Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Top 25 rap albums

Although, ever since I read Peter Kreeft’s funny but revealing article “A Defence of Culture Wars”, I have been suspicious of rap because I have believed it to be really violent in a celebratory manner - as opposed to darkly depicting terrifying scenes of violence. However, with age I have realised - as indeed I suspected when I first read Peter Kreeft - that heavy metal and some forms of punk are actually even more violent than celebrated political rap groups like Public Enemy and N.W.A. Heavy metal and punk rock also took to celebratory violence earlier. It all began with AC/DC’s “TNT” and, as I mentioned in one recent post, the Dead Kennedys. Both these groups clearly condone violent acts to get one’s own way at any cost, and one can easily imagine the consequence of a culture where people are “educated” by such works.

However, looking with trouble for lists of best music of all-time as we move towards a culture with seemingly little appreciation thereof, I have decided I should look at a recent list of the top twenty-five rap albums by Chris Rock:

#25: Dizzie Rascal - Boy in Da Corner (2004)
#24: DJ Quik - Way 2 Fonky (1992)
#23: Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
#22: Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
#21: Outkast - Aquemini (1998)
#20: Nas - Stillmatic (2001)
#19: Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)
#18: Scarface - Mr. Scarface Is Back (1991)
#17: Ice Cube - Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (1990)
#16: Wyclef Jean - The Carvinal (1997)
#15: Geto Boys - The Resurrection (1996)
#14: Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele (2000)
#13: Genius/GZA - Liquid Swords
#12: Eric B. and Rakim - Follow the Leader (1988)
#11: The D.O.C. - No One Can Do It Better (1989)
#10: De la Soul - Buhloon Mindstate (1993)
#9: A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991)
#8: Beastie Boys - Paul‘s Botique (1989)
#7: EPMD - Unfinished Business (1989)
#6: LL Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)
#5: Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde (1992)
#4: Run-DMC - Raising Hell (1986)
#3: 2PAC - Rap Phenomenon II (mix tape, 2003)
#2: Snoop Doggy Dogg - Doggystyle (1993)
#1: N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton (1988)

The most surprising things from what I know about rap:
  1. Public Enemy so low at #22
  2. None of the wholly pre-Bush Senior rap groups are included
  3. A few little-known albums at the lower end of the list
All in all, though, the list is familiar though it does not look at why Joe S. Harrington and David Keenan did not keep up interest in rap after Bush Senior lost power and the radicalism of the Boomers abated.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The problem with complex gadgets

In this week’s Top 10 list from Time magazine, I found a surprise: that the magazine listed the complexity of Gmail as a problem, despite what Time describes as
“a reliability record, which remains sterling compared with most of the corporate e-mail systems it's been known to replace”
Time argues that today people are turning very rapidly from e-mail to such features as Twitter and Facebook.

To be honest, my experience of Twitter (rather brief) and Facebook suggests to me that what Nicholas Carr and Cory Doctorow said about the iPad and how its design was a model of consumerism because:
  1. the iPad is designed almost completely by the entertainment industry and telecommunications companies (who I admit can be terribly superficial
  2. even the most basic maintenance for the occasional rough child required professionals rather than ordinary people
  3. technology comes and goes and today’s iPad is not going to be of long-term value
  4. the way in which Apple have designed the applications makes it much more difficult to work with than an ordinary personal computer
  5. for many critics, the iPad was analogous to the CD-ROM which, with hindsight, taught me very little compared to print biographies and which at times made me laugh (for instance over who “Charlie Parker” was - to me the definitive “disambiguation” comes from reading simultaneously biographies of Miles Davis and Wally Hammond)
  6. “We don’t really care. It’s okay. We just wanted a book. We love you as you are” really sums up my attitudes towards library reading, something which Christian Ganaban says will not last much longer
Over the decade or so I have been a regular computer user, I have found that the Internet certainly has the power to control one without one gaining any understanding of how it works. I have been consistently baffled by how to operate a computer beyond that particular level of knowledge, yet always want to use it more and more, for more and more superficial purposes, at that very level.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The most unlikely note from James Dellingpole

In James Dellingpole’s populist book 365 Ways to Drive A Liberal Crazy (one wonders why it could not be 366)
No. 74 of 365

Reclaim rock for conservatism:
Sing “California Über Alles” by the Dead Kennedys, especially the lines

“Zen fascists will control you
100% natural
You will jog for the master race
And always wear the happy face.”

Then remark how spookily prescient it was that an obscure, left-ish, 1970s punk band managed to predict the eco-Nazi tyranny of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Although there have been numerous works of art and literature that most people without the experience I have gained over the past half decade would not recognise as “conservative”, what Dellingpole is trying to do here is - to put it logically - going a bit far.

Reading Robert Inchausti in Subversive Orthodoxy shows that many of the ideas promoted in the underground of the 1950s and 1960s were essentially conservative. A large proportion of this underground felt that government was intrusive on personal dignity and freedom (“philosophical anarchism”) because it did not allow people to pursue the life they most desired to as a result of intrusive regulations. These people viewed government as a threat to personal freedom to do things that were not harmful to others, seen especially in regulations of product standards that made it more difficult for the small businessman or craftsman.

In contrast, the worldview of the “punk” and the later rap revolution of the late 1980s was completely opposite. Although both were often scathingly critical of government, with the personalists it was because they felt government was taking money they had legitimately earned - in essence the whole basis of conservatism.

With punk, post-AC/DC metal and rap, criticism of government was in contrast because they felt that it restricted their absolute rights to do what they wanted and failed to provide them with the money and wealth that these ultra-materialistic urbanites wished for. Essentially and critically, these rights included the right to inflict any harm instantaneously desired on someone who they felt threatened or even restrained them in many cases.

The Dead Kennedys, who were hardly an obscure band, epitomised this value in songs like “Drug Me”, “Let’s Lynch the Landlord”, “Stealing People’s Mail” (which quite clearly condones theft), and especially “I Kill Children”, which anybody who sees a potential demographic time bomb in the Enriched World can analyse as a perfect anthem for the selfishness of the Boom Generation - beating even AC/DC. Then there is “Religious Vomit”, an anthem for selfish hypermasculinity like no other - easily beating Public Enemy and N.W.A. I have always thought that if Benjamin Wiker writes a Ten More Books that Screwed Up the World, he should include some of the major heavy metal and rap albums from the “punk revolution” and after. Although the Dead Kennedys never dented the Billboard Top 200, they were Top 40 in Europe, where radical secularisation has proceeded much further than Red America or Australia, so their cultural influence in the very things Human Events despises may be quite real. “California Über Alles” was an attack on Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and may have been noted by Dellingpole for being anti-Democrat - but as I have emphasised this in no way makes it pro-Republican or pro-small government. Brown in fact was quite fiscally careful, as Bill Kauffman has noted, and his hippie leanings were the antithesis of what hardcore and thrash stood for, but have roots which are related to the modern conservative “counterculture”.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Where technology goes in the wrong place

This last week’s news has been dominated by a catastrophic disaster affecting the northeast of Japan, where a huge earthquake and resultant tsunami have:
  1. destroyed many towns on the northeast coast of Honshū
  2. destroyed numerous nuclear power stations
Although socialist radicals have consistently been against nuclear power, with age and reading I have become a little more mellow in opposition to it. In part, this mellowing has been related to the fact that I know fast reactors can be much more efficient with uranium use than conventional reactors, even though they require liquid sodium metal which is violently dangerous if leaked.

However, this last week’s earthquake has undoubtedly turned the global public away from nuclear power because, with a cold change expected to reach eastern Honshū in the coming days, radiation that is now being blown out into the Pacific Ocean will be blown back towards Asia and into very densely populated areas. My mother today said that this disaster is by no means so bad as the infamous Chernobyl disaster of 1986.

However, there is one question of vital importance: if nuclear power can do something to allow us to live comfortably on less energy (as it might indeed with the efficiency of fast reactors) should we not be careful to place nuclear power plants in areas known to be at no risk of damage from natural hazards like earthquakes, cyclones and other strong winds, volcanoes, or landslides. Even if Japan was in the 1950s and 1960s when it developed a nuclear programme a country desperately short of energy, it should have been known how dangerous nuclear explosions would be in this seismically ultra-active areas.

In contrast, it is the most seismically inert areas like Australia where the ecological costs of fossil fuels are disproportionately felt – and where nuclear power would be quite safe and economic of energy especially if a cycle is used to smelt salt into metallic sodium. Yet, owing to its limitless coal reserves and poor land conservation, Australia has never developed this kind of advanced technology and has, sort of, remained stuck in a type of society designed for the Enriched continents.

What might be the best lesson from this disaster is that people need to be careful where they do dangerous jobs – at least ecologically.