One of the best rock vocalists I have ever heard sings no more.
Michael Kiwanuka releases “Black Man In A White World”, the first single from his forthcoming album “Love & Hate”.
I know I sure do.
A guy named David W. Niven spent his life collecting early jazz records, and before he died in 1993, he carefully curated his collection on cassette tapes. 1,000+ hours of this music has been digitized, and is available for free download or streaming at Archive.org. The dozens of artists include Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Frank Sinatra, Bessie Smith, Thelonious Monk, Benny Goodman—the list goes on and on (and on). Also captured is Niven’s recorded commentary on context and background at the beginning of each tape.
If jazz not your thing, believe me I understand: I cut my musical teeth on rock, pop and electronica (house, EDM), and I didn’t really “get” jazz until I was a little older. Artists (especially Vanessa Daou) who incorporated jazz elements into genres I found more accessible helped get me to that oh okay wow moment; from then on there was no looking back. And if jazz is your thing? Niven’s life’s work is a priceless treasure.
Mi amigo Gerardo Núñez, splainin’ bulerías to you.
I am shocked and saddened by the unexpected passing of David Bowie, at age 69, of cancer. He has been and will remain an inspiration to millions of musicians and ordinary people alike, who were touched by both his music and his humanity. I can think of none in the pantheon of world class musicians I admire as much. And it speaks volumes that those with the good fortune to work with Bowie over the decades are nearly unanimous in their gushing accolades for the man, and not just with respect to his extraordinary talent, but to his generosity as an artistic collaborator.
He and his family split time between London and New York, and I ran into him once at the amazing (and now shuttered) club Don Hills, when he was there just checking out new talent. There are very few times in my life I’ve been starstruck—you know: weak-kneed, tongue-tied, conspicuously blushing—and this is despite having met and worked with some of the biggest stars in the musical world. This was one of those times. Bowie’s presence, even when he was not performing, was just as magnetic and compelling as his stage persona—and if you’ve ever seen him in concert you know that is saying something, my friends. I always counted among my blessings the fact that at least this once, I didn’t snap into Deranged Fangirl Mode and immediately make a blubbering fool of myself (like that one time I did with Robert Plant, ugh). Today, though, I find myself regretting that I did not shake the man’s hand, embarrassing incoherence be damned.
Bowie’s wicked wit is vividly on display in this Proust Questionnaire from 1998, which I first saw during my recent travels. A sample:
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
What is your greatest fear?
Converting kilometers to miles.
Which living person do you most admire?
Sincere condolences and much love to his family and friends. I hope the media jackals give them the time and space to grieve their tragic loss in peace.
The universe lost one of my favorite humans today. Palace flags are at half mast.
AP did some good investigative reporting and published this story yesterday:
By JACK GILLUM, EILEEN SULLIVAN and ERIC TUCKER
WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology – all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government, The Associated Press has learned.
The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. In a recent 30-day period, the agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country, an AP review found.
“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement.
And technically this is true: as the AP piece notes, “A 1990 report by the then-General Accounting Office noted that, in July 1988, the FBI had moved its “headquarters-operated” aircraft into a company that wasn’t publicly linked to the bureau.” But then the spokesweasel says this:
“Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.”
The surveillance flights comply with agency rules, an FBI spokesman said. Those rules, which are heavily redacted in publicly available documents, limit the types of equipment the agency can use, as well as the justifications and duration of the surveillance.
Got that? The existence of the FBI’s aviation surveillance program is not secret. However, everything about the FBI’s aviation surveillance program is secret. But not to worry: they are complying with their own secret rules that they made in secret.
Then the spokesweasel says:
Allen added that the FBI’s planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.”
The FBI does not generally obtain warrants to record video from its planes of people moving outside in the open, but it also said that under a new policy it has recently begun obtaining court orders to use cell-site simulators.
A cell-site simulator, in case you were wondering, mimics a commercial cell tower, thereby tricking cell phones in the region into providing identifying information, even if the phone is not in public or actively using a cellular network (i.e. on a call or texting). This technology can effortlessly sweep up thousands of identities. So while the official FBI spokesweasel says its planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance,” it turns out that other official spokesweasels interviewed by the AP say that use of cell-site simulators is “rare.” So which is it, nonexistent or rare? And rare compared to what? Capturing HD video of the public without warrants? Get your shit together, official spokesweasels!
President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance, and has called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified programs.
The Obama administration had until recently been directing local authorities through secret agreements not to reveal their own use of the devices, even encouraging prosecutors to drop cases rather than disclose the technology’s use in open court.
A Justice Department memo last month also expressly barred its component law enforcement agencies from using unmanned drones “solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment” and said they are to be used only in connection with authorized investigations and activities. A department spokeswoman said the policy applied only to unmanned aircraft systems rather than piloted airplanes.
According to my Ladylogic™, that means piloted aircraft can indeed be used solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment.
“Aircraft surveillance has become an indispensable intelligence collection and investigative technique which serves as a force multiplier to the ground teams,” the FBI said in 2009 when it asked Congress for $5.1 million for the program.
“Force multiplier” is a military term. Hell, I’m actually surprised they used the words “ground teams” instead of “boots on the ground.” Of course all of this technology comes out of our disastrous War on Terror generally, and drone use specifically. In other words, America’s Owners (Military-Industrial Weasel Division) have seen to it that domestic law enforcement is a lucrative and booming market for their war toys, which necessarily means that the US public is the intended target. Need I remind anyone that virtually all of this is paid for by taxpayers? Or that we are all terrorists now in the eyes of the state?
Among many other salient facts apparently lost in the NSA reform “debate”—like the fact that none of these domestic surveillance programs work for their alleged purposes—is that NSA is only one of many local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI, funneling surveillance intel to fusion centers. Loyal Readers™ should not be surprised to learn that a two year Senate investigation into fusion centers “could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot.” But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been very busy treating enormous swaths of the citizenry as threats to national security: anti-war and peace activists, Muslim lobbyists, abortion rights activists, environmental groups, third-party voters and motorcycle clubs. The Maryland State Police put anti-death penalty and anti-war activists in a federal terrorism database; a foreigner with an expired visa who had been caught shoplifting shoes at a Neiman Marcus was added to the list of “known or appropriately suspected” terrorists. The right isn’t spared*, either: fusion centers have tracked Tea Party groups, a Second Amendment rally, Ron Paul supporters and pro-lifers.
Tl:dr: The idea that even the most radical, ACLU-endorsed reform of NSA’s activities will in any way hinder the surveillance state is laughably absurd.
As is often the case, David Bowie, Brian Eno and Trent Reznor perfectly sum up my view:
*This should go without saying, but in case it does not: as much as I hate conservatives—and I do, I really, really hate conservatives—I do not want them subject to blanket surveillance either. There are constitutional law enforcement methods of investigation that cannot possibly be less effective (or any more expensive) for preventing terrorism than mass surveillance, with none of the downsides. Unless, just maybe, that is not actually what these programs are designed to do…? Oh, I forgot to mention: another source of the intel sent to fusion centers is “the private sector.” I’ll let you ruminate on what exactly that might entail, but I’m pretty sure they rhyme with Oldman Hacks, A.B. Organ Face, Crank Love Numerica and ShittyStank.
B.B. King was a beautiful person: his music touched so many, but really it was his very being that people so adored. Here are some quotes from a great, great man.
“I tried to connect my singing voice to my guitar an’ my guitar to my singing voice. Like the two was talking to one another.” (They was talkin’to me, B.B.)
“If there was no ladies, I wouldn’t wanna be on the planet. Ladies, friends, and music – without those three, I wouldn’t wanna be here.” (I feel the same way about great singers.)
“Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die to get there!” (Funny, that.)
“When people treat you mean, you dislike them for that, but not because of their person, who they are. I was born and raised in a segregated society, but when I left there, I had nobody I disliked other than the people that’d mistreated me, and that only lasted for as long as they were mistreating me.” (Whereas I dislike everyone who has ever mistreated me, since I’m fairly certain they’d do it again if given the opportunity.)
“I’ve been married twice. Most women would rather not be married to a traveling blues singer.” (Or to any traveling musician, frankly.)
“What don’t I want to learn? I have how-to books, history, nature. Ain’t nobody here saying, ‘You’d better learn this.’ But I still think I’ve got a head on my shoulders, and it pleases me.” (Words to live by.)
“When I do eventually drop, I pray to God that it’ll happen in one of three ways. Firstly, on stage or leaving the stage, then secondly in my sleep. And the third way? You’ll have to figure that out for yourself!” (OMG I wonder what it could be???)
“If T-Bone Walker had been a woman, I would have asked him to marry me.” (I would have totally crashed that wedding.)
“Touring a segregated America – forever being stopped and harassed by white cops hurt you most ‘cos you don’t realise the damage. You hold it in. You feel empty, like someone reached in and pulled out your guts. You feel hurt and dirty, less than a person.” (Shame on them. You were more of a person than any racist white cop will ever be.)
“I call myself a blues singer, but you ain’t never heard me call myself a blues guitar man.” (Well, I’m callin’ you a blues guitar man. Rest in peace, good man.)
I adore J.K. Simmons. He is an incredible character actor, turning in outstanding and memorable performances in Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Burn After Reading and countless TV shows including Oz. I am very happy that he just won an Oscar—that is, I am happy for him, because that is the only reason I decided to see Whiplash. Unfortunately, I am now in need of emergency brain surgery to extricate all memory of this film from my head. But before I am inducted under general anesthesia and the surgeon commences drilling into my cranium, allow me to offer a few thoughts.
Whiplash centers on the relationship between a drum student (played by Miles Teller) and his instructor (Simmons) at an elite New York conservatory. As Terence Fletcher, Simmons embodies every spittle-flecked drill sergeant, volatile sports coach and tough-love father you’ve ever seen in movies. This is a common archetype who initially appears unreasonable and mean, but is eventually revealed to be acting out of love, compassion and hard-won wisdom for the benefit of others, however misguided his tactics (see e.g. Gran Torino, The Judge, etc.) Not so with Fletcher. There is no self-reflection, no come-to-Jeezus moment, nothing remotely different about him from start to finish. Consequently, there is just no way to swallow that Fletcher’s is ultimately a worthy pursuit, much less that there is any basis for his actions beyond sheer, sadistic pleasure. By the film’s end, we are certain that he is not some misguided asshole with a heart of gold: no, he is an unrepentant asshole who revels in doing harm for its own sake and the power rush it delivers.
Fletcher’s entire dynamic with Andrew is a classic, textbook cycle of abuse: the predator is a master pretender, cleverly wielding carrots and sticks to get his target to offer up concessions and information guaranteed to be weaponized later on. Fletcher’s absurdly grandiose view of his own worth—as a teacher and as a human being—is never challenged by the filmmakers. In the end it is only validated, and we have to step outside the film and reject its core narrative to even question whether Fletcher is responsible in any way for Andrew’s drive to excel. In fact, we virtually never see Fletcher actually teach Andrew anything about music; he serves up only humiliation, manipulation, spite, vengeance and violence. It is a testament to Simmons as an actor that Fletcher is no 2-dimensional cartoon villain, either. He plays it way over the top to be sure, but you recognize him. You have met him—or someone very much like him—and if you survived the encounter, it is because you eventually figured out how to escape him.
Andrew hardly comes off any better, if you can believe it: he goes from being a shallow, arrogant asshole to being…a shallow, arrogant asshole more prone to the kind of explosive outbursts and cold cruelty that Fletcher so relishes. NEWSFLASH: no one wants to work with flaming assholes, no matter how talented they may be. As it turns out, being a huge douche is actually an impediment in an art form that is at its very essence collaborative.
So. Both actors turn in monster performances playing monsters. And I get it: it’s every actor’s dream to play roles like these—but in the service of what? There is absolutely nothing inspiring, redeeming or even remotely likeable about either of these characters, or their story arcs. If Whiplash plays nothing like a cautionary tale or heroic triumph, then what the fuck is it? Well, the ultimate message of the film is that behind every extraordinary talent lies a miserable, sadistic narcissist, without whose cruel ministrations a gifted artist will never achieve greatness. I reject that, entirely. Artistic “success,” however you wish to define it, requires an innate creative spark, aptitude, ambition and, like pretty much any other area of endeavor, a fair amount of luck. Of course privilege plays a role too, particularly with respect to opportunities and encouragement. And yes, it requires discipline, but not of the sort externally imposed by terror, violence and psychological abuse. Above all else, an artist is driven to make art. That is why the Terence Fletchers of the world are superfluous at best—and far more often than not, harmful in the extreme.
Wait a minute…now that I think of it, this movie would totally work a thousand times better as…gay BDSM porn!
tl;dr: NEEDZ MOAR COCKZ.
NOTE TO LOYAL READERS™: Your Humble Monarch™ has been under the proverbial weather for almost 6 weeks now, and has only in the past few days seen some improvement: coughing less, sleeping better and actually contemplating getting her royal arse back in the gym. Well okay, someday. Pile on the usual holiday stresses this time of year, the drama of dysfunctional families and obligatory interactions with toxic people, and it’s a True Christmas Miracle I haven’t just taken my sugar-free black cherry cough drops off to bed with me—permanently—and said fuck it. But I have not forgotten about you, my Many Tens of Loyal Readers™! Extinguish that thought right now! I have been doing some reading here and there (mainly in doctor’s office waiting rooms and the pharmacy line), diligently keeping track of links and quotes for your personal infotainment.
TL;DR: The bumper sticker slogan for my entire life recently would read thusly: I’d rather be blogging. And oh, is there ever something I am quite eager to write about. After the fucking 25th.
Let’s start with some quotes:
Religion’s greatest “sin” lies in displacing human endeavor, thought, time, resources and efforts from this world, our only world, in order to exalt a highly unlikely, unknowable, unseeable, unprovable and unbelievable pretend afterworld. The only afterlife that ought to concern us is leaving our descendants (along with the other animals and life we share our planet with) a secure and pleasant future. –Annie Laurie Gaylor
Heaven for climate, hell for company. –Mark Twain
All religions issue bibles again Satan, and say the most injurious things against him, but we never hear his side. –Mark Twain
The average man, who does not know what to do with his life, wants another one which will last forever. –Anatole France
Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. –Susan Ertz
We are on the earth, and they tell us of heaven; we are human beings, and they tell us of angels and devils; we are matter, and they tell us of spirit; we have five senses whereby to admit truths, and a reasoning faculty by which to build our belief upon them; and they tell us of dreams dreamed thousands of years ago, which our experience flatly contradicts. –Frances Wright
I believe that this world needs all our best efforts and earnest endeavors twenty-four hours every day. . . . I do not know the needs of a god or of another world. . . I do know that the needs of humanity and this world are infinite, unending, constant, and immediate. They will take all our time, our strength, our love, and our thoughts; and our work here will be only then begun. –Helen H. Gardener
One world at a time. –Robert G. Ingersoll
Dying is a very dull, dreary, affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it. –W. Somerset Maugham
[h/t Don Ardell for the link to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s post containing all of these fine gems.]
Why Is Rape at the Origin of Most Religion? Tarico, V., AlterNet (Dec. 2014). [Why indeed. –Ed.]
The Oil Coup. Whitney, M., Counterpunch (Dec. 2014). (“Washington has persuaded the Saudis to flood the market with oil to push down prices, decimate Russia’s economy, and reduce Moscow’s resistance to further NATO encirclement and the spreading of US military bases across Central Asia. The US-Saudi scheme has slashed oil prices by nearly a half since they hit their peak in June.”)
Stakes are high as US plays the oil card against Iran and Russia. Elliott, L., The Guardian (Nov. 2014).
Musicians’ Brains Really Do Work Differently — In A Good Way. Tsicoulas, A., NPR (Nov. 2014). (with VIDEO via TED-Ed)
War by media and the triumph of propaganda. Pilger, J., Belfast Telegraph via The Greanville Post (Dec. 2014).
The Fifty Shades of Grey series. Cliff, The Pervocracy. (ongoing; link is to chapter 1.) [Brilliant, hilarious and trenchant take on one of the worst books I have ever read by the best kinkster blogger I have ever read. –Ed.]
Villagers in Kazakhstan Are Falling Asleep En Masse for No Apparent Reason. Hay, M., Vice (Dec. 2014). [What the fucking fuck. And no, it’s not satire. –Ed.]
Colleges often reluctant to expel for sexual violence — with U-Va. a prime example. Anderson, N., The Washington Post (Dec. 2014). (“Why, skeptics ask, has U-Va. dismissed dozens of students for academic cheating in recent years but none for sexual assault?”) [Truly a mystery. But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s the same reason that drug suspect lab tests are processed immediately while hundreds of thousands of rape DNA kits languish unexamined. #priorities –Ed.]
Merry Christmeh: 13 greatest examples of people phoning it in on Christmas (that I bothered to look for). Fox, M., Happy Place (Dec. 2014). [Hahaha. Now that’s the spirit. –Ed.]
The Posters that Warned against the Horrors of a World with Women’s Rights. MessyNessy, MessyNessyChic (Dec. 2014). [TW: misogyny, ageism.]
This Physicist Has A Groundbreaking Idea About Why Life Exists. Wolchover, N., Quanta Magazine via Business Insider (Dec. 2014). [Mind: blown. –Ed.]
The War on Christmas is over. Jesus won. Ingraham, C., The Washington Post (Dec. 2014). (“nearly three-quarters of Americans — 73 percent — believe that Jesus was literally born to a virgin.”) [Exhibit No. 7,376,233 that the Greatest Ever Country Ever on Earth Ever is chock full of deluded apes. –Ed.]
Your body, his choice: Missouri GOP bill requires men to give written permission for abortion. McDonough, K., Salon (Dec. 2014). (“Exceptions, according to the bill’s sponsor, will be made for victims of ‘legitimate rape'”.)
The White Guy Problem. Bitter Gertrude (Dec. 2014).
5 Things You Learn Escorting Women Into an Abortion Clinic. Axness, A.J., Cracked (Dec. 2014).
How Medicaid forces families like mine to stay poor. Campbell, A.L., Vox (Dec. 2014).
Chicago activists have quite a bit of proof that the police are eavesdropping on protestors’ phones . Einenkel, W., Daily Kos (Dec. 2014).
Undercover Cops Outed and Pull Gun on Crowd. Harrop, C., Storify (Dec. 2014).
Texas officer attacks and tasers 76-year-old man over expired tags. Hayden, J., Daily Kos (Dec. 2014).
Stop blaming liberals for conservative backlashes. Marcotte, A., Raw Story (Dec. 2014). (“Hating change is the constitution of the conservative. Of course they’re going to scream and cry like infants. Knowing that’s going to happen and there’s no way to avoid it is freeing.”)
Winter beauty tips for the slovenly and unkempt. Irby, S., bitches gotta eat (Dec. 2014). [LOL. –Ed.]
PLZ NOTE: Acquisition of links and/or bon mots for the Palace Library does not imply the Palace’s 100% agreement with or endorsement of any content, organization or individual.