Julescosby's Blog

Archive for August, 2009

Death Panels: Why Plato Laughs at the Americans

Posted by julescosby on August 18, 2009

American politics has a peculiar way of introducing new words and phrases into the English language. Since the days of Nixon, the suffix ‘-gate’ has been consistently tacked onto just about anything into order to connote scandal. In the 2004 election, we were all fortunate enough to be introduced to ‘flip-flop’, an accusatory verb used to attack the consistency of a political candidate, as well as ‘swift-boat’, another verb meaning basically to lie about someone with such voracity and intensity that it essentially becomes truth.

Aside from its resurrecting an old truism ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good’, the American health-care debate of 2009 has been able to trump all of these linguistic novelties with two simple words: ‘Death panel’ is now a legitimate term in the (American) English language. It signifies an intrusive government bureaucracy who has the power to decide, under the rubric of socialized medicine (Read: COMMUNISM) who lives and who dies. It has also proven over the summer to be enough to derail any sort of rational debate.

Sarah Palin tweets ‘Death Panel’ and the masses salivate.

Now, I am sure that there are many politicians who do not actually believe these death panels to be real, but rather pay lip service to the idea in order to appeal to their base. Perhaps they feel that they are telling a noble lie, much like the lie which bound the classes in Plato’s Republic, the foundation of Western political thought, into a cohesive unity. The problem is that many people actually believe Barack Obama will personally chair the panel that orders your grandmother to die.

So why is Plato having a good chuckle? Well, for starters, Plato was no democrat; this is not news. In his contemporary Athens, he witnessed a form of government never before attempted in human history, democracy. Instead of tyrants, kings or oligarchies, Athens was ruled by the demos, the people. Sounds all good and well, right? Land of the free/Home of the brave sort of stuff? Well, not exactly. He considered the demos to be more of an unruly mob than anything else. His Republic was written as a reaction to this rule of the mob.

Basically, from old Plato’s perspective on society, the demos was the appetite. It could not and should not rule because all it could understand was its own stomach. No greater good, no conception of how society ought to be ruled. The philosopher, by contrast, was to be the rational head: he who knew the geometry of the ideal Forms was he who was fit to govern. Justice was everybody staying in their place.

In today’s America there is a body politic (the metaphor has survived for millennia) where a large chunk of its members think that Obama wants to be in the business of killing old people. Now, Jefferson and the Founding Fathers were no fools: they designed electoral colleges as a means to balance this appetitive part of society. But these colleges have a limited role, and elected officials are often slaves to the ridiculous, unsubstantiated, and quite frankly retarded opinions of the American public.  Plato very well could have seen this coming 2500 years ago.

We all want to believe in the equality of anybody and everybody. Sometimes it’s a tough circle to square.

As a side note, there is a bit of a historical irony at play here. Plato’s teacher and go-to interlocutor, Socrates, was put to death by the Athenian democracy for corrupting the youth of the polis. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?

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Do ya love me (now that I can blog)

Posted by julescosby on August 12, 2009

As this site emerges from the blogozoan ooze, the form which it will eventually take is still radically undetermined.  Despite this uncertainty, I’m sure that music will have a major role to play.

I have been playing music in bars for nearly a decade.  Inevitably, some drunk comes up to me at some point in the night and asks if I write my own music.  Depending on how deep my bar tab has reached for the night, the drunk might get a simple no, or maybe he or she will get a rant kind of like what you are about to witness.

The kind of bars that I play at, people don’t want to hear my songs about my old cat, or that girl I was stupid enough to leave.  Whether they want to sing along, tap their foot, or just listen, they want to hear the tunes they know. 

So I’ll say it once, but most likely not for all: no, I don’t write music.

Let’s be precise here: I can write music.  To be frank, I know more about music than you do.  And I’m not saying that to be elitist or pompous.  Anybody can call anything they want music and typically I don’t have a problem with it.  When people start saying things like ‘I like all music but rap’, or ‘…all but country’, I just tune out and listen to the Hall and Oates song inevitably whirling around in the jukebox I call my head.

What I mean is that I know the technical characteristics of popular music inside and out.  If someone put a gun to my head and told me to write a hit for Britney, I have little doubt that I could do it.

The problem as I see it is that so many people have such an obscurant view of what music is.  Music is a creative endeavour: this much is true.  No one is denying that it takes cahones to actually write something and place it in the public sphere.  But if it were only that, then how could songs be remembered?

The question is really more about the division of labour.  Music also needs to be reproduced.  Take someone like that dick Paul McCartney.  I know most Beatles songs by heart, and in several different keys (because they are damned difficult to sing).  Does he? Probably not.  I’m sure he still remembers the hits, but the B-sides? The songs from the bootleg albums?

Or, because this is a new blog and I need the hits, MICHAEL JACKSON.  MICHAEL JACKSON.  MICHAEL JACKSON.

Of course I’m biased because I love live performance.  However, condemning people like me also means condemning the role of recording engineers and record producers, or at least denying them their proper part in the music-making process.  We share one fundamental task: taking a song out essentially out of someone’s noggin and placing it onto a piece of media, whether to tape, to record, or into a series of ones and zeros; or, through performance, directly back into that metaphysical void we like to call the human mind.

Of course I’m glad people continue to make new music.  We all are.  Just don’t privilege the ‘creative’ aspect over the reproductive one.

We all have our role.  My role is to remember, retrieve, and reproduce.  I’ll be at the bar this Friday.  You can thank me sometime after “Brown Eyed Girl”.

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Post the First: To Blog or not to Blog

Posted by julescosby on August 11, 2009

Anyone would have trouble coining a phrase that as of today has over 600 million Google hits.  Nevertheless, my title remains a salient question to be asked by any budding writer in the 21st century, or one just catching up to the end of the 20th.

I remember the first time I was introduced to the phrase ‘weblog’ in undergrad.  It was by an English student who was on top of all things technological, something I hadn’t managed to do since public school.   Since then, I’ve always toyed with the idea but could never get around to doing it.  It certainly wasn’t for lack of time.  Looking back, if I’d only blocked Freetetris.org from my computer, I’m sure I would be king among bloggers by now.  Come to think of it, if I’d only blocked Tetris three or four years ago, I’d probably have a degree in chemical engineering or theoretical physics.

It will be said by the luddites that the internet only fragments opinion.  What it actually does is increase the potential for a diverse set of opinions to reach an audience.  To be sure, there will be falsehood and slander, all of the joys that come with opinions or beliefs.  But proportionally speaking, there is no less crap on the internet than has been bound into book, or put onto the silver screen.

(Although if it is crap you’re after, here’s a link to my friend Remi’s site.)

From an epistemological point of view, we are not going to reach a desirable objectivity by relying on large, privately-owned and increasingly centralized news corporations, any more than we are by listening to state sponsored media.  The age of the Imperial Encyclopaedia has long since past.

Having evolved to become a radically potent force in media, blogs are just about the only semblance of democracy we have in our so-called ‘democratic’ society.  We see the power of the internet, the blog and the ubiquitous camera recently on such disparate places as the streets of Tehran, as well as the town hall meetings of Main Street, USA.

Let us not fear, stifle, or deny the marketplace of ideas.  Let us embrace this democratic technology as one of the few potent weapons in our arsenal against dogma, superstition and illegitimate authority.

We’re in this together, kids.  I’ll get back to writing…after this quick game of Tetris.

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