Monday, August 24, 2015

eXistenZ, radicals, earth machines, and bad brains

Jennifer Jason Leigh in eXistenZ
(This is a great one-sentence way to describe anarchism, by the way.)

I watched eXistenZ again for the umpteenth time at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Hardcore Cronenberg film fest, and dang, what a great movie. Reminded me what it's all about. Like, life itself. I also caught something I'd missed before, that what they do in the film's storyline -- go into other states of reality via an organic virtual reality game -- as one character sez, "is just like meditation." Great to see eXistenZ on a large screen with a warm, detailed, colorful analog projection. The film got a round of applause at the end. Hooray for dissociation from reality and complete confusion about what reality is! And the day before at the YBCA, I'd taken in what I think will end up being the definitive Bad Brains documentary, Bad Brains: A Band in DC. Amazing, funny, well-done documentary about the mighty Brains.

Also checked out the Radical Presence exhibit and Earth Machines exhibit at YBCA, both very cool in different ways. The former was composed completely of Black performance artists (Zachary Fabri's spooky, confrontational guerrilla street art in Iceland being my favorite), and the latter was artists reflecting on how our high tech world impacts the environment. The YBCA: what a cool place!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Keeping the Guillotined Sharp and Well-Oiled

Related to the previous post on the excellent article in the Atlantic about the coddled Millennial Generation hitting college and their fragility around how people use language, I was reminded of a fun and excellent little book good ol' AK Press published called Guillotined. Guillotined, by Alexander Cockburn and other contributors, looks at popular English phrases being thrown around these days all too casually, and condemns them to death/extinction. I am a naturally highly-observant person, and this includes what I hear. As far as being interested in philosophy, I've always been interested in philosophy of language, and I notice the way people talk (and write). Often, I get disappointed in how people use language, especially when their vocabulary is pretty underdeveloped (but there's no reason it couldn't be more expansive)* or their writing is poor (anyone who knows me knows I cringe at apostrophe errors, unnecessary capitalizations, and general bad grammar).

Here are some words I'd nominate for the chopping block that are currently all the rage:

blessed: I ask people how they are doing, and they say, "Blessed." It seems to carry a covert Xtian undertone, and I've heard this uttered by people who I know are having pretty shitty lives (at least currently).

rockstar: While I understand it's only meant as a positive compliment, it's become overused (job descriptions describe "seeking an x rockstar"), and it's cheesy. Come on. Rock stars exist in this world -- Rush, Lemmy of Motorhead, Joan Jett, whoever -- so let's not let the word include people who aren't literally rock stars. Find some other way to praise someone.

trigger warning: See the Atlantic article mentioned. Trigger warnings do more harm than good by allowing fragile people to avoid what causes them discomfort rather than allowing them to bravely, calmly, and with critical thinking, face what upsets them. Trigger warnings are psychologically ill-advised (compassionate, gradual exposure therapy tends to work best), and also totally unpredictable: as A Clockwork Orange showed, the old man in the wheelchair was "triggered"** by a totally innocent, happy-go-lucky song ("Singin' in the Rain") that was sung when he was initially assaulted. Should we thus ban the song because one person has a bad association with it? Of course not. Everything under the sun could potentially carry a trigger warning, based on what traumatized people have associations with.

microaggression(s): Look, I am not calling for a word's extinction because I believe the concept labeled by the word has no merit. As a white male sensitive to and aware of non-privileged people's experiences, I believe microaggressions occur. But I don't like when these word-concepts become buzzwords. Also, as Lily Tomlin said, "Time wounds all heels." Life is aggressive and traumatizing to everyone, even people living regular, everyday lives. As Iris Murdoch noted in the chapter "Void" in Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, even the very privileged, wealthy, insulated class can suffer greatly and deeply. I think the concept behind the word "microaggressions" is valid (even sound), but, like a spice, this word should be used sparingly when really appropriate, not just tossed out casually. Life is harming and aggressive; if we are truly opposed to harm and (micro or macro)aggression, we should adopt, perhaps, an anti-natalist stance.

There are tons more. Buzzwords end up not really saying anything. Bitmoji expressions are cutesy-cutesy but are no substitute for communicating authentically -- and originally. Language is public and agreed-upon, so we necessarily have to speak in a way that others can understand, and language is indeed a virus. But we need to think, and talk, for ourselves.

UPDATE: Here's a pro-trigger warning argument made by a prof of philosophy who is also, incidentally and interesting, a Millennial Generation person. I find it weak and unconvincing. The idea of people calming themselves/dealing with their own issues via a trigger warning, in order to think more clearly, is an intriguing one, but at what cost? People should be thinking clearly anyway, because we all have issues and traumas.

* or as Jay-Z said, "Step up yo vocabularly, ya ignorant motherfucker." (In "Big Pimpin'")
** The word-concept "trigger/triggering" didn't exist when A Clockwork Orange (the film) came out, so this is a bit of an anachronism. But the concept of shell-shock or PTSD (as it's called now) did exist.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Millennials: a Coddled, Curdled Generation

Very disturbing yet well-written and well-reasoned cover story in the latest Atlantic magazine about higher education, hypersensitivity, the new PCness, and how society has changed radically since the days of free range children. A must-read. It really lays out a lot of things that have been bothering me about contemporary American life, helicopter parenting, the Millennial Generation, trigger warnings, and political polarization. Again, thank goodness I was a free range kid and grew up when I did (70s and 80s), before things got really absurd and surreal. My gf just informed me that a pro athlete just returned trophies given to his children for their "participation," saying they hadn't earned those trophies. So there is hope.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Wounded Kitten Music

I may look and act relatively normal -- following the rules of society, saying the expected things, going with the flow as much as is bearable -- but inside me is a one man black metal band. (Sounds like a slogan for a T shirt or bumper sticker.)

I realized this when I watched Vice magazine's 3-part documentary on one man metal bands, which I found pretty fascinating. "OMMers have issues, man," my friend Sara writes, "-- they're really just wounded kittens." I had* a one-man band for awhile, and it wasn't for (necessarily) misanthropic reasons, although I do wrestle with misanthropy sometimes. (I didn't have a one man metal band.) OMM bands are interesting to me: I like the embracing of lo-finess as many OMMs do; I like the pain and anguish they openly acknowledge feeling; I like some of their theatrics with face paint, and their fascination with nature, olden times, Norse mythology, death, isolation, winter, etc. Pretty fascinating subculture. For a report on some local (non-1-man) black metal bands, click here.  

* actually, still have

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

For National Night Out 2015, I Met My Devil-Worshipping Black Metal Neighbors from Hayward: Lovely People

Xenotaph, Golden Bull, Oakland, Ca, 8/4/15

Had a great time recently at the ol' Golden Bull in Oakland, who have been booking some very excellent entertainment lately. It also happened to be National Night Out, so while others were at block parties, BBQs, and jumping around jumpy houses, I got to know some black metal bands from the bay area and beyond.
First up was Xenotaph, who had a five foot tall black upside down cross at the foot of their stage, animal bones scattered around, and stood in front of said cross before playing, passing a golden goblet and each taking a sip (of what, I dunno, and was kinda scared to ask). Some kind of pre-show warmup ritual. They had on Scandinavian-style black metal face makeup, and before they played there was some lovely ambient music with someone incanting something backwards. Music: very dark, heavy, and, of course, satanic. They were very good: fast, tight, with pretty, quiet moments in the songs with only a lonely guitar melody that reminded me of a bleak Icelandic winter. 

Kinda hard to see, but this is Xenotaph's impressive upside down cross. I tried to recently make a 2 foot bath tray/desk for my gf who loves to take Lush baths, and gave up since the glue I used was crappy. But here this band had an awesome wooden cross. They outdid me. 
Overall, Xenotaph were great. Solid music and the visual/presentation side of things was top notch. They even did a Gorgoroth (sp?) cover. Check them out.

Next up was XOTH, who played a very loud, very impressive set of what I would best call "triumphant technical thrash." Their logo looks suspiciously similar to the defunct band Jedi Scum's logo, but it's a cool logo. Xoth reminded me of Voivod but taken far less seriously. There were a crazy amount of notes these guys played, and their musicianship was first rate. The only thing that bugged me was the singer and bassist wanted more energy and responsiveness from the crowd, but I think they needed to remember most folks were experiencing Xoth for the first time, and it was a Tuesday night to boot. Really good band though: the bassist in particular was this crazy hybrid of Flea and Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. 

Back to Xenotaph: as they played, this funny text convo was going on 'tween my buddy and me. I don't know what the "M & Ms" were in the scapula/clavicle bone -- probably seeds of evil or something, but they looked like M & Ms and I thought it'd be funny if a black metal band had M & Ms in one of their random animal bones onstage. 

Next up was a band whose name I can't pronounce or remember: symphonic black metal from the pacific northwest. They were good, but with two guitars, bass, drums (with double kick drum, of course), vocals, AND keyboards, it was kinda cacophonous at times. They reminded me of Godflesh Deformed. I did like how there was a girl in the band, who headbanged as she tickled the keys of the keyboard. 

 Plague Phalanx

There's no other way to describe Plague Phalanx live than: they're creeeeeeepy. They don black executioner hoods and play the music of hell. The guitarist had cut himself up on his chest and was openly bleeding. While it may sound gimmicky, they are actually quite good.
All in all, a great night at the ol' Bull, all for only $7. Pickle juice backs are only $1. 
And guess who is appearing on August 7th? This dingus: 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Dirty Rotten Buddhists

I was walking home from meditation at Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society in San Francisco (more succinctly, the Dharma Punx) one day and this image, above, popped in my head. I raced home and sketched it as quick as I could before forgetting. I don't know if I've seen it somewhere first, or I came up with it, but I felt proud of it. It combines a Buddhist image -- the wheel of samsara (the cyclical existence we get trapped in) -- with the thrash guy from D.R.I. For the observant viewer, you'll notice the wheel is borrowed from krishnacore band Shelter. This is apropos because Buddhism originally grew out of Indian cosmology. I don't own the copyright of Thrash Guy or the Shelter wheel, and I don't know if the wheel of samsara is even copywritable (as long as lawyers exist, I'm sure it is), but my juxtaposition of these images is unique (see above). Pretty clever, eh? (By the way, I admire Shelter musically and have listened to them over the years -- I think combining hardcore punk music with Krishna-worshipping philosophy/devotion is interesting -- but I don't necessarily subscribe to their beliefs. Nor do I swallow everything that's associated with Dharma Punx! With Buddhism, I tend to zone out with the notion of reincarnation and some of the downright wacky, superstitious rituals that Tibetan Buddhism* comes up with**, but I think overall Buddhism is a very beautiful, honest, helpful psychology-religion-philosophy-spirituality.)  

* Tibetan Buddhism is a combination of traditional Buddhism with Tibet's indigenous Bon religion***.
** such as Lama Zopa, bless his helpful heart, positing that earthquakes are caused by karma. 

image copyright Matthew Snope 2015 (c)  

*** The word Bon (pronounced "bone") gave me an image of a "Bon Jovi" band -- Tibetan Buddhists playing Bon Jovi songs but with lyrics about Buddhism and Bon. 
Lordy, now I am making cheesy jokes in footnotes like that Brad Warner guy....

UPDATE: I realized my title might be a little befuddling for those not in the know. D.R.I. stands for Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, thus my blog post title. I don't think Buddhists are dirty and rotten (though some no doubt are) -- in fact they're some of my favorite people in the world!


I was reading a zine I follow, Dreams with Donuts #17, and read an interesting interview with a guy who walked from Reno, NV to Seattle, WA. That's fuckin' far. I always like stories of people walking long crazy distances and the transformative/transcendental experience of walking. Not dumb Forrest Gump-type shit, but folks like Werner Herzog (Germany to France, in winter) or Jim, who walk for interesting reasons (Herzog to visit a dying friend; Jim to battle his ongoing depression). Quest for Fire-type stuff.

Amoukar and Gaw walking around the Earth 80,000 years ago in search of meat and fire