Saturday, November 11, 2017

courtesy of Box Office Mojo stats, it looks like My Little Pony has trampled mother! in global and domestic box office returns
Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $17,800,004   40.4%
Foreign: $26,304,534   59.6%

Worldwide: $44,104,538
Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $21,162,241   44.1%
Foreign: $26,799,493   55.9%

Worldwide: $47,961,734 

So it hasn't "trampled" in the sense of a giant difference, just that it's made more box office sales despite coming out two weeks later.

Naturally, the Aronofksy piece is the more respectable high-brow film critic-worthy discussion piece.  If mother! was intended to be a parable about climate change it's turned out to be one that has not inspired an especially big turn out compared to a live-action remake of a decades old cartoon.

So if a film is going to be a parable about climate change what's the incentive of spending about thirty-five million dollars creating such a cinematic parable if people at The New Yorker are alternately going to say that the film could only be such by dint of directorial fiat (Richard Brody) or that the nature of the intended parable suggests a failure to understand the nature of parable itself and that Aronofsky seems to keep coming back to parables where women have to be abused in some way to drive the point home (Alexandra Schwartz).

But if the old art religion has been superceded in the entertainment and publishing industries by something more meta, like an art religion of criticism that is a newer, higher more metacritical art religion; if the meta-art religion is criticism then mother! is a winner because it gave film critics and film school instructors and students something to write about, while a remake of a twenty-year old animated film does not do so in the same way, still less another more recent release that also beat mother in global box office, if by a hoof.

But for the meta-art religion of film criticism we don't have to ask which film is the mother! of us all this year, that would be Beauty and the Beast. At least until, perhaps, another Star Wars topples the queen from the throne, if that actually transpires.  We'll get to find out.

But then, just to take an obstreperous stance this weekend as I'm hoping to show some friends Samurai Jack season 5 this weekend, Adorno once quoted a writer who said there's such a thing as good bad art and bad good art.  There are cartoons that are more substantial in what they have to say about the human condition than live action films that are purportedly higher brow. 

John Halle proposes that Clinton's campaign informally rigged the DNC game to secure the nomination and seems to have done so through leveraging labor leadership, as distinct from actual labor interests

There's no shortage of people who believe that Brazile is hardly clean-handed about things in the wake of her writings about the DNC, Clinton, Sanders and the nomination.  Even close to a year after the announcement, to say nothing of the actual electoral vote, it's tempting for partisans to embrace simple conspiracy theories to explain how and why the person they did or didn't want to get the Oval Office did or didn't get the role. 
What each conspiracy theory has that I find hard to embrace is the idea that a group of informed and actually competent people got together and decided how they would decide the future.  At the risk of invoking the years of research, writing and source archiving I did about the history of the fall of Mars Hill I am reminded constantly of a proverb shared with me by a history teacher--you should never assume a conspiracy when incompetence is an available option.  Partisans for Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill, since I can only assume some of those are still around, might want to believe Mars Hill had its reputation destroyed by hostility from secular/liberal media but, on the whole, the more and more I've dug through the primary source materials available and look at the history of real estate acquisitions and even the history of journalistic coverage associated with real estate and Mars Hill the more and more it seems that Mars Hill couldn't have been taken out by hostile media coverage.  An entire decade of hostile secular/progressive media coverage from 1998 to 2008 did virtually nothing except accelerate the church's meteoric rise within Puget Sound.  On the other hand, steady revelations of graft and sheer incompetence within the leadership culture of Mars Hill did go a long way to damaging its reputation.
Nobody probably wants to really run with the idea that in the 2016 election the least incompetent self-aggrandizing power-hungry egotists with more ambition than scruples managed to win despite still-existing incompetencies but it might be an idea to at least give a few seconds' thought to. 
Now .. on to Halle's actual post, or at least parts of it.  
Brazile’s disclosures immediately reinitiated the discussion of some months ago as to whether the primary was rigged, though now with new urgency.  The issue strikes me as a red herring in that it obscures how the Clinton machine operated to insure a victory. In a literal sense, at least, they did not rig the nomination, rather they exerted their influence. [emphasis added] An example of how they did returns us to Curry’s remarks.   As Curry points out, the major unions immediately endorsed Clinton, this despite her offering them virtually nothing, not to mention having served in an administration which did much worse than nothing by ramming through jobs destroying trade agreements, failing to enforce NLRB decisions and harsh reductions in the public sector workforce. [emphasis added]
Why did they endorse? While it will be hotly denied, the answer likely has to do with quid pro quo arrangements made with union leadership who, in addition to serving in positions within Democratic administrations, were also provided access to Clinton global initiative junkets, seats on corporate and foundation boards, positions at major “progressive” think tanks and other perks provided to respectable and “serious” insiders.  These favors were expected to be returned in the form of an immediate endorsement-dutifully provided, as we know, to the displeasure and disadvantage of rank and file membership which supported Sanders.  Did the Clintons calling in their chips constitute “rigging” of the election?  Again, not in a strict literal sense.  But at a certain point, the distinction becomes merely semantic: it is clear that in essence that’s exactly what it was. [emphasis added]
The predominant left reaction to Brazile’s charges has been to engage in yet another round of ritualistic thrashing of the DP leadership.  But, while eminently deserved,  no one with a basic familiarity with the facts should have regarded them as anything other than servants of the corporate donor class, which is to say, enemies of everything we are trying to accomplish.  On the other hard, the labor unions are still, at least in some circles, seen as allies.  That they could have won the nomination for Sanders but chose not to do so is, as I just mentioned, too bitter a pill for most of us to swallow. [emphasis added]
That Clinton and associated campaigners would be friends with deep pocketed people isn't much of a surprise.  I'm not particularly startled that labor union leadership would throw in with a Clinton because I don't see organized labor leadership as really ultimately being all that pro-labor at all.  It depends on what kind of labor and what kind of market.  I'm reminded of something Jacques Ellul wrote in Propaganda half a century ago, that he believed that as labor unions became more powerful as political entities and more influential they became the less they would actually be interested in helping the labor they were ostensibly representing.  If it turns out labor union leadership simply threw in with Clinton then expecting positive change to come from that sector is probably a misguided hope. 

Earlier this year I saw posters with slogans such as "no more shit jobs" here in Seattle.  There will always be those jobs.  For those of us who have read and reflected on Genesis 3 what Marxists have called the alienation of labor is the very nature of labor.  Creation itself rebels against us and we keep working to subjugate it.  There will always be shit jobs and even those jobs that don't seem to be shit jobs have terrible things about them.  If you work in a field where the goal is to save lives you clean up shit.  Saving lives is cleaning up the shit, oftentimes in fairly literal terms. 

So perhaps the breakthrough is in giving shit jobs dignity.  Whether through some kind of Lutheran doctrine of vocation or through Soviet propaganda praising the common worker, the most revolution we can see for maybe one generation or two is a sacralization of scut work.  Whoever would be greatest must be the servant of all, for instance.  But this would not just be in explicitly giving dignity to the kinds of service that is viewed with contempt if "you" or "I" have to do it, it would be in recognizing that there is a moral obligation on the part of those of us who don't do those sorts of tasks to those who do to express gratitude and love.

Honor thy father and mother, and to put this in crudely pedestrian terms, have regard and gratitude for those parents who literally cleaned up your shit after you dumped it on them.  Does this mean they are sinless?  Of course not, but they changed your diapers.  That counts for something and, after all, you may find yourself changing their diapers one day in return, or you may be changing the diapers of your own children one day, or you are or have been changing the diapers of children in your life now. 

Labor is labor, and if labor leaders spent so much time in the corridors of power that they identified more readily with the power-brokers than the rank and file people doing crap jobs then it would be hard to feel bad for them if their candidate lost.  Clinton and her advocates can keep saying Sanders didn't deserve the nomination and it's possible to even say that it wasn't realistic to expect the DNC machinery to even really give him a chance while also noting that thanks to the way super-delegates contributed to the political process that was one of many reasons we got Trump. 

Halle's proposal is simple enough, the left shouldn't be surprised that the Clintons turned out to be in the pocket of high finance and globalism.  The more unpleasant discovery is that labor union leadership decided to back Clinton when other options were available.  To borrow concepts from other fields, it can be too easy to assume that hard power is how decisions can be rigged when soft power and pedaling influence can be what decides elections, too.  But as scapegoating goes it's been easier for mainstream liberalism to blame the white racists morons without college degrees than to concede that it's not just Republican graft and evil that swung last year's big decision. 

But then after so many years of blogging about Mars Hill I feel like I shouldn't have to say what I'm about to say again, the disaster of American discourse is that we would rather share lessons that exonerate us than to share discoveries that implicate us. 

POSTSCRIPT 11-12-2017

Reminded of something I'd read a while back at Scott Timberg's blog.

They’ve been in retreat in the US for most of my life, but trade unions remain crucial and are important for the creative class, including journalists, just as they have traditionally been for the industrial working class. HERE is my piece for Salon about the pros and cons of unionization.
Oddly, Salon was caught in an ugly union fight while I was there. When I left, more than a year since it began, the instability of the place — constant turnover at both the staff and management level — made it impossible to settle on an agreement.
For those who have read this blog regularly, maybe you remember that Salon re-ran a piece that was originally published (if memory serves) at AlterNet a couple of years back. The piece was about Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll and was so riven with factual inaccuracies in virtually every single paragraph I took a week to document them all and fact-check the errors.  So if Salon turns out to have been a bitter zoo behind the scenes I'm afraid I can't possibly be surprised about that.  
Halle's observations about how labor union leadership look like they sold out the Democratic Party to Clintonian power would seem like a corrective to ST's idea that unions remain crucial.  Crucial to actual workers?  I'm afraid I've never been all that sure about that my whole adult life.  Crucial to endorsing political figures?  Probably.  It's not that I can't fathom Generation X frustration that all the jobs we thought we might be able to do in journalism and arts coverage have evaporated in the last twenty years, or so it seems.  I get that.  I managed to never get any of the jobs Scott Timberg has been bitter about losing so I'll admit it's hard to feel all that bad for the guy. 

at the New York Review of Books Francine Prose writes about "the problem with `problematic'"

Up front, language alert.  People are prone to short Anglo-Saxon derived words when venting frustration about white savior narratives on the internet.
There are certainly problems with books targeting mass and youth audiences in terms of white savior narratives.  It may be that these things just leap out for people whose heritage isn't 100% white, because, for instance, I couldn't not observe a white savior narrative as the core of James Cameron's Avatar whereas friends who had an entirely white background didn't see it and even when they did see it didn't necessarily see it as a problem.
If anything one of the problems is that in an era where minorities seek representation in the Hollywood industry itself, particularly in the strange era in which journalists invoke the Frankfurt school on the one hand while fastidiously ignoring Adorno's condemnation of the culture industry on the other, the paradox is that writers and artists who want to be more involved in the culture industry object to white authors writing what look like white savior narratives in the process of trying to pursue what could be colloquially known as a social justice cause.
Posted September 7, the first reader review of American Heart on Goodreads, a “social-cataloguing website” owned by Amazon, was something of a rant:
fuck your white savior narratives
fuck using marginalized characters as a plot device to teach the white mc how to be a decent person
fuck you for perpetuating the idea that marginalized people need to suffer in order to be worthy of “humanity”
fuck this book and everyone who thought it would be a good fucking idea…
to my Muslim friends, i’m sorry this book and this mindset exists
After receiving more online criticism from readers, not all of whom seemed to have actually read the book, Kirkus removed the star from its American Heart review—a major demotion given that we have been trained from kindergarten to want stars, a reflex reinforced each time we’re invited to rate (with stars) everything from a Lyft ride to a haircut. The Kirkus review was reposted, in a revised and less enthusiastic form: “Sarah Mary’s ignorance is an effective world-building device, but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter.”
The accusation that “society tends to favor privileged voices” is, according to some, not only a political analysis but an economic one. “The fear,” one literary agent told me, “is that if a publisher takes on a book written by a successful white male writer about a disabled Native American lesbian, a real disabled Native American lesbian might have trouble placing a book about the same subject at the same house; the publisher already has one.” What this suggests is that books are being categorized—and judged—less on their literary merits than on the identity of their authors. This is particularly true with young adult fiction, whose readers are presumed to be more readily influenced by what they read. [italics original, emphasis added]
It’s undeniable that the literary voices of marginalized communities have been underrepresented in the publishing world, but the lessons of history warn us about the dangers of censorship. Unless they are written about by members of a marginalized group, the harsh realities experienced by members of that group are dismissed as stereotypical, discouraging writers from every group from describing the world as it is, rather than the world we would like.
The culture of young adult fiction is partly dedicated to helping young people avoid and resist bullying, yet it is being shaped by online posts whose aggressive, even ferocious, tone could itself be described as online bullying. One is reminded of how, under authoritarian regimes, writers have been censored (and persecuted) for referring, in their work, to the sufferings that their rulers would rather not acknowledge.
Almost every kids’ classic worth reading has been censored by some school district. Recently, a Mississippi school board voted to remove Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird from an eighth-grade reading list because, according to the board vice president, “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable.” One could argue that a vital function of literature is to make people uncomfortable—a position unlikely to change the board’s mind. Yet cutting a book from a reading list seems less drastic that removing it from stores.
What’s distressing is the frequency—and the unexamined authority—with which the words “experience” and “lived experience” define who is qualified to write or even to weigh in on a book. If it’s not your “lived experience,” you’re not writing in “your own voice.” It doesn’t suggest much faith in the power of the imagination—our ability to envision what it might be like to belong to another group, another gender, to live in another historical era. To take the argument to its illogical extreme, how can one write a historical novel if one has no “lived experience” of that period? Meanwhile, the fact that the Kirkus reviewer of American Heart was chosen partly because she came from the same community as the novel’s “problematic” character seems not to have mattered when Kirkus caved to the pressure from online community critics.

What may be most notable by its absence (whether journalistic oversight or the nature of the public discourse) is that nobody steps back and says that maybe the whole enterprise of the commercial publishing of fictional narratives itself is a waste of time, money and resources natural and cultivated.  The reader did not go so far as to say "$#^T the publishing industry and everyone who thinks that by publishing a book the world is improved."  No, we don't tend to see that, we tend to see calls for representation, as if the current publishing and media industries would become better if they gave marginalized people voices.  Not that marginalized people shouldn't have a chance to speak about what they've been through ....

but since I'm slogging through Adorno this year the question that keeps coming up for me is why people who would otherwise commit to a progressive cause seem to think that any variant of the publishing industry will have a role other than being the proverbial bad guy.  Writers and artists venting about the injustice of the industry never seem to doubt the legitimacy of the publishing industry so much as complain about the restrictions of capital on it.  Or, to put it in a more harsh light, aspiring writers and artists are more concerned that the empire of the arts isn't giving them more of the spotlight rather than asking whether the empire of the arts itself is the problem.  The problem is preferably that the empire doesn't serve all the aspiring artists rather than that artists who get served by the empire are still serving the empire. 

The culture industry isn't just mass or popular culture, after all, it can also be the entire educational system of the West, too.  College students lamenting that they can't get a break may feel like they're on the receiving end of systemic injustice and predatory lending practices on people who are doing graduate work in the humanities are stuck ... but I still have enough friends who are high school drop outs or never went beyond high school education in formal terms that I can never quite shake the sense that college students and graduates who can wield the word "privilege" in internet debates don't seem to fully grasp the privilege from which they can do so.   I take the left more seriously than I take liberalism for a variety of reasons but that's some other post for some other time if I even feel like writing about that. 
Of the writing of books there is no end and the only question you potentially can't ask of the business of writing books is why people think people should make a living writing books in an era like ours.  This isn't about the writing part, it's about the business part.  Given the range of plagiarism scandals of the last decade; given how consolidated ownership of the means of production (since Marxists are pretty good at hammering that point); is it even a good thing to seek for "representation" in such a centralized industry?  Or, to put it another way, if the traditional art religion is still in place in the arts world is giving a publishing opportunity to a real disabled lesbian Native American, per the example, really better simply on account of intersectional concerns? 
The lament of reverse-racism can be a bromide embraced too quickly by the sorts of conservatives who already want a fight on the internet, but in a way it seems the real problem is that what is expected of novels and poetry these days is not even fiction.  What some people want is for fiction to be imbued with all of the truth-telling capacity expected of journalism and historiography. 

What never seems to be up for discussion is questioning the legitimacy of the publishing industry itself, at least when the context is a question about demographic representation.  The assumption in discussions about whether a white author writing about a disabled lesbian Native American getting published prevents a real disabled lesbian Native American writer from being published may be too pat an example of some of the concerns of intersectionality but since on the internet pat may just be where it's at we'll just run with that. 

Intersectionality may be a new iteration of what in an earlier generation was known as political correctness but with another element to it--and in a way intersectionality raises a necessary point about identity politics.  The necessary point is that merely saying one is black or a woman or Jewish is insufficient as a label because in flesh and blood life we can never be reducible to a single category.  Or, to put it in more practical terms, a Kevin Spacey coming out as gay is no excuse for a person doing what Spacey has been accused of doing. 

The danger of intersectionality in terms of public discourse is that if you have enough ranked categories of oppressed marginal groups under your belt you can use the most abusive rhetorical and intellectual methods in public discourse with a kind of cyber-space shield.  This lets people perpetuate and perpetrate verbal violence with a kind of holiness code or exemption clause.  A more colloquial way of putting things is to say that a double standard gets deployed on the subject of threats and verbal aggression if a person has a high enough core on intersectionality. 

There's also a tendency for liberalism of some vaguely defined sort to be the guiding paradigm.  Sherman Alexie's complaint about fellow American Indians over the last decade or so has been that the average American Indian is more socially conservative than even the most socially conservative white guy. 

It's not that there aren't problems with people in power deciding they get to speak on behalf of the oppressed as if knowing what the oppressed feel or deal with it, those problems always exist.  The problem may be more that people with the  level of literacy to be readers and to engage in symbolic combat on the internet about the politics of intersectionality invoke a status of marginalization that their very literacy and access to internet tools may, at some level, belie.  It's entirely possible to be regarded as part of a marginalized class by one metric while being a power-broker by another.  Spacey is just one recent example.

But another would be the conundrum of Nate Parker, whose film Birth of a Nation was beloved on the festival circuit but which had a deflated premier n part because of allegations of assault had been made against the director and while defendants were exonerated accusations can persist in the public record.  Charles Mudede touched on the matter at The Stranger for those who didn't already follow that situation.  If there's a danger in intersectionality as a new variation of an old civil religion it's that the purity codes offer exemptions from power at a rhetorical level that recent allegations of misconduct and harassment suggest we should not grant.  A person can too easily invoke the righteousness of intersectionality as a cover for abusive behavior.  The abusive behavior may not always or even very often be physical or sexual. To go by the above-cited example from the reader, a lot of the abuse and bigotry is expressed in emphatic and explicit verbal terms. 

Proverbially Pharisaical denunciation has never had to be the domain of explicitly religious people, after all.

Given how many complaints I sometimes see about the decline of journalism why should people who aspire to write aspire to write fiction?  Why not just go for journalism?  Actually there's a pretty simple answer for that, because libel and defamation laws are real, legally enforceable things.  Fiction can be a way to write about the things we see in the world without having to worry that we'll get sued by the subjects we write about, or so one approach to the matter can go.  Even fantasy and anti-realistic art and literature is always reacting to the world as it is and insistently saying something about it.  But then I am slogging through Adorno's Aesthetic Theory this year ...   

and I'd say that for whatever his flaws in history and reasoning Francis Schaeffer wasn't as racist or elitist about black popular music as Adorno comes off as having been.  I have more than a few issues with Francis Schaeffer but the reliability with which pop coverage of the Frankfurt school skates past Adorno's denunciation of black American music is disappointing.  But then the reason Ne Left writers would skate past Adorno wouldn't coincidentally be because Adorno regarded them as being as ultimately totalitarian in their impulses as fascists.

If conservatives were actually more conversant in the Frankfurt School than they usually want to be they might discover that the old right and old left could agree on the problems of the new left at a few small points of intersection. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Boston Globe: Berklee College let teachers quietly leave after allegations of sexual abuse and pushed students for silence

More and more it just seems like never managing to make it into academia seems like it wasn't a loss.  Twenty years ago I wanted to get into academia but then I realized I couldn't get into the field because I didn't have the money and didn't want to keep taking loans.  I also figured that my lack of zeal for jumping through hoops where I don't see the need for them meant it was better to love learning in some way where I didn't have to teach. 
But even twenty years ago I'd see dubious op-eds by professors claiming that if the student WANTS an escalated relationship of some kind the professor shouldn't be closed off to that.  I can't name names because I simply no longer remember the name of an author who made what I thought was an idiotic and unscrupulous argument.
But, anyway, stuff about Berklee. 
A Globe investigation has uncovered a culture of blatant sexual harassment at Berklee with at least three male professors, including Galindo, allowed to quietly leave since 2008, after students reported being assaulted, groped, or pressured into sex with their teachers, according to court documents and interviews with more than a dozen people. Administrators at the renowned music school tolerated lecherous behavior, former Berklee students and employees said, and often silenced the accusers through financial settlements with gag orders attached.
Berklee administrators defended the school’s track record, saying in a statement that Berklee has rigorous policies and procedures to deal with claims of sexual harassment.
“Although we do not discuss specific matters publicly out of respect for all involved and limitations on what we are legally permitted to share, we take matters that impede the learning or working environment of our students, faculty, and staff seriously and act promptly to address them,” the school said.
The allegations against the Berklee professors come at a time of heightened attention to sexual harassment following revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who faces accusations of groping, raping, and harassing women for decades. Since the scandal became public last month, women have felt empowered to speak up about alleged abuse, especially when they believe their abusers remain free to victimize others.
The woman who reported being assaulted by Galindo said that when she initially spoke with Berklee administrators in 2012, they discouraged her from pressing forward with a court case because, she said, they assured her Galindo would never work at another school.
Yet Galindo went on to teach at the New England Conservatory in Boston. The woman, who asked to remain anonymous because she fears professional reprisals, was horrified to discover in 2016 that Galindo was teaching again and notified the conservatory. His contract there was not renewed, according to the school. But he continued working at the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge until last week, when the woman found out he was employed there, contacted administrators, and the school severed ties with him. Galindo had worked there since 2009.
“If I didn’t report him [to other schools], it would be on me if he did this again,” the woman said.

Billboard says singer-songwriters have returned to top 40 radio and then list a few songs I despise

I only had to hear Ed Sheeran a handful of times to get sick of that "I'm in love with your Bod-A" chorus.  It sounds like the kind of song a guy would write who, once the woman has Bod-B instead of Bod-A will move on to greener pastures.  And whatever "the shape of you" is it's probably not about kidneys or Achilles' tendons or mylar sheaths. 

Sam Smith ... never want to hear a Sam Smith song again if that's possible.

The four-chord woozy whiny-turns-to-screeching balladry has gotten on my nerves since it was a thing in 1990s popular music, and by popular music I mean indie rock.  Nirvana was just another pop band to me.  Ditto for Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins and any number of other bands that somehow got labeled indie-rock in the 1990s. 

Alternative music for me was chamber music by Xenakis or organ music by Messiaen or brass music or symphonies by Lutoslawski.  It's not that I never listended to pop music back then.  I got to liking Bjork, Portishead, the first few Weezer albums, and Soundgarden had a handful of songs I liked.  On the more pop end of the spectrum the second Garbage album was cute.  I just didn't go out of my way to keep up with trends by the 1990s.  Radiohead bored me and I've never liked REM a day in my life.  Grunge was just what you'd get if you took punk that had been laying around on a countertop for a few hours, maybe a day, and put it in a microwave.  Sure, you "could" eat that but it might not be so good for your stomach. 

So singer-songwriters are back.  I don't want the new generation of James Taylors to have too much airplay just now. 

after the switch got made to electronic voting machines some say the safest way to vote in elections so as to avoid tampering these days is ... paper

In the last fifteen years I've come across any number of advocates for making everything in culture as computer-administrated as possible.  I'm not a huge fan of the cloud but some swear by it.  I use email and have used it a lot in my life but it's old school compared to twitter or other systems. 

But some things it seems good to be a stickler about.  There are things for which nothing electronic can be an entirely adequate substitute.  Money in hand, for instance, is money in hand, not data points on a file number. 

Don't expect to find anything blogged here about the history of MH to be on anything like a cloud, for instance. 

Well, in light of election hacking concerns the simple ballot may be one of those things where if our society had not embraced tech-voting it would have been harder to hack the election cycle if the election cycle got hacked.  Not sure it's as simple as that but in a way if our collective fetish for doing everything electronically that could have been done with pencil and paper is as bad as I sometimes feel it is then in some sense maybe we deserved to have our idolatry of electronic communication and security chastened a bit.  Which is still not to say I wanted the guy in office who's in office now, it just seems too soon to scapegoat Russians as if the Cold War was still on.

Now for the excerpts from the article.

For years, Barbara Simons was the loneliest of Cassandras—a technologist who feared what technology had wrought. Her cause was voting: Specifically, she believed that the electronic systems that had gained favor in the United States after the 2000 presidential election were shoddy, and eminently hackable. She spent years publishing opinion pieces in obscure journals with titles like Municipal World and sending hectoring letters to state officials, always written with the same clipped intensity.
Simons, who is now 76, had been a pioneer in computer science at IBM Research at a time when few women not in the secretarial pool walked its halls. In her retirement, however, she was coming off as a crank. Fellow computer scientists might have heard her out, but to the public officials she needed to win over, the idea that software could be manipulated to rig elections remained a fringe preoccupation. Simons was not dissuaded. “They didn’t know what they were talking about and I did,” she told me.
She wrote more articles, wrote a book, badgered policy makers, made “a pain of myself.” Though a liberal who had first examined voting systems under the Clinton administration, she did battle with the League of Women Voters (of which she is a member), the ACLU, and other progressive organizations that had endorsed paperless voting, largely on the grounds that electronic systems offered greater access to voters with disabilities.
Simons was called a Luddite. At times, she was treated as just short of raving. At a League of Women Voters convention, she took a turn at the microphone to challenge the league’s president. The moderator tried to yank the mic from her hand.
Simons is not grappling for mics anymore. In late July, at the annual Def Con hacker conference, in Las Vegas, she addressed an event called the Voting Village—a staged attack on voting machines. “I lose sleep over this. I hope you will too,” she told the hackers who had packed into a windowless conference room at Caesars Palace.
Four voting machines had been secured for the event, three of them types still in use. One team of hackers used radio signals to eavesdrop on a machine as it recorded votes. Another found a master password online. Within hours of getting their hands on the machines, the hackers had discovered vulnerabilities in all four.
Evidence has yet to emerge that Russia successfully manipulated voting systems in 2016, and most of Russia’s probing appears to have been aimed at databases of registered voters, not the machines that record votes. But Simons believes that the failure to heed her warnings has left states in grave danger, with too many potential weak points to shore up before hackers do succeed in altering an outcome. It is not a theoretical vulnerability, Simons told me. “Our democracy is in peril. We are wide open to attack.”
“It’s not that I don’t like computing or I don’t like computers. I mean, I am a computer scientist,” she said. “Many of the leading opponents of paperless voting machines were, and still are, computer scientists, because we understand the vulnerability of voting equipment in a way most election officials don’t. The problem with cybersecurity is that you have to protect against everything, but your opponent only has to find one vulnerability.”

Thursday, November 09, 2017

to xfinity but not beyond ... some links to do with the Monday outage

If you were in the Puget Sound area and a few other places on Monday you might have noticed the internet was down in a few places.  One might even be able to joke that the Comcastic service was even more Comcastic than normal and that if Buzz Lightyear were around he'd have said you could go to xfinity but not beyond. 

Well ... for those who weren't effected by that ... excerpts from news following the outage.

In a statement issued to WIRED, a Level 3 spokesman said: "Our network experienced a service disruption affecting some customers with IP-based services.
"The disruption was caused by a configuration error."
The spokesman added that they were able to get services quickly and efficiently back online within 90 minutes.
Comcast and RCN began experiencing connectivity issues at around the same time as the Level 3 outage, with the former saying that it was investigating an "external network issue", as opposed to a problem with its own infrastructure.
The misconfiguration was what is known as a 'route leak', according to Roland Dobbins, a principal engineer at the DDoS and network-security firm Arbor Networks, which monitors global internet operations.
This is where information about IP addresses on a particular network gets confused and causes inefficient routing and failures for the originating ISP and other ISPs attempting to route traffic.
Lily Hay Newman at WIRED describes it as being like a 'series of street signs that help keep traffic flowing in the right directions. If some of them are mislabeled or point the wrong way, assorted chaos can ensue'.
Route leaks can be intentional and malicious, however, in the case of this week's internet outages, it appears to have been a rudimentary mistake that snowballed to have colossal
A year ago, a DDoS attack caused internet outages around the US by targeting the internet-infrastructure company Dyn, which provides Domain Name System services to look up web servers. Monday saw a nationwide series of outages as well, but with a more pedestrian cause: a misconfiguration at Level 3, an internet backbone company—and enterprise ISP—that underpins other big networks. Network analysts say that the misconfiguration was a routing issue that created a ripple effect, causing problems for companies like Comcast, Spectrum, Verizon, Cox, and RCN across the country.
Level 3, whose acquisition by CenturyLink closed recently, said in a statement to WIRED that it resolved the issue in about 90 minutes. "Our network experienced a service disruption affecting some customers with IP-based services," the company said. "The disruption was caused by a configuration error." Comcast users started reporting internet outages around the time of the Level 3 outages on Monday, but the company said that it was monitoring "an external network issue" and not a problem with its own infrastructure. RCN confirmed that it had some network problems on Monday because of Level 3. The company said it had restored RCN service by rerouting traffic to a different backbone.
In a "route leak," an AS, or multiple ASes, issue incorrect information about the IP addresses on their network, which causes inefficient routing and failures for both the originating ISP and other ISPs trying to route traffic through. Think of it like a series of street signs that help keep traffic flowing in the right directions. If some of them are mislabeled or point the wrong way, assorted chaos can ensue.
Route leaks can be malicious, sometimes called "route hijacks" or "BGP hijacks," but Monday's incident seems to have been caused by a simple mistake that ballooned to have national impact. Large outages caused by accidental route leaks have cropped up before.
"Folks are looking to tweak routing policies, and make mistakes," Arbor Networks' Dobbins says. The problem could have come as CenturyLink works to integrate the Level 3 network, or could have stemmed from typical traffic engineering and efficiency work.
Yesterday, folks across the country reported that Comcast internet was down -- an unusually large outage that lasted around 90 minutes. It turns out that the problem was caused by Level 3, an enterprise ISP that provides the backbone for other internet providers like Verizon, Comcast and RCN. "Our network experienced a service disruption affecting some of our customers," the firm said in a statement. "The disruption was caused by a configuration error."

The outage shows yet again just how vulnerable the internet is in the US. Last year around this time, a DDoS attack shut down Spotify, Twitter, the New York Times and other sites, prompting some soul-searching from ISPs and internet security experts. This time it was a case of simple human error, but the results were similar: The internet, which many individuals and businesses now depend on for their livelihoods, went down.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017


Somebody who used to work at Mars Hill has a book out.

Mark probably has a couple, really, but this is someone else.

Picked up the Justin Dean book PR Matters.

Will probably write a bit about it at some point. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

RIP Matanya Ophee

I want to write more than merely mentioning the death of Matanya Ophee but it's early in the morning, I've got a fairly normal day job and to that I must go.

But I'm sorry to read that he has passed.  He has been one of my inspirations as a guitarist for his example in scholarship. I read the transcript of his lecture "Repertoire Issues" in 1999 and, as I put it a decade earlier, reading it changed my life. When I was in college getting a ... probably mostly impractical journalism degree I was told I had to minor in something to prove I could write about more than just writing.  I chose music composition and got a large music minor.  It didn't secure me any jobs, but it meant that I loved researching music and loved discovering people who could not just write about music but write about music in a compelling way. 

I've never come across anyone in the last twenty years who could write about the guitar and its literature quite like Matanya Ophee.  That's not to say there aren't other writers who have been great at advocating for the instrument.  Sor's treatise on guitar technique deserves its canonical place in the literature, obviously. 

Since Slipped Disc described Ophee as writing combatively for guitar journals I feel like me and others will say that one of Ophee's points was that, legends and myths surrounding Segovia's elevation of the guitar to a status of being taken as seriously as the violin or the piano never happened.  If anything we guitarists and our music are not taken seriously and that if we want the music we play taken seriously we must advocate for it, and do so without any inferiority complex as to the quality or nature of that music.

I feel like everything I wrote since 1999 for the guitar drew inspiration from Ophee's challenge to guitarists to never assume our instrument cannot be taken seriously if, first, we take the instrument seriously ourselves.  There's no need to confine our understanding of what we can do with this instrument to purveyors of and composers of lollipops (not that there's no place for them).  I wouldn't have even thought to try composing a sonata for tuba and unamplified guitar had I not read Ophee's lecture.  I would eventually find out to my delight there are almost half a dozen other composers, most of them guitarists, who have written a cycle of preludes and fugues for solo guitar.  Rather than resignedly assume something is impossible there is something to be said for being willing to try. 

Ophee's passing is a sad day for me but the legacy of his work has shaped my life as a guitarist and a composer so on the news of his passing I want to express my gratitude for his life and work.  May he rest in peace.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

"Proud of what he had. Ashamed of how he got it", Thor Ragnarok as a riff on Asgardian revisionism hiding the bloodshed that was the foundation of the throne

While it sounds like Thor fans are not entirely happy with the brazenly comedic turn this third film has taken it's the first successful Thor film in the franchise for me.  The jokes are legion but since they derive from character tensions I'm willing to let a lot slide.  Loki and Thor are still locked in a brotherly relationship where affection and distrust are mingled at high saturation levels.  That is in some ways the core of the story, how two brothers have drastically different understandings of the nature of their shared family legacy.

Thor Ragnarok runs with the idea that the brothers end up bonding over the discovery that Odin had withheld the truth about the foundation of his kingdom from them, a truth that breaks forth at Odin's death in the most literal way when Thor's older sister Hela (played with scenery-chewing gusto by Cate Blanchett) appears to conquer Asgard and continue expanding its empire beyond the nine realms ruled by Asgard.  This is more or less the woman for whom Thanos would wish to wield the Infinity Gauntlet so he can impress her enough to marry him, though I'm rusty on these more arcane and frankly tedious elements of Marvel higher-powered characters.  Since Loki Marvel villains have tended to range from blandly forgettable to tediously filling space.  There have been some exceptions like Wilson Fisk in the Daredevil series, and of course Tom Hiddleston's Loki but these are roles that have been saved by the dynamism of the actors going for broke in roles to have some fun.  These are not necessarily brilliantly scripted antagonists but they're well played.  Well, I kinda take that back, Fisk was pretty well-scripted whereas Hiddleston just hammed his way into comedic gold as Loki. 

Since Hemsworth turned out, apparently, to be one of the few convincingly funny parts of last year's ill-advised Ghostbusters remake it looks like people have decided to play to his strengths rather than his weaknesses (drama of more or less any kind). Thor is a muscle-bound moron but he's like the golden retriever of the Marvel universe, he's a moron but he means well and he really likes people for the most part.  He's not so great at remembering stuff.  Of course this gets played for laughs in a scene where Thor is trying to voice activate a rediscovered Stark jet by saying phrase after phrase.  He keeps getting the wrong phrases until he decides on a whim to say "Point Break" and discovers that only THEN will the AI on Stark's jet recognize his voice.

But the conflicts in the new Thor movie revolve around the grim consequences of secrets that fathers withhold from children.  Odin never told Thor that the foundation of the Asgardian empire was less a matter of Odin's warrior ways than the ravaging powers of Hela, his firstborn child.  As Hela recounts things, Odin was proud of what he gained but ashamed of how he gained it, namely through her skill in battle.  As she saw things there was no reason that the rule of Asgard should not span everything whereas Odin was content to rule the nine realms and settle into a peaceful life, with an empire that would be ruled by a less warlike heir, namely Thor.  For Hela both Thor and Loki represent the sons of an Odin who was content to lie to both of them about the real nature of the Asgardian legacy.  She taunts Thor in their first meeting by telling him "You're Thor? You don't look like him."  and then to Loki "you SOUND like him."  The two brothers are, neither of them, what Hela thinks a true heir of Odin should actually be.   Thor and Loki are, to Hela, both mamma's boys in different ways.  The real legacy of Asgaridan triumph and prosperity is in Hela's sea of bloodshed, which she intends to renew so as to stretch the reign of Asgard to everything.

That is, as these things go, a fairly pedestrian evil plot by an evil character.  What salvages it, if just barely, is that Blanchett is having so much fun chewing through every scene.  At a conceptual level her character represents the no longer repressed terrible history of erased prehistory of what seems on the surface to be  a peaceful and prosperous empire.  Hela is the shadow that brekas out and reveals the illusions that have to be harbored to maintain what looks to be peace but is a peace that was founded on bloodshed.
At the start of the film Surtur is the fiery monster (voiced impeccably as ever for these sorts of roles by Clancy Brown) who is sure he will one day destroy Asgard and all its power in Ragnarok.  Thor begins the film by assuming his job will be to stop Ragnarok from happening but as the third act arrives and Thor realizes that Hela gains all her nearly unstoppable power from Asgard the place, he concludes that Surtur must be revived and allowed to destroy Asgard the place so that Asgard the people may be saved.  Odin's rather rote counsel is that Asgard is not a place but a people and that if the people can be saved then the place is where ever they may be.  Thor and Loki work together to revive Surtur, whom Thor defeated early in the film, and allow Surtur to burn Asgard down to its foundations and destroy even those to defeat Hela.  Thor chooses a path of formal defeat to save the people rather than let Hela continue to grow in power and expand Asgard's empire across the cosmos. 

Thor grants there might not be a whole lot of good in Loki but there might at least be some. Loki, for his part, goes along with Thor's diea that the best way to save Asgard as a people is to destroy Asgard the empire. 

It's all in all a light popcorn movie that I had fun watching.  I've never really managed to get into the Thor franchise.  The first film underwhelmed me and Branaugh's approach and the script seemed too high-minded and serious in a largely unconvincing way.  The Dark World was just kinda lame and the handful of times it sprang to life was when Thor and Loki were having their brotherly conflicts.  So, finally, some people decided that building the conflicts around the family squabbles of the Odin clan was the way to go.  The twist is less that good defeats evil in this Ragnarok as that Thor decides that the death of the empire of the Asgardian gods must be embraced rather than resisted.  Better to save and spare the people than to be a king of an empire that will only give more and more power to the goddess of death. 

But the bloody legacy of the conquests she made that Odin took control over before banishing here is left lingering.  In a sense this Thor movie ends with a decimated Asgard and Thor, with Loki and the other surviving Asgardians looking for sanctuary anywhere they think they may be able to find. 

In a way what it gets me thinking about is how something that has been described about the alt-right is its embrace of Nordic and other white pagana religious idioms and tradtions.  Some have embraced these traditions in the past as an alternative to a Christianity that was held responsible for oppressing and killing pagans and paganism in the past, perhaps a kind of progressive or liberal dream of a neo-paganism that restores a balanced relationship with nature.  But such a revitalized paganism won't always be able to avoid ideologies espousing conquest and bloodshed. 

That a religion favored by white nationalists has been Odinism might be a topic for some other post by some one else.  That stuff has never strongly interested me but I am curious to read that when white nationalists have cast about for some religious views that can be thought of as alternatives to Judaism and Christianity Odinism is one of the endorsed options.  A Martin Luther King Jr. who wrote a letter from a Birmingham jail wouldn't have gotten very far if the appeal was to advocates of Odinism, would he?  For that matter, could the arguments advanced in terms of appeals to moral intuitions by King have made sense if recast in strictly atheistic terms?  Certainly atheists might like to suppose so but it's a bit moot since the letter was written as it was written. 

This Marvel Thor sets up a galaxy in which there's probably no meaningful correspondence between the characters and stories and actual Odinism.  Idris Elba, for instance, was someone some hardcore fans of Thor stuff said had no business playing Heimdel.  Similarly, there's probably a complaint that a Tessa Thompson shouldn't be playing a Valkrie.  I frankly don't particularly care in either case. 

I really hope nobody tries to do some kind of Christ typology business with Thor or any of the characters in this film.  It's far more interesting to consider the idea that Thor discovers that he's not technically the most rightful heir to the throne in terms of birth and that his father Odin decided to banish his firstborn Hela and give the throne to Thor.  Because we can look back on how even in the first film Odin decided Thor's egotism and brutishness would be unbecoming the throne and that Odin stripped Thor of his powers and banished him to earth.  Even Thor, it turns out, was in key ways starting his cinematic journey on a path that would have led him to become much like Hela in entitlement if not in love of violence.

But we'll never get a story about how and why Odin became remorseful of all the bloodshed that Hela did first in her father's name and then for herself.  These movies don't really traffic in those kinds of things.  It's not because superhero movies can't or don't explore the subject of filial loyalty and whether family legacies are characterized by violence or healing.  Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy couldn't have been more explicit about precisely those themes.  Ragnarok's most interesting gambit is to keep the jokes coming but to have the subtext and text of the conflict reveal the ugly family legacy that both Thor and Loki are forced to confront that neither of them knew about.  When faced with such a grisly previously concealed family history the two brothers who previously were locked in conflict find they have more in common with each other than they thought, and that in their ignorance of Odin's hidden legacy of conquest they may have more in common with each other than they have had with Hela or even Odin. 

I'd say it's a fun matinee.  It's neither the best nor the worst superhero film I've seen but it's easily the most fun Thor movie we'll ever see.  This would reallyu be a good place to just drop the Thor franchise.  It's a bit much to ask of a superhero film that there's a fourth one when the third one manages to be pretty solid.  We're finally at a point where we're getting third films in franchises that hold up, whether Captain America or Thor, even if they fall short of the ideas they try to introduce.

Had Ragnarok tried to actually be more serious about the secrets and the bloodshed of the Odin imperial legacy that would have made it less effective.  It makes sense that having stated the first film with Thor being stripped of his power by Odin and having to regain it that in the third film Thor would discover his father had his own legacy as a context within which to have discerned where Thor could have gone.  But the unanswered question may be the most salient one, how and why Odin suddenly felt that conquest spanning nine realms was "enough" and why he didn't feel there was a problem with all the conquest of the nine realms themselves and why it was okay for Hela to be the powerhouse of death and destruction that made that empire possible.  The assumption after all this time that Odin himself is somehow good and noble is never open to question because how could Thor end up being a good guy if his dad was bad.

But then good kings being brought into the world by terrible kings is more readily recognized in real world history than it has ever been in the superhero genre.

a couple of NYT pieces on the gay architects and chroniclers of rock--discussions of Jann Wenner and Brian Epstein within the corporate empires of rock and pop music

In his giant five-volume Oxford History of Western Music, Richard Taruskin kicked off volume 1 with a comment that he was going to bypass the entire Adorno-inspired Frankfurt School school of thought about an alleged culture industry.  The chief problem with an anti-capitalist inspired notion of culture industry, Taruskin wrote, was the presumption that the products of a culture industry could be collapsed into simple categories.  The industry of culture, if we have to call it that, can't be construed in such monolithic terms in any era. 

Moreover, Taruskin noted, if we looked at 20th century music history it was precisely the culture industry that the Frankfurt school condemned that actually made financial life for musicians and composers in minority positions to make careers.  Black musicians in the United States were able to become part of the cultural life of the nation because of the so-called culture industry.

And as has been discussed at moderate length in some fairly mainstream publications, the gay community and gays were able to play defining roles in the culture industry.  Sure, there were white guys in the first half of the 20th century who regarded the culture industry as all bad and Adorno was one of them, but Adorno's writings against jazz as a generic indicator of mass/popular music are well-known.  There are pretty solid reasons why people have denounced Adorno's condemnation of jazz as being elitist and racist and sexist, but thanks to the sheer level of intra-academic influence Adorno has had in the realm of aesthetics people from the right and the left and the center have had to address stuff he's written.

But, getting particularly to the matter of the role gays have played in shaping rock music, the NYT has had a couple of pieces lately.  The role Jann Wenner played in defining rock journalism for half a century can't be skated over.


Two previous attempts at an authorized Wenner biography had come to nothing. In 2003, Mr. Wenner enlisted Lewis MacAdams, a longtime friend and former Rolling Stone contributor, only to pull out after reading a few hundred pages. (Knopf, which had initially bought Mr. MacAdams’s book, said the stalled deal was canceled in 2014.) In 2011, a similar arrangement with the Rolling Stone writer and author Rich Cohen made it to the proposal phase — Spiegel & Grau offered a reported $1 million — before Mr. Wenner revoked his cooperation.

To test Mr. Wenner’s willingness to handle unflattering information about himself, Mr. Hagan said he gathered anecdotes, including from the 1990 book “Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History” by Robert Draper, which was said to be banned in the magazine’s offices, and ran them by his prospective subject.

“He became incredibly agitated,” Mr. Hagan said. “I came out of that meeting very disenchanted.” Mr. Wenner also indicated that he would like to have some veto power over coverage of his sexual history.

In a letter to Mr. Wenner shortly after their meeting, Mr. Hagan wondered whether he could write a biography “in which part of your life is fenced off from my inquiry.” He added, “You spent 27 years traveling in elite celebrity circles as a gay man married to a woman.” Mr. Hagan demanded the biography be unauthorized. “I have to be able to determine for myself what’s relevant and what isn’t,” he wrote. “And I can’t do that under the threat of legal recourse.”

Eventually, Mr. Wenner agreed to read the book only once it had reached its final form, and Mr. Hagan signed a deal for $1.5 million with Knopf.

Across years of reporting, Mr. Hagan conducted more than 240 interviews and spoke with Mr. Wenner for dozens of hours. He mined Rolling Stone archives and his subject’s cache of letters and files. “From boyhood, he compulsively hoarded every document of his life,” Mr. Hagan writes in the book’s prologue, “because he believed he would one day be important.”

One of the 20th century’s most powerful creations was the rock star: the preening, erotic god of guitar-fired defiance. But those who embodied that character didn’t spring from nowhere. Managers groomed them and shaped them, and in the classic rock era those managers were often gay men.

For decades, the close relationships between the managers and the predominantly straight musicians they advised were not discussed much. Lately, however, they have become a point of pride and celebration. [emphasis added]

“The Fifth Beatle,” a recent graphic novel that focuses on the personal life of the Fab Four’s gay manager, Brian Epstein, was a New York Times best seller and is now in development as a six-part mini-series, with the approval of the Beatles’ estate. And the documentary film “Lambert & Stamp” made clear the important role played by Kit Lambert, the gay co-manager of the Who, in shaping the band’s identity.

Another image maker of the classic-rock era, Jann Wenner, the co-founder of Rolling Stone, is the subject of a new biography by Joe Hagan, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” which stresses the role his sexuality played in his presentations of male rock stars throughout the magazine’s history. (Mr. Wenner did not come out to the press until the mid-1990s).

“Being gay gave me a finer appreciation of the sexuality of the guys up there,” Mr. Wenner says in the book. “I could understand that in a way others didn’t.”


Mr. Napier-Bell sees the entire notion of rock ’n’ roll rebellion as an extension of “gay anger.” “We were against the establishment, the government and the law, which was against us,” he said. “It was an attitude felt by the managers that was expressed through their groups.”

At the same time, many of the gay men came from more refined backgrounds than the rockers, an experience they transferred to their charges. “Brian came from a world of classical music and jazz,” Mr. Tiwary said. “He envisioned that the Beatles would be like the great classical composers and be remembered long after they were gone.” [emphasis added]

Mr. Lambert, whose father was a prominent classical composer, pushed Mr. Townshend to write a rock opera, resulting in “Tommy.” “Kit molded me as a composer,” Mr. Townshend said in “Lambert & Stamp.”

If the young rockers benefited from the taste and ambition of their gay advisers, in turn the managers got a sense of connection they otherwise couldn’t achieve. “It’s not like a gay man at the time could marry or enjoy a family,” Mr. Cooper said. “With a band, there’s a sense of an extended family. They could raise and nurture the musicians and put all the complexity of their experience into something of worth.”

While an author at the LA Review of Books could propose the real bad guys are corporations and capitalism the trouble is that there is ultimately never an innocent cultural dynasty of patronage and there never will be one in this world. 

Whatever its indie/counter-cultural roots or initial reputation by the time I was a kid in the Reagan years no magazine could have been more full-bore establishment within rock than Rolling Stone. It may be that you remember things as they were when you felt you were in your prime.  I mean, there are people now who probably remember a local megachurch through the prism of their own promising youth.


We tend to think of Rolling Stone as a quintessentially Sixties artifact, and the publication certainly presents itself as such. But the magazine gained its true foothold in the 1970s, when it was regularly printing groundbreaking work from the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Greil Marcus, Ben Fong-Torres, and Annie Leibovitz along with ample doses of nostalgia. To later generations of readers, Rolling Stone often seemed like it was incessantly reflecting the Sixties generation back to itself through a soft lens, but the truth is that the magazine had pretty much always been doing that: Read critics like Jon Landau and Lester Bangs in the magazine in the early 1970s, and their writing is already shot through with loss and creeping disillusion. Cameron Crowe, who became one of Rolling Stone’s star feature writers during the 1970s while still a teenager, recalls landing assignments to cover bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple and Black Sabbath simply because none of his elders at the mag wanted to write about them. Rock and roll was already dead by then, anyway.


As Hagan’s book shows, the driving, irresolvable tension behind both Wenner and his magazine from the beginning was the clash between the desire to do meaningful journalism and the desire to be near fame.  [emphases added] For all the great music writing that Rolling Stone has produced, Wenner has also enjoyed being friends with rock stars and has been known to value those friendships at the expense of editorial credibility, or simply good taste. He’s long given certain stars the right to edit their own interviews before going to press, and the line between criticism and hagiography has frequently blurred, particularly as Wenner and his favorite artists have aged. See this five-star review of Mick Jagger’s 2001 solo effort Goddess in the Doorway, penned by the publisher himself, or more recently, the time Rolling Stone declared U2’s eminently forgettable Songs of Innocence the best album of 2014. Hagan reveals that Wenner demanded the ranking personally. (“My dictate. By fiat, buddy. That’s that.”)

And the line between starfucking and fucking stars over was crossed early and repeatedly. There’s no artist more central to the Rolling Stone mystique than John Lennon: He graced the cover of the magazine’s first issue back in 1967, and Leibovitz’s photo of Lennon and Yoko Ono that appeared on the front of the Jan. 22, 1981 issue—released shortly after Lennon’s murder and entirely dedicated to remembrances of the late Beatle—might be the most famous magazine cover in American history. (If you’ve never read this issue, I’d strongly recommend tracking it down: It is, from front to back, a masterpiece.) Wenner and his magazine have kept Lennon’s memory and legacy alive with purposeful ferocity: Since his death, Lennon has appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, either by himself or as a member of the Beatles, no fewer than 15 times.

And yet as Hagan’s book makes clear, the reality of Lennon and Wenner’s relationship was far more complicated than most people knew. In December 1970, Wenner coaxed Lennon into sitting for a lengthy conversation that was published in Rolling Stone in two parts under the title “Lennon Remembers.” It was an extraordinary coup for the young publisher, and to this day it remains the most famous interview Lennon ever gave. Shortly after it ran, Wenner received an offer to turn the interview into a book for $40,000. Lennon was vehemently opposed, but the cash-strapped Wenner did it anyway, and the two never spoke again. (Lennon was so angered that he later supported a short-lived competing magazine, called SunDance, with the intent of putting Rolling Stone out of business.)


There's also some discussion of Wenner's legacy over at The New Yorker, which is no surprise.

But Hagan’s portrait of Wenner is crisp and cutting: using Wenner’s own archive, and more than two hundred and forty interviews (including conversations with Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, Bob Dylan, and Paul McCartney), he narrates the story of an indulgent and widely disliked man who is obsessed with celebrity and consumed by ambition. [emphasis added] (When the editor Will Dana, who worked with Wenner for twenty years, tells Hagan, “I basically think he’s 51 percent good,” it feels like a moment of circumspect generosity.) Hagan’s story is so aggressively substantiated, and so alarmingly consistent, that it’s difficult to imagine how “Sticky Fingers” could have turned out any other way.
In the book’s prologue, Hagan cites the magazine’s “radical conventionality” as Wenner’s most striking innovation; Rolling Stone, he explains, “instantly legitimized and mainstreamed the underground.” This process involved equating “confession and frank sexuality with integrity and authenticity,” a wild conflation that quickly became dogma—precious and paramount to the new-media companies (like Vice) that ultimately usurped most of the magazine’s cultural capital.
Hagan makes these points early on in “Sticky Fingers,” and the book is adamant throughout about the ways in which Rolling Stone invented cultural value: the journalistic forms it introduced and cherished, the readers it innervated, the brazen and devious ways it commercialized the counterculture. “The framework of American narcissism has its roots in Jann Wenner’s pioneering magazine making,” Hagan explains. He asks his readers to seriously consider Wenner’s role in establishing the tenets and behaviors now associated with modern celebrity: “Today the signifiers of fame—confession, preening self-regard, and blunt sexuality—are so built into modern media manners that few can even recall a time when they were novel.” [emphasis added] (That time, he implies, was before 1967, when Wenner and Ralph Gleason founded the magazine, in San Francisco.) Though I mostly agree with Hagan’s judgment, this is a vast and odious legacy to drop exclusively at Wenner’s feet.
Rolling Stone has, at least, always been an engine of progressive politics, and Wenner boldly published some of the best and most interesting New Journalists of the last fifty years, even if—and by now, anyone who writes regularly about the Western canon is resigned to how this sentence ends—most of them were deeply troubled white men who also engaged in wildly sexist or otherwise bigoted behavior. Gonzo is a thrilling but troublesome tradition; even before Rolling Stone published, in 2014, a strangely uncorroborated story about a rape at the University of Virginia, it was hardly a bastion of journalistic integrity. Hunter S. Thompson, probably the magazine’s most famous former contributor, was a stunning stylist but a noted fabulist. [emphases added] Likewise, many of the magazine’s reporters grew uncomfortable with the close relationships that Wenner had with the rock stars they were tasked with covering. Cameron Crowe—whose semi-autobiographical film, “Almost Famous,” is, at heart, a cautionary fable about getting too friendly with your subjects—bristled at being made to play softball with the Eagles. “I felt it was blurring the line that had been so sculpted and held as precious and true,” he told Hagan.

I never took to gonzo journalism myself.  Of the new journalists my favorite was, by far, Joan Didion.  Tom Wolfe was fun to read when he was writing journalism and then he lost his way by writing for the Great American novel tripe that he once scoffed at in his youth.  He's never going to be a great American novelist or even much of a social observer but he was, for a decade or so, a brilliant stylist.  It's just that the New Journalism techniques were probably style above substance, not that there was never no substance, to use an awkward phrase.

Gonzo journalism was in a lot of ways just journalists pretending to be like the rock stars they were interviewing.  The spiral in quality of journalism could be laid at the feet of misunderstandings about the legacy of new journalism but I don't feel like really making that point.  We've had yellow journalism and variants of it for centuries.  We've also had journalism presented as journalism that is really just advertising and sometimes it seems that in the most fundamental way a lot of what is presented as serious arts writing is still basically advertising by another name.  If Wenner's vices were craving celebrity and influence among many other vices ,perhaps it can at least be said of him that he was blunt enough to admit that he wanted to promote music he liked.  It might not be "that" differen tfrom Schumann and Berlioz pumping the reputations of composers and musicians they liked in their time.