Dinner the other night…

That’s a basil cream pasta along with a stuffed bun they called a ‘hottie’ thanks to the spicy contents (v. flavorful, including shiitake mushrooms), a pluot and a chocolate truffle cookie. And a good Belgian beer and a book to read (if, admittedly, the one I mostly trashed in the blog entry below this one). A fine meal through and through, and some days you need just that but prepared by someone else other than yourself!

How to take the Russian Empire and make it seem kinda boring

It should be noted that the book Russian Empire: Space, People, Power 1700-1930 was under no particular command to be a rollicking thrill a minute read. As with most explicitly academic anthologies it is designed for a specialist audience that would like analysis and attendant theorization over personal reflection and narrative popularization, and regards narrative storytelling with suspicion. As such it is an extension of the kind of historical critique that dominated a wide variety of historical analysis in the past century and still has an understandable place today.

At the same time, most though not all of the authors seemed dedicated to making what is, after all, a fairly major institution in the role of human history — an organization whose descendants still comprise the largest overall geo-political unit in human history beyond the Mongol and Spanish Empires, and which unlike those two still survives in a slightly smaller but still gigantic form, a size and marshalling of people and places that, while not worthy of an automatic forelock-pulling, is still something that can’t be ignored or explained away. As such the study of what makes an empire — its mindset, its constituent elements, its way of regarding itself, outsiders and those within who still seemed out of place — is very well worthy.

But little strikes a casual reader with an interest in Russian history — ie, me, an admittedly biased audience — with force of interest. Arguably it is a case where much information could only be presented in a fairly dry format; at the same time, a number of the writers, perhaps notably including most of the Russian contributors, are dedicated to long-form explanations of their theoretical stances. As someone who had that as a key part of his own anthology essay earlier this year, I sympathize entirely, but there’s little to engage on a reader on this front when wanting to get to the meat of the matter.

In that regard I am perhaps unfair. But it does deaden the book, some notable moments aside (I found “Siberia and the Russian Far East in the imperial geography of power” by Anatolyi Remnev to be a very engaging study of that area of ‘Russia’ as conquered, colonized and then reconceived, not least because of how much evidence was brought to bear from 19th century Russian officials’ own words on how they viewed the land and its people). As such it couldn’t be read through, but more readily skimmed, picking up interesting anecdotes here and there. The fault again is not entirely the authors or the book’s — given its context and its needs, it fits an intended audience well. But that intended audience is alas a small one, when the best academic writing, like the best writing, aims for all.

In sharky water

Over at Idolator, Maura helps contribute to what’s really been a stellar week there with a quick discussion on a post at TheStreet.com on potential mp3 price wars — one of those concepts that would have once prompted a ‘what the?’ but now makes a certain sense in the iTunes vs. Amazon era, the latter now finally having debuted its online music store.

Maura’s own thoughts are worth it but so are the few but detailed responses so far which outline just how much the business itself needs to reorganize if is to survive in any suitable sense beyond the hobbyist/niche marketing level (which, it should be noted, I am more than fine with on the one hand but also slightly wary of on the other — a full and total Balkanization of sound on the release front reduces one of pop’s saving graces, the capacity for sudden surprise via unexpected fusion in a widely heard sense). The best of times/worst of times continues, though I’d be fine if Doug Morris and Lyor Cohen and the like have their experience fall on the second side of that balance.

WHOA my goodness, it all kicked in today

Some days are work days and some days are on a higher level entirely. Yup.

But food photos later tonight. Because I know you’re into that. Or at least some of you. [EDIT: cancel that — I do have some photos but I am seriously exhausted at home now and about to get some sleep. Tomorrow, hopefully.]

In the meantime…well, no need to pray for me, but crank some loud music. It’s good for the soul.

Middle of the week zone

All of the writing and typing and work and all that so far this week = my brane, iz ded.

So more tomorrow at some point. In the meantime, pry around a bit in the world of M. R. James, probably my favorite horror writer ever, on balance.

[EDIT: Actually, check out Roundup, run by longtime ILXor Tracer Hand. It’s a new independent world news coverage site taking advantage of the Net’s ability to bring stories together from all over the place, and his coverage on the current Burma/Myanmar situation is a fine starting point. Meantime, Burmese-British blogger Ko Htike is also on the case.]

If you don’t have time/ability to watch the Congress-meets-hip-hop sessions…

Then you could do far worse than Idolator’s liveblog of it, where Jess H. is once again kicking ass and taking names. The direct broadcast can be accessed here.

There’s a couple of interesting larger issues at work — while live broadcasts of Congressional hearings have often occurred, it’s only recently that one could access all of them at the same time, depending on what’s going on. C-SPAN and its spinoffs have done much to present the workings of Congress to a wider audience, if unavoidably through a medium that inevitably skews perceptions of their workings while at the same time not truly providing an overall picture in any sense of the word. Live Net broadcasts by the committees doesn’t change that much, given that it’s still an audiovisual presentation skewed towards that aspect of the hearing rather than its potential content.

Nonetheless, when you consider the upcoming hearings that this particular committee (on energy and commerce) will be covering — tomorrow’s being a debate on a new food/drug safety act focusing on foreign imports — then the importance of having such coverage ready to hand, not only through TV but also and in many cases only the Net, is important. That most of us rely on summations and swift reports of such hearings, if we pay attention to them at all, is understandable, but that the broadcasts are there for those with particular interests or concerns to review as a participatory citizen in our society, regardless of how photogenic the witnesses to the committee might or might not be, is important, as an extension of that impulse which has placed these hearings in the public record in general (the amount of bound hearings available in UCI’s collection is testament to that). More, rather than less, is always good in this case, and if someone would prefer to hear and watch it rather than read it, either in print or on the Net, then the option is there.

None of which is to engage in gooey praise for the beauties of our wonderful system. It is an element, not a solution, and hearings can often just as easily (if not more often, by default) obscure as potentially illuminate, and from Jess’s liveblogging it sounds as per usual that there are good points being made that are lost in a wash of self-interested posing and canards, on either side of the witness microphones. But better this than not at all, and for that we should all be grateful.

EDIT: This all said, Jess has updated with an on-point summary showing why it is that hardcore political junkies are a fairly small breed when it comes to following hearings of any stripe:

Well, I think I should probably take a moment during this most recent recess to talk a little bit about what I’ve learned today. One, every time a congressperson starts talking about how they would never try to screw with the First Amendment, you can just pencil in “…but I would if I could” at the end. Record and network execs are free speech absolutists provided it doesn’t remotely affect their bottom line. Rappers really need to drop “we’re just telling it like it is” as an excuse for their lazy nihilism at this point. Michael Eric Dyson is too smart to be wasting his time caught in go-nowhere “discussions” like this one. Academic feminists sadly do not put the asses in the seats. And watching five hours of congressional hearings will reduce even the hardiest man to a drooling, preverbal state where he’s unable to even wipe the pizza sauce off his slack jaw

EDIT 2: Other further thoughts from Jess, on a more serious tip:

Okay, everyone else has had their chance, so here’s some real talk from yours truly. I agree with many of these politicos and preachers and pundits that American culture has taken a nosedive into a septic tank, and I often walk away from a few hours of video or radio bristling with disgust at what happens when race and sex and relations between the races and the sexes get perverted by capitalism. So don’t think my seven hours of non-stop snark means that I think everything is A-OK with the health of popular music. I would be more than happy if I never heard any lyrics about “explicit sex” from “Cameron” ever again. But, and I doubt I’m at all alone in this, my “innate distrust” warning alarms start clanging at top volume when the government suddenly takes an interest in “entering into a dialogue” with those who create and sell culture, especially when it seems to be a thinly disguised effort by people in a position of authority to pressure/scare grown men and women into cleaning up their acts by tsk-tsk’ing them as if they were 8-year-olds. And that, coupled with cringe-inducing memories of the three-ring clusterfuck of the PMRC hearings and the embarassingly overzealous rhetoric of many of the post-C. Delores Tucker types we’ve heard from today, has made me unable to, I dunno, take this hearing seriously. At all.

It’s been a very busy day at work — training new students and all — so I have little to add than to echo and highlight the above, which is one of the finer distillations of actual civic concern when it comes to the arts — how they can dumb us down as much as lift us up while acknowledging that legislating morality comes with its own pitfalls — in recent times. It is easy, very easy, to skate past these issues rather than trying to engage them seriously, and having grown up in a time of hysterical overreactions to music makes me and many like me innately fearful that we end up sounding like those we made fun of in high school when they were worried about WASP. It’s an interesting struggle, not always easily resolved. More can be said but I’ll halt for now.

“Let there BE!”

“Let there always be/Neverending light!”

VNV Nation rocked it last night and I couldn’t be happier. I did promise some time back that this post would be a part 1 of something larger, but that something has since mutated and taken different shapes, so I might refrain for now. Partially this is due to my EMP plans — no guarantee of acceptance, of course, so I’m just crossing my fingers! — but partially due to other things coming up, including of course THE WORK CRUNCH (which so far has been surprisingly manageable…so far).

But the larger point here — friends Ben, Fern and Deeps and I all went out the show (and much thanks to Fern for driving us all) and good, good times had. The interesting thing about Ronan Harris as a frontman live is that he is a rabble-rousing “Let’s see those HANDS!” type of a perfect degree, as I’ve muttered before, but he also seems genuinely surprised in a pleasant way that people are there cheering for his songs, singing along and generally making it clear why they’re there. In my own small and not directly comparable way I empathize — I still haven’t learned to take compliments about my writing as I could, so thoroughly dissatisfied am I with most of it when I look back on it after first blush.

It’s kinda rare to notice something like that onstage — often, not always, there’s either shy withdrawal or full-on basking in it all without a sense of self-reflection. In a way, Harris’s balance between two poles — pumping up the crowd and a bit head-shaking ‘wow, they actually ARE getting into it’ bemusement — matches the careful destabilization at the heart of his best music, where the impulse to individual definition and collective ‘we’re in this together’ continually bleeds into each other, where the darker undertows of many of the arrangements and lyrical are matched by a total exultance.

As for me, I’m in my VNV workshirt for today and have a lot of comments already about how well-dressed I look. It’s a nice shirt, I gotta say.

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