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Archive for October, 2009

Antville has a list of the 101 best music videos of the 2000s, and the list is fairly canonical. I recommend a look.

I would, however, like to point out five of the best videos not included on Antville’s somewhat limited list…

M83 – Don’t Save Us From the Flames: A sweet unrequited high school love story with a great tune, plus girl on bike meets dream boy on bike in ghost outfits! Come on, don’t pretend like you didn’t enjoy it.

Juvenile – Get Ya Hustle On: Post-Katrina, Juvenile’s drug rap seems somehow anachronistic, but the video itself highlights the relevance of the genre. The rather blunt political imagery — marching street thugs in Cheney and Bush masks, a rims-clad Escalade towed by horses — has nothing on the stark image of a man amidst the rubble holding a sign: “STILL HERE.” Katrina changed everything, and nothing.

Kanye West – Throw Some D’s (remix): Kanye’s old ass cousin? Stripping sign-language translator? Spirit fingers for Alicia Keys? “That just happened.”

Electric Six – Gay Bar: OK, it’s a gimmick. But how could you go wrong with Abraham Lincoln(s) in various states of undress? Also, bonus points for bleeping out “war” and “nuclear war.”

E-40 – Tell Me When To Go: This Face alone would have sold me on this video, but everything about it screams the do-it-yourself amateur joy of hyphy. I love how E-40 has just the right amount of nonchalance to carry this video; he vaguely acknowledges the camera, but on the whole, it’s clear that he is enjoying himself behind that smirk. Hip-hop had suffered from a downer phase, before the ignorant bliss of hyphy brought it back. Then Soulja Boy and Auto-Tune had to come ruin things…

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Yes, I’m still here

I had to skip town for a few days, and upon getting back, I’ve discovered that I am on the verge of getting scooped, possibly significantly. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means another lab group is potentially publishing an article that would contain many of the same results that I have come up with. As such, I am working desperately to scoop my would-be scoopers, and get my paper out ASAP. This makes blogging regularly difficult. Thanks to Stendhal for keeping things going.

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This video has been floating around on the web, and it strikes the right tone between sincerity and sentimentality —  a pitch-perfect response to the demographic that most strongly opposes gay marriage (older, whiter folks).

It also, however, points out something about the way we revise history. We did not fight World War Two to make it OK for gays to marry; in fact, if that were the reason, I doubt we would have fought it at all. America may not have fought for marriage equality, but this man did. In some sense, that is the most American thing of all.

Consider the progressive revisionism of his statement. As Lincoln said, our nation is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, even if that dedication falters and stumbles. I can think of few nations on earth who have gone through the effort that America has to repair its past mistakes. Rome did not apologize for executing Christ, even after the Empire became Christian, nor would the Chinese government today ever apologize for the crimes of the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward. America, for all its mistakes, tries to make its amends. Is it too little, too late? Almost certainly. One need hardly catalogue the long historical list of American sins.

But, the idea of the American experiment — a nation founded by equality under the law, and always allowing itself to move closer to that goal — remains a powerful and important one. It may be among the few values that Americans have left to universally admire.

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NY Magazine tracks one day’s news back to its source, which is dually fascinating. (Make sure you read one of the great PDFs)

First, it’s notable what appears in the news on any given day. A day in the life of news seems to be governed by lots of big in-plain-sight events (the opening of the new Cowboys stadium in Dallas, say), a scoop here and there (the McChrystal report), a string of ongoing narratives that had been building for some time (the Annie Le murder). The focus of the news continues to be as splintered as it was in the past, although I wonder whether there are a number of stories under the surface. For instance, if I were to track the top stories on Fark or Reddit, I imagine the results would be different.

Second, the provenance of these stories is insane. The tracks made that bring these stories to mainstream acceptance or reporting (or more importantly, it seems, for the longevity of a story, commentary) come from every source imaginable, from the tiniest mention in the New York Post (the John Edwards affair) to the monster leak of the entire McChrystal report to Bob Woodward. Commentary may play the biggest role of all — stories are made big by pontificating, not by their inherent bigness. Give a story enough hot air and bloviating (from acolytes and detractors) and you will have a media storm and a piece of common memory.

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This preview of a new Frontline special discusses the lives of soldiers who pilot unmanned drones in Afghanistan.

This may well be a picture of the future of American warfare — pilots, thousands of miles away from their sorties, control killer robots, which deliver precision missile strikes, then go to their kids’ soccer games.

The moral ground here may be difficult to navigate: how “scarred” will these soldiers be? Shouldn’t they be scarred by war? After all, if war is not hell, what exactly are our disincentives for continuing it?

Science fiction, in this regard, has explored the question for quite some time. Ender’s Game is a good example of the war by proxy robot genre, but I prefer the Joe Haldeman book Forever Peace, in which American soldiers plug into robots in Third World countries to wage economic war. In it, the soldiers develop a bond that draws them together, and people engage in war in the same fashion that they did during the embedded-reporter phase of the early war in Iraq.

One also wonders whether the technology will change for the worse the way we actually engage war. For example, the emergence of air power led to disastrous decisions, both humanitarian and strategic, such as the strategic bombing campaigns of civilian cities in World War Two or Operation Rolling Thunder in Vietnam. In each case, the technology drove the strategy rather than vice versa. Put another way, the machines run us, rather than us running the machines.

Somewhere down the line, we left the present and arrived in the future.

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Bob Herbert has an admirable column arguing that “too big to fail” companies should be dismantled. I agree! So does a wide spectrum of folks from Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan to lefty economist Joseph Stiglitz.

The problem comes from, well, how do you do it? I mean, how do you break up JP Morgan Chase or Citibank or Bank of America or AIG? Trust-bust like we did with Standard Oil and the American Tobacco Company? It seems unlikely that such a turn of events would occur, and the feasibility of breaking them down would be next to nil. It’s easy for the FTC to come in and stop a merger before it happens. After the fact, tearing companies apart takes time and effort, particularly when those companies are so deeply entwined with the country’s ability to function economically.

What can be done is regulation — government needs to set in place disincentives (or at the very least, get rid of existing incentives) that create giant corporations. Simply dismembering corporations using anti-trust law has to be justified under the current law, which it isn’t. Not an anti-trust lawyer myself, but my guess is that none of the big banks probably qualifies under anti-trust law as sufficiently anticompetitive enough.

How about simply removing some of the incentives for being a giant bank? For instance, the rates at which big banks borrow from the Fed are lower than for other banks. If we chuck that out the window, the rise in costs for operating as a giant corporation hedging in exotic mortgage securities would be substantial.

With giant behemoths whose complexity is difficult even for their own operators and managers to untangle, one has to tread carefully when tearing them apart. If the U.S. government can create a regulatory regime that makes being a giant “bank” undesirable and unprofitable, the banks will move away from that model. Unfortunately, the “how” of the problem, one that Bob Herbert doesn’t acknowledge, is still unaddressed. Even if Congress were able to throw off the yoke of the financial services lobby (and it’s not clear that they could), it’s unclear what they would do about the situation anyways.

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