Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Beatles vs. the Dreyfus Affair: Cures for Modern Civility?

By ned * Other ned Posts

The New Yorker avoids discussing video games like Tom Wolfe avoids color. The pastime associates itself with passive couch potato adolescents and not academic Park Avenuers. The 64-bit art generally appeals to groundlings through violence and sport as opposed to the aristocrats through wit and reflective storylines. Therefore, it would be difficult to spin out multi-thousand word essays appealing to an audience of private university graduates over the age of 40.

However, the recent production of the Beatles edition of Rock Band may have provided the monocle clad authors that opportunity to delve into the jargon of joysticks. The Beatles provide baby boomer appeal and Rock Band has proved to be an interesting phenomenon. It has created a potential new channel to sell music for the struggling music industry and the game has cultivated a new fan base for waning rock when hip hop had seen a dominant rise in popularity. Moreover, because it is the Beatles, there is the ability to tap into a vein that spans generations and is somehow bigger culturally than anything else ... some might even say Jesus.

However, with only a scant entry on its online blog, the editors of The New Yorker have stuck to their guns the past few weeks – often through articles referencing esoteric events of the past as opposed to cult followings of the present. One such article reviews a book that recounts the Dreyfus Affair and highlights its relevance for the current socio-political climate (The Dreyfus Affair: A Chronological History by George R. Whyte).

We all remember the Dreyfus Affair. Dreyfus, a Jew in the military, was court martial for treason, stripped of his titles in rushed proceedings, and persecuted to the delight of a loudly anti-Semitic faction in late 19th century France. Eventually Dreyfus was reinstated, those who persecuted him punished and the institutions of the modern Western state vindicated as liberal, pluralistic, and fair.

However, the New Yorker writer points out that the book focuses not on the event as part of the anti-Semitism narrative that darkened the history of the first half of the 20th century. Instead, the book struggles with the question of how something like that could happen in such a modern society as France – which at the turn of that century touted itself to be. To some extent, according to the article, the Dreyfus Affair was a result of emotions left unchecked in elements of society that felt disempowered and, subsequently, angrily searched for explanations of the status quo. Through these traits connections are insinuated to the current right of center Tea Party movement and the Anti-Muslim sentiments of the past decade - paralleled in the trails of the Guantanamo detainees. Therefore, study of the Dreyfus affair might provide us answers on how to grapple with extreme, passionate views so they do not get out of control and ultimately impair fairness or - at worst - falsely victimize other persons.

The power of the Dreyfus case as a tool to that end may be inherent in many publicized legal proceedings. The New Yorker article states how often court cases from Scopes to Simpson provide a theater for the tensions of a given society to methodically play out. Thus records of episodes such as the Dreyfus Affair can provide particularly powerful lenses to compare to modern events. In order to believe that these comparisons are possible, the author of the book and the New Yorker article must believe in a principle tenet of the study of the history – through study of the past we can better understand who we are and can be.

The question then is whether that premise of the pursuit of studying our ancestors is actually true? Is there something that we can glean from the past to make for a better future? For that to be true there must be some things that are fundamentally human regardless of time period. If Frenchmen of the 19th century are completely unlike Americans of the 21st, then does the Dreyfus Affair matter at all today? Of course though, there are commonalities; we still relate to experiences found in the writings of the ancient theologians, philosophers, and storytellers. Experiences that once recognized as human can only lead to a degree of respect and empathy – if not love – in those individuals around you who share and have shared in those experiences.

It is this perspective that is a more relevant take away for today’s society than an episode of anti-Semitism at the turn of the century France. Recent outbursts of Serena Williams and Joe Wilson as well as racial undertones of rallies and violent threats of terrorists have lead many to question the degree of civility in modern society. One tactic to fight for civility is for us all to take time to recognize what we have in common and what we share.

The music of the Beatles can be study of the cultural shifts in the sixties. From clean cut rhythm and blues rockers “holding hands” to psychedelic, eastern influenced artists “doing it in the road,” the Beatles flowed with the times they helped shape. To quote Elvis Costello, a part of that involved espousing the virtues of “peace, love and understanding.” Perhaps that is a part of the music that the New Yorker can highlight to a contemplative audience; the Beatles Rock Band, the unlikeliest of sources, can remind us of values currently lacking in society. Maybe these virtues of the sixties would appeal to civility in a way tenable to both Christians and counter-culturalists alike. Maybe what society requires now is empathy for the human experience. Maybe all we need is love.

- - - - - - - - - -

Article referenced:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reading is Pretty Necessary

By CL * Other CL Posts

Over the course of the summer - as I spent day after day doing nothing but learn and review the law in preparation for the bar exam - I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would rather be doing. One of the more mundane but better ideas I had was to go back to my favorite books and reread them.

In law school, I spent very little time reading for pleasure. I had a few phases of bringing non-law books on the subway, and I would always work in some poetry, but I read an average of two books a year in that time. So I have a small stack, heavy on the Johnson and Banville, to get through.

Now, rereading all these books, I've realized the real extent to which all that law reading has affected my ability to express myself. I had gotten to the point where I could barely put together a coherent non-IRACed paragraph, in conversation or in print. Everything I read before this exercise fell into one of the following categories, and as a result I could not think or communicate outside of them:

-legal cases and articles
-news headlines
-short-form conversation: emails and gchats
-blog posts in the "quote an article and say something sarcastic" mold

Which is all well and good, but doesn't give you much in the way of interesting conversation. All these huge casebooks and throwaway jokes, with nothing in between, had caused a slow ossification in my ability to discuss things, to explain things, and to think analytically or creatively (outside the legal context). And having the bluebook rules constantly floating in the back of my head all of 2L year didn't help.

So now that I'm reading actual books, I'm regaining some ability to communicate clearly. This is all fairly obvious: reading more --> a greater ability to write and talk. But it's easy to forget, and it slips away very slowly. The point being: even if it's just on the subway on the way to work, I'm going to make it a point to read part of an "actual book" as often as possible from here on out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Capturing a Fat Part of the Long Tail

By CL * Other CL Posts

Much has been written in the last few years about the Long Tail: the idea that a large and growing part of the economy consists of selling small quantities of many niche items to the few enthusiasts that desperately want them. It has been applied, in various ways, to many sectors of the economy, and I think it's interesting to see how it applies to one in particular.

The sports apparel industry has long been active in the United States (and several ATC contributors have some experience in the field). It has many sectors and styles: replica uniforms consistently sell well, throwbacks had a brief but intense period of popularity, and superstars and hobbyists alike want to maximize their potential with performance-enhancing shoes and training gear.

No startup company is going to knock off Nike, Reebok, adidas, or any of the other huge companies which have firmly established themselves in all corners of the market. But two young companies have made huge strides in the last few years by carefully defining their target consumer, then gaining their trust and faith by making it clear that they weren't interested in anyone else: Under Armour and UNDRCRWN.

Under Armour was founded in 1996 by a former college football player, and rose in popularity as athletes of gradually greater stature experienced and attested to the quality of their training gear. They consciously avoided going for true mainstream appeal, going so far as to "[restrict] sales to sporting goods stores, military-base exchanges and sports- and military-oriented outlets." This focus on the hardcore athlete (real or imagined) paid off; when combined with the intense imagery of their advertisements, it gave Under Armour an authenticity that Nike - too busy collaborating with Cole Haan and selling golf umbrellas - could never enjoy.

Taking precisely the opposite tack is UNDRCRWN, maker of my current favorite t-shirt. Their motto, "There Are More People In The Stands Than In The Game," reflects this idea perfectly - as much as weekend warriors may want to play like their heroes, they spend much more time watching them than they do emulating them. And they need something to wear while doing so. They've collaborated with musicians (including Asher Roth and Mos Def), dabbled in political commentary, and made all this even more clear a few months ago when they debuted the "We'd Rather Look Good Than Play Good" shirt, questionable grammar notwithstanding.

(In discussing this post, Ned pointed out a third company that falls in with these two: lululemon. I don't know much about their overall strategy, but in contrast to the two mentioned above - who operate online and through specialty retailers - they seem to have franchise stores that sell their own line of yoga-related sportswear. They've been growing fast and they seem popular; my one problem with them is that I looked at their sizing chart shortly after getting measured for a suit a few years ago and discovered that by their standards I was small in some measurements, medium in others, and extra-large in others. I'm not sure whether that means that I'm malformed or that they're overly precise.)

I'm sure this isn't news to anyone who pays attention to the sportswear industry, and if there aren't a handful of b-school case studies on each of these companies then there should be. But as a casual observer, and one who believes that ATC's readership is comprised of people who aren't experts in the field but might find it interesting, I thought it worthy of a post. The sportswear industry is dominated by a few huge be-everything-to-everybody companies, but there is plenty of room for small, specialized and focused competitors.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

America at a Crossroads Street Corner

By ned * Other ned Posts

A debate has been raging this summer over an issue that impacts millions of Americans -- including the Congressmen themselves. With minimal change in decades, there is little doubt that the oldest profession in the world is in need of reform. But the question is how? Should the government provide prostitution to cover those currently unable to afford the pricey services?

Central to the debate has been the control of escalating costs and government entry into the market. Gary Hart, an independent lobbyist advocating reform, says that the public option could provide a safety net for those currently without choices for coverage. Moreover, he argues that in many street corners single providers are completely dominating the market and a public option would offer some competition to lower costs.

Others feel that costs could be controlled through private means. South Carolina’s Governor Mark Sanford is a strong advocate for increased competition by opening our borders to foreign competition – in particular Latin American providers. Others feel that this market goes through gyrations and is bound to calm down after it gets escalating costs out of its systems. Republican John Ensign points to some creative private solutions in places like Seattle. There ladies of the night are independently banding together to form co-ops where both coital care and high-interest black market loans are housed under one-roof.

Many fear that the introduction of a public option will simply undercut prices and crowd out private practitioners. Thus it could lead the way to what is known as a “Single Player System.” This was what the Johnson administration had in mind as a part of their “Really Great Society. High Five!” Voicing this fear was One-Eyed Winston at a recent convention of People of Indiscretionary Means and Parts (P.I.M.P.).

“If the government enters the market we will have no ability to compete and no choice but to fold. Its too big. It will leave thousands unemployed ... and with our skill set we would only then be able to only find employment with the government's brothel - known around here as the public's privates. Man, imagine the paperwork involved in slapping a ho'. Inefficiencies like this will only lead to bad service and desperate clients … really desperate clients,” issued Mr. Winston in a public statement.

To combat this direction, many on the far right have been accused of employing low-level scare tactics as a staple in their rhetoric. There is no base in many allegations. Abortions would not be covered under any currently proposed plan as some pro-lifers fear. Additionally, the fate of grandfathers across the country would not be left in the hands of public Madame panels that would deny services to those who desire it. Lastly, it is an outright lie that “Obama” would be enforced as a standardized safe word to further a cult of personality.

To address these concerns, Democrats hit the streets in August in a series of town hall meetings. It lead to heated discussions including when one angry Carolinian asked John Edwards if he "would refuse the public option and continue to seek care through private means … if its good enough for everybody else it should be good enough for you!”

With a clear majority in Congress, the President could push for reform. But, reform is meeting so much resistance that it looks like there will be no happy ending for all those promised change during the election. Moreover, with a speech before a joint session on health care this Wednesday, the President has chosen other priorities instead.

Disclaimer: The above has all been fabricated as an attempt at satire to make some laugh. Please enjoy as such.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mixtape Mondays - Tailgating Tunes

The rationale behind some of the tunes from our contributors

Garth Brooks "Beer Run" - Because that is needed as a precursor to the tailgate. You have to start there.

Bruce Springsteen "Glory Days" - Football and tailgating are about having a desire to hold on to your youth. This song is about that,too.

Johnny 'Guitar' Watson "Booty Ooty" - We dare you not to have a great time listening to this song.

Devo "Uncontrollable Urge" - One of the few good things to ever come out of Ohio. Mark Mothersbaugh & Co., beer, and barbecue? Admittedly, it's a bizarre combination, but it works well.

Unknown Hinson "Cheeseburger" - There is only one thing that' more American than football and tailgating, and that's Unknown Hinson.

Refused "New Noise" - Off of 1998's The Shape of Punk to Come. The song was featured in Peter Berg's Friday Night Lights--arguably the best football movie ever made (you can quote me on that)--right as the Permian Panthers are walking out to the field for the state championship game. It's a great fit. The first minute of the song rattles and serves as a perfect psych up to releasing your inner beast. The high energy is a consistent high voltage current that should carry you from the tailgate to your seat

NOFX "Beer Bong" - May or may not fit the feel or the rest of the tape, but it's sort of a "why not" pick.

The Mountain Goats "Fall of the High School Running Back" - It's not really an optimistic or early-season type song.

Simon & Garfunkle "Leaves That are Green" - About passage of time, rituals of youth and the sights and sounds of the fall.

Beach Boys "Be True to Your School" - At the core of your tailgate comes this rationale

YPMB "March On Down the Field" - Because you need to be true to your school

Talking Heads "Stay Hungry" - The motto of a griller who has too many burger patties and not enough mouths. Plus is groovey bass line will keep those waiting in line for that burger tapping their toes - thus burning calories for more consumption.

Toni Basil "Hey Mickey" - Dedicated to the cheerleaders out there.

Screaming Trees "All that I Know" - For the game that gets away.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Quite Possibly the Best Music Being Made Today

By CL * Other CL Posts

I spend a great deal of time using public transportation or walking, and 95% of that time is spent with my iPod turned on. I tend to keep the volume at a moderate level, not least because I don't want the entire subway car to know I'm listening to R. Kelly's "I Like the Crotch on You." There's one exception; one artist that always causes me to jack up the volume to obnoxiously loud levels: The Very Best.

The Very Best makes the happiest, easiest-to-listen-to music on earth. It's a partnership between Esau Mwamwaya, a Malawian singer, and Radioclit, a London-based production duo. The backstory is entertaining but irrelevant; your task right now is to watch the video below, then download the mixtape for free. Give it a chance. You have nothing to lose.

I wasn't expecting the album to be released until October 6th - which would have allowed me to post this in time for you to try the mixtape before the album's release - but as it turns out, October 6th is the physical release date. It was released online last week, and can be streamed and bought here. So stream it, and buy it.

That's really all I have to say. I was going to make this longer. I was going to describe the music itself, which is not just afropop but Africanized western pop; half of the mixtape consists of covers of pop songs. I was going to talk about how I was overjoyed at my discover of the mixtape last year, and sent it to my college roommate, only to find out that Green Owl - the label he works for - already represented the group. But I'd rather keep it short and let the music speak for itself.

So, to reiterate: this may be the best pure music being made today. The mixtape was in my top three albums last year, and the upcoming album has already secured a spot in this year's top three. Enjoy.