Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Der Erlkonig: Fischer-Dieskau sings Schubert

This is an incredible YouTube clip of a classic performance (1959) of a classic musical piece by Schubert based on the Goethe poem - enjoy!:


And here, a solo-violin version by Kristof Barati (2005):


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thoughts on Earthquake In China News Coverage

Recently read an article in the Guardian about the earthquake situation in China. I bothered to read the comments as well. Here's my take:

Chinese army is approximately 2.3 million (standing - reservists, etc. included, approximately 7 million). China is lauded by some for having sent "tens of thousands" of members of the army to the area. Tens of thousands, of a standing army over 2 million - to an area whose population is approximately 10 million? Let's do the math: 10,000,000 / 130,000 (the only solid number I saw) = 1 troop for every 77 members of the most directly afflicted population. Which doesn't sound that bad, until you consider the figure that in some areas, as much as 80% of the buildings collapsed. Wow. Sounds like North Korea, able to explode nuclear devices (with the unspoken intent of threatening South Korea with the prospect of nuking Seoul (a city of 14 million) - I mean really, if you were Kim Jong Il and you had a nuke, where would you aim it?) but unable to prevent millions of their own people of dying from starvation. Or the US for that matter - Hurricane Katrina and where is the military? Afghanistan? Iraq?

Among the comments, the usual trash - Westerners exploiting tragedy to condemn China (an activity enjoyed, ironically enough, by neo-liberals and neo-cons as well), Chinese exploiting the tragedy and the slanted anti-Chinese Western bias (again, liberal and conservative alike) to proliferate their own propaganda, Dalai Lama supporters doing what they do, Chinese and American Christians (i.e. - the two groups that feel most threatened by the Dalai Lama), and modern western intellectual atheists bashing the Dalai Lama - using historical facts of course, but with a frivolous and misleading rhetorical bias....my God, is anyone still sane in the world?

Two wrongs do not make a right. A and B do not exist in a binary opposition by which if A is correct, than B is wrong, or vice versa.

Nothing can be properly understood outside it's social, political, and economic context.

Perhaps the two greatest impediments to legitimate analysis are 1) projecting specifics (however accurate) into generalizations, and 2) telescoping general statements, understandings, etc. (however accurate) into specifics.

Reading from the article to the bottom of the comments, the Dalai Lama took a wild trip from "saintly" to "Communist collaborator" to "feudal tyrant" and many stops in between. Instead of throwing rocks at each other, let's focus on the bigger picture, shall we?

1) The Dalai Lama, although he was a religious figurehead of an exploitative feudal system, cannot be held responsible for all abuses of power which occurred during his time in power.

2) To what degree he was a figurehead and to what degree he was not should be properly researched and understood in proper historical context before anyone makes any accusations about his tyranny or claims about his saintliness. Regardless, one has to admit that however saintly he might be/might have been, there's only so much that can be done in terms of social justice by anyone.

3) To the Chinese who are saying "If the Dalai Lama is so "saintly" why isn't he doing more to help the earthquake victims?" - what are you looking for? The Dalai Lama to chant mantras and lift buildings off of people, or to make a public announcement about how much money he will be giving to the Chinese government to aid the victims? Are either of these scenarios reasonable? Probable? They are all I can image within the field of what you seem to be hinting at.....

4) That the Dalai Lama was a ruler of one government when he left 1) does not make him a hypocrite or liar for proposing a different government for Tibet in the future. He's in a unique position to propose whatever he chooses when he's at the table with the Chinese government. To be sure, open democracy in Tibet would be difficult at this point, what with the transplantation of ethnic Han in Tibet. China certainly went out of its way to establish this difficulty and render the prospect of Tibetan autonomy nothing more appealing than either a disaster or a catastrophe. You can only dislocate so many natives with transplants before autonomy for the natives becomes an inherent tyranny over the transplants - or, depending on the numbers - vice versa.

5) Bad journalism is bad journalism. However, when there's a lack of sources, rumors and opinions become fact quite quickly. If China wants to be represented more fairly in the foreign press, let more foreign press into China. Don't expect good PR abroad from the newscorps you won't let into your country. News people are realists (when they're not making things up - perhaps we should call them cynics instead....) - when they don't have solid evidence, they assume the worst, rather than the best. Why? It sells. That doesn't make it right, but it does make it real.

6) When a journalist refers to the Chinese government as being goons and thugs, the Chinese government can resentment at being referred to as "goons and thugs" but it has no right to proliferate the misunderstanding that the journalist referred to the Chinese people as "goons and thugs." This is why the Chinese people have such a twisted view of history. This is why they are so "supportive" of the Chinese government. All they have every known is propaganda, to such a degree that - when the propaganda (by 'propaganda' I mean 'persuasive transmission of information both true and false) actually happens to be valid - because it's within the context of such an enormous, over-arching state agenda of manufactured consent - it can't really be said to have any value - passive consumption of a state-sponsored truth is as distorting as the passive consumption of a state-sponsored lie.

7) Yes, America/Western Europe, there is a sick irony to be seen here: The liberated free-market individual isn't very easily to mobilize in times of trouble. Brainwashed conformists who have no real notion of identity outside of "member of the state" are in many ways much more motivated to donate their time when it comes to these sorts of things, and the concept of 'profit-motive' - falling in the field somewhere between 'unlikely' and 'non-existant' (China being what it is - i.e. Communist) doesn't serve as an impediment towards (if such a thing exists) the human propensity to help others. Is humanitarianism not humanitarianism if it's inspired by a state apparatus of psychological control whose primary mechanism is fear, rather modern Western post-enlightenment liberal ideology?

8) Statements such as "How much money did you send?" and "What have you done to help?" are usually uttered by people who haven't provided any aid themselves, and the only people who feel hurt by them are the people who did help, and feel guilty about not having been able to have helped more. Such statements can be effective for raising funds or bodies for relief efforts, but with regards to discussion about politics, they are persuasive, rather than analytical - meaning that they are useless, misleading, and anyone using them in such a context immediately risks immediate self-invalidation.

9) Criticism and analysis should never betray the bias of the commentator. If it does, it should be considered invalid - completely and immediately. Really now, do you think anyone will take you the least bit seriously when your primary intent is stone-throwing, and journalistic/critical/analytical integrity is secondary?

I could go on and on, citing passages and so forth, but why bother?


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Brown Bunny

The following is an e-mail sent to my friend Bryan - my reactions to the film "Brown Bunny" by Vincent Gallo:

I finally got around to seeing Brown Bunny. I was expecting something much more shocking than what that second-to-last scene turned out to be. Is it that no one has ever gotten/given head before, or is it just that no one's seen it in a movie before? In all honesty, I was expecting Bud to strip naked, play with himself, and then hang himself, and Daisy to enter the room and suck off the penis of the dead body - so you can see why I wasn't shocked at all.

The scene was by no means gratuitous - it fits in perfectly well with the rest of the movie.
The blurb on the back on the DVD case said something like, "culminating in the most shocking portrayal of male sexuality the cinema has ever seen..." - which is perhaps true, if what was meant by "male sexuality" was not an exposed penis getting off in a Hollywood movie star's mouth, but rather how Bud's incapacity/impotence to come to the aid of the woman he loved at her time of need resulted in trauma that left him 1) isolated and unable to relate to people in general, but more specifically, to women in any way other than as Daisy substitutes, and 2) unable to be intimate with women in any way any less vacuous than merely receiving some feminine consolation. The infamous blowjob scene, in which he finally yields to intimacy/vulnerability can be summarized as follows: She’s exposed/naked, he’s just enough exposed to receive pleasure (she receives none), and he ends up hating himself and her immediately afterwards. It’s pathetic in the most literal sense of the word – “deserving of pity” – and yet, I can’t help but equate Bud with stereotypical Western male sexuality – wounded and wounding, repressed and repressive, ashamed and ashaming, disgraced and disgracing. And despite it all, in a whole other sense, the incredible beauty of vulnerability.

It’s a shame that the buzz about the movie never got beyond cock, because it really is a powerful, subtle, and sensitive movie. That's what that whole thing was about with Gallo pimping himself on e-bay - he made a very insightful, powerful movie that had a blowjob in it - everyone missed that point, and took it for smut and shock value. He couldn't sell a sensitive, insightful movie about male sexuality either to Hollywood or the viewing public, because neither Hollywood nor the viewing public is capable of appreciating a subtle, insightful movie about male sexuality, so he pretended to sell himself and a pornstar gigolo, because that’s all that Hollywood and the American public can comprehend. Disgrace? What is disgrace? Maybe disgrace is what happens when we lose all of our aesthetic and/or emotional sensitivity.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

"The Ochre Robe" - Agehananda Bharati

First of all, I am trying to develop a new kind of humanism, one that values men but denies that the value of mankind is something beyond and above men....I visualize a radical syncretism, with no compromise between the mystical and the intellectual. I am convinced that meditation and intellectual humanism together can generate a unique combination which will eclipse the lop-sided, arid, 'scientific', non-involved scientism prevalent at Western academies...it will also avoid the equally slanted, anti-intellectual mysticism of much older date based on the mistaken ascription of ontological status to subjective experience...

- from the Introduction to "The Ochre Robe" by Agehananda Bharati

Naga Babas on Youtube

I don't feel compelled to comment on this. I you feel strongly about this, in any way, you should read "The Ochre Robe" by Agehananda Bharati. Reserve words or judgment until after having done so.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Olympic Torch Protests

I can't help but find all the fuss and protest surrounding the Olympic torch intriguing, if not outright validating.

What were the Olympics? What was their purpose? What have they become?

The first recorded games were held in 776 b.c.e. (although scholars have suggested dates for the first games ranging from 884 - 704 b.c.e.) - the games continued to be celebrated until 393 c.e.

As noted in Wkipedia:

The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance, contests alternating with sacrifices and ceremonies honouring both Zeus (whose colossal statue stood at Olympia), and Pelops, divine hero and mythical king of Olympia famous for his legendary chariot race, in whose honour the games were held.

Upon winning the games, the victor would have not only the prestige of being in first place but would also be presented with a crown of olive leaves. The olive branch is a sign of hope and peace.

The original games being held within Greece, the competition was never between rival countries, but rather, between rival athletes - and although the games were considered a celebration of the achievements of the human body, the ritual importance of the games and the olive branch crown suggest a greater importance being placed on the greatness (i.e. - the hope which compels continually towards the attainment of peace) which can potentially be attained through the joyful marriage of human will and divine grace.

It has not been until the revival of modern times that the Olympics have become a stage upon which the ugliness of nationalism has strutted about, seizing achievement from the athlete in order to beautify itself.

The modern Olympics has an interesting history of serving as another sort of international stage - one for boycott and protest. The "Olympics" entry in Wikipedia has some interesting information regarding this - I find the following to be very interesting in light of the recent torch-ceremony controversy:

Also in 1976, due to pressure from the People's Republic of China (PRC), Canada told the team from the Republic of China (Taiwan) that it could not compete at the Montreal Summer Olympics under the name "Republic of China" despite a compromise that would have allowed Taiwan to use the ROC flag and anthem. The Republic of China refused and as a result did not participate again until 1984, when it returned under the name "Chinese Taipei" and used a special flag.

So when the Mao Tse-tung and the communists drove the socialists off of mainland Asia onto the island known as Taiwan, the People's Republic of China considered "those people" unfit to refer to themselves as a "Chinese Republic" and they were refused entry to the "stadion" (Greek: "Στάδιον") by the entire global community until the ROC finally yielded to changing their name two Olypiads later. Tibet, on the other hand, 1) not identifying with the ideological precepts of communism, 2) having had a period of autonomous self-rule (however short-lived), 3) being ethnically distinct from the Han ethnic majority of China, and 4) speaking a language having stronger resemblance to Sanskrit than to either Mandarin or Cantonese, is being subjected to the iron fist of Chinese tyranny, and the media decries those around the world protesting the Olympics and disturbing the torch run as "detracting for the glory of the athletes and the games." [ed. note: quotes indicate a generalized, hypothetical yet typical speech of perceived public and media attention, not reference to the Wikipedia entry.]

A shady and checkered history indeed. Let's not forget the infamous "Nazi" Olympics of 1936, which rather than serving to commemorate the greatness (i.e. - the hope which compels continually towards the attainment of peace) which can potentially be attained through the joyful marriage of human will and divine grace, commemorated NAZI ideology and served as a backdrop for NAZI propoganda. The most brilliant achievement of those games was attained by Luz Long, a German track and field star who, having given advice to fellow long-jumper and fellow human being Jesse Owens (a black American), ensured that Owens would win the gold medal, rather than himself. Although no "proper" Olympic medal was awarded to Long to commemorate his shining victory over the numinous shadow of fascist ideology, he "was posthumously awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal."

The salute delivered by German athletes during those games contrasts sharply with those delivered by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. I highly recommend checking the Wikipedia entry for the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute:

IOC president Avery Brundage deemed a domestic political statement unfit for the apolitical, international forum the Olympic Games was supposed to be...A spokesperson for the organization said it was "a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit."

What does it mean to make a political statement? What does it mean to make a humanist statement? Slavery, lynching, rape, abduction, exploitation - these are humanist concerns. They become "political" when they are sanctioned by the State. That slavery, lynching, rape, abduction, exploitation have been sanctioned by the United States of America in various degrees ranging from legislative positivism (legality of slavery) to the outright conspiratorial (intentional non-treatment of black syphilis patients as a "scientific" experiment - an episode which went without apology from the U.S. government to the black community until President William J. Clinton) certainly renders the protest of such concerns "political," yet that by no means negates their relevance to the idea of humanism which we have come to consider to constitute "the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit." Which is to say, humanist protest remains so even after becoming political.

Smith later said "If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight."

Let's pause for a moment and consider why it is that the Olympics are such a conducive medium for the distasteful anti-humanism of nation-statism (as well as it's uglier brother, fascism) yet non-conducive as a medium for the athletes who, as individuals, take a stand for the unique and undimishable value of the experience of human existence (humanism)?


Did you pause?


Other items of note:

The leadership of IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch especially has been strongly criticised. Under his presidency, the Olympic Movement made great progress, but has been seen as autocratic and corrupt. Samaranch's ties with Franco's regime in Spain and his long term as a president (21 years, until he was 81 years old) have also been points of critique.

A BBC documentary aired in August 2004, entitled Panorama: "Buying the Games", investigated the taking of bribes in the bidding process for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The documentary claimed it is possible to bribe IOC members into voting for a particular candidate city.

It (the Olympic Movement) was accused of homophobia in 1982 when it successfully sued the Gay Olympics, an event now known as the Gay Games, to ban it from using the term "olympics" in its name.

Other links of note:
Olympic Project for Human Rights.

Dan Millman, "winner of the 1964 World Trampoline Championship in London" though not being an Olympian, was nonetheless an athlete of exception. Here are links to his Wikipedia entry and his personal site.


To say the least, I feel as though the modern Olympic games bear no relation whatsoever to the historical origin of the games (outside all considerations of athletics, of course). Rather, the games have come to embody not merely nationalism, nor fascism, but the supremacy of the State over the will of the individual, in the same Orwellian inversion by which tyranny prances about, all tarted-up, donning the garb of liberty and sleazy make-up, remaining nothing but a whore, that "political manipulation of language, by obfuscation, e.g. WAR IS PEACE...Using language to obfuscate meaning or to reduce and eliminate ideas and their meanings that are deemed dangerous to its authority." What has come to matter more than the achievement of the athlete, than the joint participation of so many diverse nations of the world, than the greatness (i.e. - the hope which compels continually towards the attainment of peace) which can potentially be attained through the joyful marriage of human will and divine grace - is the salute to the flags of nations, a ritual embracing perhaps the most intrinsic, pervasive human quality and its correlative tendency: Fear and the submission thereof. If I am reading the historical dialectic correctly, than the outward phenomenon of protest against the progress of the torch is in essence a protest against the globally-united State apparatus of fear. I have not yet fully renounced the making of politic statements. Nevertheless, if I had already done so, I would continue to write what I am about to write, as it would not constitute a political statement, but a humanist one: I am in full support of the "Peaceful Warriors," be they on the streets on London, be they on the streets of Paris, be they on the streets of San Francisco, be they on the streets of New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Mexico City, Lhasa, be they upon the winner's blocks of the 1968 Olympics, be they upon the bricks of the Square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace (otherwise known as Tiananmen Square, 天安门广场).

Let's expand the boycott and have done with this militaristic nonsense of medals altogether. Rather, let's make ourselves worthy of the olive-crown of hope and peace, thereby re-gaining the true essence of what it means to be an "Olympian" - may we all walk as "gods" upon the earth - as individuated embodiments of peace, light, and love.


I now provide a closing statement - written February 23, 2006:

One often hears talk of the world - that great nations have produced a great people, a great language, law, philosophy, literature, art, music, cuisine - all those things absent-mindedly aggregated to produce our vague notion of culture.

Yet just as one cannot suggest that the scoundrels and villains of a great nation are somehow greater than those of a nation of lesser calibre, it cannot be said that a great nation is capable of producing a great people. On the contrary, quite the opposite is true: It is the greatness of individuals which constitutes the apparent greatness of a nation.

Exceptional & extraordinary ones take birth, live and die the world over. If it can be said that a society is great, it must necessarily be on account of its capacity to allow greatness to be sown, to take root, to bud, blossom and flourish. Is the soil dark and rich? Or is it salty, bitter and pallid? Is the blue sky clear? Or hung heavy with jaundiced haze? Does it take to cloud and bestow its nourishing rain-bounty? Or miserly withhold its blessing? Is the environment amenable and generous, or populated by ravagers and rapists?

Society, by its very nature, inclines itself not towards Eden: Rather, let it not be said that a society is great - let it be known that it must necessarily be that those individuals of greatness, those exceptional and extraordinary ones - are able to manifest their greatness in spite of the adversities necessarily set against them by society. So simple for the children of the earth to be as gods! So extraordinary for the children of modernity!


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Favorite YouTube Clips

Here are links to two recent favorite YouTube clips. Both are only for fans of rock music, and especially for fans of John Frusciante.