t have papers to work for. So…”Let them blog!” For free, of course. All of which helps Six Apart’s bottom line…

Watching ourselves go quietly into the night.

I just finished up a new short story, tentatively titled A leitmotif for Japanese robotics. I’m considering the removal of that intrusive indefinite article at the head of it, though the capitalized l might look even worse.

Fair warning: it’s SF and blatantly based off anime tropes, with what I hope is at least some deconstruction and/or inversions.

A sample:

“Yes, it could have been worse.” That’s what Lushan heard the pilot under his stead say. Lushan had ducked back into the hangar to get a pair of canned coffees from the dispensers lined up along the far wall. When he left the stark halogen aura of the interior, the pilot was still sitting where he had lay down after dismounting the Indira—on the farthest edge of cracked tarmac, facing out toward the brackish black squares of Tokyo Bay still not eaten by the reclamation rush.

The hangar was a fixture on the far eastern end a swath of reclaimed land 250 meters broad and 1,000 meters long. A quilt of tarmac, as ubiquitous a symbol of the reclaimed zones as any, patched over the entire surface area. What was once a well-fortified JSDF air field/staging area was now a semi-abandoned plot of Metro Police property. Captain Tajima, a TMP scion, had pulled on some strings to rent the place out for Detachment 3. Perhaps a third of the runway-side lights still produced a flickering maroon glow over the grass and tar. The TMP placard hung at a crooked angle over the maw of the hangar.

“The rest of the family could have been in there too, Khan,” said Lushan, handing one of the coffees to Machine 1’s operator.

John le Carre put in summary the primary reasons I love airports so much:

“The airport reminded Leamas of the war: machines, half hidden in the fog, waiting patiently for their masters; the resonant voices and their echoes, the sudden shout and the incongruous clip of a girl’s heels on a stone floor; the roar of an engine that might have been at your elbow. Everywhere that air of conspiracy which generates among people who have been up since dawn– of superiority almost, derived from the common experience of having seen the night disappear and the morning come.” – The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

As a token unemployed American cub journalist, I’ll try to provide some constructive commentary about this MSNBC article and why articles of its sort pop up every so often.

The reality of the mainstream journalism industry in the U.S. today is that less and less staff writers are required to produce more and more stories on ever-shrinking deadlines. While I’m not sure of Alexander’s job status with MSNBC– “contributor” is a pretty vague term, contributing editor? Semi-regular freelancer?– it’s a reality that every mainstream journalist has a strict quota on how many articles they need to pump out. These “cultural” pieces are easy to do, usually sound really good and have pre-established sets of sources that you don’t even need to leave your desk to call up and interview. After that you can call it a day, easy bump to your story count. I know this for a fact, on my college newspaper we secreted fandom/subculture “Woah-check-this-out!” pieces all the time.

Secondly, since my assumption is that MSNBC essentially functions like a daily news source, I’m guessing there was little to zero fact checking that went into this article. Another American journalism reality: only monthly magazines and publications with longer production times have the luxury of dedicated fact-checking staff. A daily newspaper makes the assumption that the reporter will fact check his or her own article, on risk of losing reputation for not doing so and being outed. Ostensibly, when the department editor(s) and copy editor make their passes over the article they are supposed to be making checks for factual accuracy as well. But how many copy editors at MSNBC do you think are read up on the deep thematic undertones of Legend of the Overfiend and Gurren Lagaan?

In episode #72 of the Anime World Order podcast, Macias mentions that he offered to fact check the article for Alexander. Placed in the same situation I would have made the same offer, but I would never have expected any real response in the affirmative. As a rule of thumb, the journalist never, ever accepts any offers of checks from “the outside,” especially if that offer came from someone who is a source in the actual article. It’s a bias thing. Simply mentioning to your editor that such an offer was made to you would likely get you in trouble (you’re supposed to totally ignore them)– taking up the offer and telling your editor after the fact and/or not telling them at all is usually grounds for instant dismissal, should your editor find out.

Of course, I don’t think these points totally redeem Alexander’s article. The misconceptions put forth as fact in it are bad enough, but what really gets me is the simple sloppiness. It is blatantly obvious to anyone who has taken an introductory news writing class that Alexander used the absolute minimum amount of sources: three. None of this is a slag on Kinsella, Eng or Macias, obviously all three are valid sources despite whatever marring of voice may have been done via misquotation etc. The fact is, however, that three sources is pitifully few to provide a holistic, unbiased view of such an expansive subject. Where are the interviews with book sellers? With local, ground-level fan clubs and artists? The fact that Kinsella, an anthropologist, is quoted a grand total of once and in a fashion suggesting an interview, when the attribution clearly indicates all Alexander did was read part of a book, is particularly lame.

I understand Alexander may not be a true-blue reporter per se and that Sexploration is in the column format. I can point you to the long, dry media law briefs from the Supreme Court that clearly state that opinion-based columns in any mainstream journalistic venue are beholden to the same basic requirements of factuality and non defamation that straight news articles follow.

In case anyone is suspicious about my own familiarity with this subject, I’ll have you know I typed out this entire response listening to Silent Survivor from the Fist of the North Star OST on loop.

The phone did not ring, but he pulled it out anyways. Extracted from his left slacks pocket the battered black and gray thing beamed the time and date on its front mount LCD, but no calls missed, no voicemail waiting, that row of icons lay dark. His breath groaned up from his belly up to the chest in one of those self-destructive reflexes to stress that compel the body to rack against itself. Absentminded, he scooted a millimeter away from the passengers packed in on his left, as if to return the phone to its nest. Instead he jumped and whisked it back out, thumbing the LCD back on and checking the time once more: 4:17 pm. The passengers to his right cursed in their Shanghai way.

Then it vibrated in his hand. He hadn’t used a proper ring tone in six years. A little spike of adrenaline coursed through his limbs and he struggled to get the clamshell phone open and up to his head. The other passengers bitched and moaned with their bodies, writhing back against his jutting elbow. He gets a few looks from his older neighbors, shorter, more malnourished women at the tail-end of their middle years with burlap shopping bags slung and tight black afro curls on their heads. The younger people, suits and neon-hued student types, pretend not to see or stare thirty degrees away into the peeling bulkhead posters.

Four rings in, he got it to his ear. “This is Vasili.”

Fiction:

The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem

Creation by Gore Vidal

Non-fiction:

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk

(This is one of those books on a topic that you wonder why no one has written about, until you check the sleeve and find out its first publishing was over a decade ago.)

The City by Joel Kotkin

Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus by Robert D. Kaplan

Richard Aregood, former editor for the Newark Star Ledger and Philadelphia Daily News, now-turned freelancer writer, wrote:

“Some years back, I was one of many Knight-Ridder editors gathered to hear our CEO, Alvah Chapman, speak on the future at an annual editors’ meeting held literally in the shadow of the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’s amphibious folly… He told us all we should do “more with less”, illustrating with a bewildering rap about cannonballs and grains of sand. The budget cuts accelerated.”

Dateline: 10:16 am, Thursday May 15, 2008– The California Supreme Court just struck down the statewide ban on same-sex marriage, declaring it unconstitutional.