Sep 4, 2008


A few words about Sarah Palin.

  1. First of all: Sarah Palin was only chosen because she was a woman. This would have been the same thing as nominating Barack Obama simply because he's black. It's a gimmick meant to pander to disaffected female blue-collar Democrats. Again, McCain assumes that these women only supported Hillary Clinton because she's a woman, and that, frankly, is insulting.
  2. Palin's other credentials are tumbling quickly: she employed a lobbyist to get $27 million in earmarks when she was mayor of her town, Wasilla (8,500 people). Boise, ID, population 200,000, got about the same amount. In other words: she was for earmarks before she was against them.
  3. I don't care that her daughter is pregnant. However, she could have saved her daughter a lifetime of misery if she had given her proper sex-education. Bristol Palin will be stuck with some hometown schmuck for the rest of her life simply because she was horny at 17 and didn't know what to do about it. In the mean time, she's five months along and there's nothing more she can do.
  4. Another note about her kids: while they're supposed to be given privacy and respect, she's not below parading them on the national stage. (Of course, Obama isn't exactly innocent on this front, either.) Her daughter's beau is even attending the convention; I wouldn't be surprised if that's the last place on earth he wants to be.
  5. And finally: "Mrs. Palin needs to be reminded that Jesus Christ was a community organizer and Pontius Pilate was a governor."

Aug 2, 2008


Pillarization is a term used mainly in reference to Belgian and Dutch civil society. It describes the forming of separate social structures depending on one's political and religious beliefs. These entities include schools, universities, newspapers, radio and television, unions, and hospitals.

This system came into place after the second world war and has only been broken down to some extent. It came bubbling to the surface in several important political crises (I'm going to talk about Belgium here because I know a lot more about it than I do about the Netherlands.) One of these is the 1954 school crisis, which was very similar to the current controversy about school vouchers in the United States. Essentially, liberals and Catholics were arguing about a system for funding education. Catholics wanted school funding for their schools, while liberals riled against the idea of state money being used for religious purposes. This issue caused a huge stir and fractured civil society. The final solution was to fund Catholic schools with state money, except for those hours of the school week they were teaching religious dogma.

Another example is the controversy surrounding the return of King Leopold III after his exile in Switzerland. Liberals maintained that he was too cozy with the Germans and that he shouldn't be allowed to return to take power; Catholics, by and large, defended him. This issue introduced an added layer of complexity: there was more royal support in Flanders than in Wallonia. (Historically, Dutch-speaking Belgians supported Catholic parties while French-speaking Belgians supported the socialists.) The solution here was to hold a referendum to determine if he should return or not; because of their demographic advantage, the pro-royal faction won. However, social strife began tearing the country apart, and Leopold abdicated in favor of his 20 year old son (!).

Why bring up these examples? Because I think there are definite parallels within the United States. The media has become increasingly polarized; MSNBC and its star, Keith Olbermann, are perceived as 'liberal'; Fox News and its main attraction, Bill O'Reilly, are perceived as conservative. Such "middle-of-the-road" media outlets as CNN have also become increasingly opinionated; I'm thinking of Lou Dobbs and Jack Cafferty.

Religious boundaries exhibit the same type of polarization. Ever since the infusion of religion into presidential politics in the late 1970s and 1980s (with JFK as an outlier, of course), a candidate's religion has become as important as his party affiliation. In society at large, religious and secular elements have become diametrically opposed from one another, clashing in issues from the teaching of creationism in schools to who should be nominated for the Supreme Court.

The same goes with education: there is a system of private vs public education in place, each with its own accreditation bodies and so forth.

Jul 14, 2008

Obama's move to the center

Obama's recent move to the center is emblematic of the strategy American left.

In his desire to be seen as a moderate, Obama has clung to policies which many liberals might not agree with: first came his decision to not accept public funding for his campaign, then came his 180 on FISA and telecom immunity, then his endorsement of the Supreme Court decision on the legality (or lack thereof) of gun control in D.C., then a high-profile speech to conservatives in which he expressed his desire to continue and even expand George Bush's faith-based charity programs.

Whether or not these policy choices are indicative of what the man believes is not for me to say, but I think most of you will agree with me that they seem to pander to the right. Where has that gotten us in the past? And why is it that the left always seems to feel the need to move to the center while the right doesn't give a good god-damn about what the rest of America seems to think?

(On a side note, the Political Compass confirms what many commentators have already said: that the American right has become so extreme that Democrats have followed them. As a result, most Democrats are right of center; only Kucinich is on the left, and then only moderately so.)

I must admit that at first I was kind of upset by all of this. I truly believed that Obama was the genuine article, a once-in-a-lifetime politician, a visionary, etc. I read his books and I was sold.

But listening to the New Yorker's editor explain why they published that already infamous cartoon on their cover, I realized that perhaps Obama isn't as new and fresh as he seems. And is that really a bad thing? Why not have a cut-throat Democrat, for a change? After all, Obama's not a stupid man. Maybe he's doing what he thinks he has to to get elected.

We'll see. In the mean time, my feet are firmly back on the ground.

Apr 25, 2008

The American middle class is sinking. That's a fact. People in their 30s now earn far less compared to their parents' generation. In truth, this is not surprising. High wages in manufacturing for unionized low-skilled workers with a high-school education depend on the (international) prolonged success of those industries; now that the manufacturing sector is tanking, many are without jobs. All of this is nothing new.

Essentially, this is comparable to the kind of socialism practiced in the former USSR: market conditions be damned, workers will get a high wages. The only difference here, of course, is what you call it. Note that I have no problem at all with guaranteeing a realistic standard of living for workers; in a town like Austin, for example, a 4-member family needs at least $40,000 to make a decent living.

The only thing I find ridiculous about all of this is that politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, pander to this base of disenchanted white middle class voters, and make all kinds of proposal that look very much like the kind of pro-worker socialism they eschew.

Dec 8, 2007


I went to part of the EARS concert tonight. Paul Drescher played the 'quadrachord,' an instrument of his own creation. It was a fantastic performance, colliding stylistically with minimalism and post-rock. I think it's fair to say that Drescher really expressed himself in every way possible: not only did he play an original composition, he also created the instrument on which he played it. More than ever, it made me question the values of originality and relevance.

As a kid, I was raised on a hearty diet of Mozart and Beethoven with a smattering of Brahms. As I grew up, I discovered different composers, moving forward chronologically: Chopin, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Barber, Rautavaara, etc. While these don't necessarily echo in my music, they've become a part of my musical subconscious. Essentially, these have melted into a sort of Platonic ideal I try to express.

(That came out sounding much more pretentious than I thought.)

But the point is this: my true musical roots lie in the classical tonal tradition. Music needs to move me. It needs to emote. I love playing games and I love systems, but music is not a zero-sum game. My music is basically a rehashing of what's been done, and that's fine with me. I'm perfectly content sitting in my corner writing whatever moves me. It might be relevant and original only to me, and that's fine, too.

But what I loved about Drescher's performance is that he actually did something that hasn't been done before. Whether or not it'll become relevant to the masses remains to be seen... but it was totally original, and that has to count for something.

Dec 5, 2007


As we speak, I'm listening to the a webcast of the UT symphony playing Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.

I have very mixed feelings about Tchaikovsky. There is no denying that the man was a fount of absolutely gorgeous melodies -- this symphony has several of them, my favorite being the tearjerker in the second movement. The short-term development of that first theme is fantastic, culminating in the most wonderful moment in the whole symphony. But why not save that for the climax in the recapitulation, or better yet, the coda? The same is true of many of his other pieces, most notably the First Piano Concerto.

There's an incongruity here. Why does Tchaikovsky have such a good ear for musical momentum and drama in the short term but not in the long term? When he starts developing his themes, things fall apart. The energy dissipates. He, pardon the pun, peters out.

At the risk of opening myself up to a barrage of criticism, I think you can place composers on a continuum. People like Tchaikovsky and Dvorak write the most incredible melodies but often fail to develop them properly. Their tunes often get lost in the muddle or become trite after being repeated ad nauseam. (There are, of course, exceptions in both of these cases, in the form of certain masterpieces by both of these composers.) On the other hand, composers like Brahms or Beethoven often wrote banal or square themes that can be easily justified by their masterful development.

When both of these characteristics -- short term thematic bliss and long term structural integrity -- meet, in my opinion, a masterpiece is born.

Dec 3, 2007

First post.

I've kept many blogs in my day. I started blogging in 2001, when I was still in high school. Two of those blogs lasted several years (although one is dying a slow death as we speak), but most ended up containing only a few posts and are then unceremoniously abandoned.

A blog is nothing without an audience. Why else would you write something and publish it on the intertubes? If private shoe-gazing is what you're in to, get a journal with a heart-shaped lock to hide under your bed. Blog posts enter the ether forever, archived by Google 'til kingdom come. A hippie astronomy professor I had a few semesters back told us that radio waves emanate from the earth outwards, in all directions, at the speed of light. Some aliens 13 parsecs away are probably watching Johnny Carson and Tricky Dick Nixon as we speak, much like equally alien beings will be pouring over this fossilized blog post god-knows-how-long from now on the way-back machine. Maybe they can be my audience. I don't like to be caught gazing at my shoes for too long.