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.

Posted in Music. 1 Comment »

Defending R. Kelly — how not to do it

Often it seems like I accentuate the negative on this blog; this is because there are stupid things in the world. Similarly, there are stupid people. In combination, stupid situations result (such as, say, firing indiscriminately into a mass of civilians for no good reason, but let that pass for now), and it is worth noting them for good reason.

Today Idolator had a link and brief discussion up to this article at MTV, noteworthy for its inclusion of various quotes about Mr. Kelly from a variety of folks. Many of said quotes are, shall we say, telling. Idolator cherry picks the best but they’re all worth reading. You’d think they would have checked with their PR people first.

Rescued from Myspace — “A simple post on friendship”

Partially due to talking and thinking about things as mentioned in the previous post, this post from a year ago came to mind. All still holds true:

Today, for some reason, I have felt very tired and out of it, possibly due to a very busy week. But in the wandering of my mind as a result, I felt that a quick post on friendship might not go amiss.

Many of you are new friends known only through here; others I have known for years upon years; others I’ve had the pleasure to meet after discussion here, whether nearby or at distant gatherings like Terrastock. Others, I know, have only chatted with me once or twice and briefly at that, but even that was enough to show that good humor and intelligence was at work.

Everyone’s kindness and friendship, part of the larger community I’ve grown to know over all these years in person and online, is, I hope, never taken for granted by me, and in turn I hope you’ll all forgive me of my varying faults and mistakes, which I know can sometimes deeply irritate! I hope to have learned from the past, even if the process is slow and requires much self-correction. If I have made you smile, helped out with a kind word, or simply been an ear during a tough situation, then I consider myself well-rewarded beyond measure.

So, perhaps this might be the most *cough* emo post I’ll ever make, but it strikes me that one can speak freely of these feelings and matter without descending into maudlin weariness, and I hope I’ve done so here. My thanks to you all, and however often we keep in touch, let it always be on these good terms.

Decisions, decisions — especially on the NaNoWriMo front

This has been a slightly thoughtful past few days on a number of fronts, and many people have heard parts of it individually. In ways I’m actually glad it’s happened now because starting tomorrow work will kick in big time for the next few weeks, not really letting up until mid-October, at which time it’s out of here for me to get over to Hawaii for my folks’ anniversary celebrations. Time for self-reflection, therefore, will be at a premium for some time to come (as will blog-posting, but we’ll see how I can work that out!) And while much remains up in the air I’ve gained some good insights and perspectives, and we will see where they go from there — I don’t pretend to solutions suddenly revealed, but better ways to reconsider where I was at! At the same time a number of folks were facing their own truly rough situations and I hope what cheer or thoughts I could provide are of help.

While all this has been going on, though, a reminder of what time of year it is came into the e-mail — we’re just over a month to go to NaNoWriMo, something which when I first started participating in it helped kick me out of some doldrums at that time. In some respects what I’ve decided to do this year is a bit premature — I had thought I wouldn’t be ready for it for a bit yet — but thoughts this year about being reenergized in a variety of areas let me to conclude in one of my lateral-thinking moments that now is the time.

Specifically, I’ll be starting — but not planning on finishing, though I will reach the 50,000 word limit — a long-mooted historical novel based on a strange incident in my family’s history. My branch of the Raggetts settled in the Bay Area after or around the mid-19th century, and much of the family did rather well. Among the many sons of the immigrant Raggett family, however, were two who did not do so well in life — they’re my great-great-etc. uncles, as I’m descended from one of their more successful brothers. These two became your classic Skid Row of SF denizens by all accounts, living in ‘low’ or at least shady places, consorting with ‘fallen women,’ addicted to opium and heroin, etc — so far, so stereotypical.

What IS unusual is what happened one day — the patrons of the bar that the brothers lived over were startled to see one of them come stumbling into the bar, bleeding profusely. He’d been stabbed, but was still alive. The police were called in and the initial conclusion based on all evidence was that the murderer was the other brother, growing out of an argument the two had. What made it stranger was a simple thing — the victim, who did not die immediately, refused to identify the other brother as the killer.

What little we know about this story has come down to us as a few scattered newspaper reports, compiled by my mom, who has become the family historian. We don’t know anything else about this. It’s always been a mystery what exactly happened — and increasingly, I’ve wanted to tell that story in the only way I can: imaginatively. To do so will require some research and preparation, and arguably I don’t quite have the time for it properly — but in part, that’s why I want to use NaNoWriMo as a way to get a lot of it down. Exact historical details will be needed, as much as I choose to use them, and language in dialog will be a key point I will likely stumble over initially. But the main part of the story — which still eludes me, though I have ideas — will finally start to flow.

And for that reason I’m glad — I have always had a few goals to engage with set into the future, not the far future, but the future, and this is another one. It provides just enough structure to work around. So we’ll see where I go with it from here.

Posted in Books, Life. 9 Comments »