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Atomized junior

Saturday, March 27, 2010
Gold Mountain View

 Google announced last Wednesday 24 Mar 10 that they would no longer voluntarily censor Internet searches at the direction of the Chinese government  BBC News - Google stops censoring search results in China. On the Google blog Official Google Blog: A new approach to China: an update David Drummond Googles chief legal officer stated that instead they would redirect searches from the main Chinese google interface to Hong Kong Google domain and servers Google sends China users to Hong Kong for uncensored results.  Hong Kong has operated under a less restrictive political regime since the end British rule. David Drummond (the lawyer) emphasized in the post that this move left them entirely in the clear regarding Chinese laws.

 In a recent post I had questioned Googles commitment to a stand on principle to violations and abuse of their network. They had suggested they would do so, but they also had strong reasons to paper it over with Chinese authorities. To make some symbolic gesture and carry on. They seem to have made a rather clear break and settled in for the long haul Google to stop censoring search results in China - Criticism for the moment seems unwarranted. And to be fair, so far it wasn't Google among search engine companies willing to aid Chinese authorities in identifying dissenters but Yahoo Google China move puts pressure on Microsoft, Yahoo / The Christian Science Monitor -

 China registered their outrage immediately and began the task of blocking and re-censoring the Hong Kong severs, web segment by web segment  Mainland China service availability - . Specifically they seemed aggrieved that Google had violated certain unspecific past "promises". The Chinese authorities had gained little sympathy by weeks end. Someone commented in a  Metafilter thread: that Google was not giving up much because it did not have a leading share of the Chinese search market, Someone else immediately pointed out how much money is involved in the forty percent share it did have  Sun Tzu would be proud | MetaFilter. Moreover that looks past the now uncertain place of Google platforms in the burgeoning mobile market and that is a lot of money.

  During the decade long rise of China western companies generally did nothing to challenge China's rules. The American Chamber of Commerce not least among them. Until they began to get the idea that China was organizing its newly created markets for its own use and benefit. Some now believe a sea change at hand, not in Chinese outlook but in the calculations of those western corporations set into the Chinese business world Google's decision signals change in Western businesses' approach to China - Go Daddy, Network Solutions ceased registering domains in China due to new intrusive registration procedures. Which they point out would have a "chilling effect" on many who might desire to register Network Solutions, GoDaddy cease registering Web sites in China -  Scaring customers, not ordinarily a strategic business model.

 Some of the thinking on this situation tries to keep a distinction between passive and active control of the internet and population. Between censorship and punishment. The control of information a society feels necessary to maintain order and unanimity.  And detainment, intimidation and coercion of dissenters -- those of other than central opinion. Critically this affects the role western technology companies play in identifying those dissenters to authorities. Google may have made the determination that its key asset is its reputation. Its reason for being is information in motion. That it is in a prime position to act as a gatekeeper (profit from) is misleading. Google is the facilitator of the open society. If it allows itself to be made a stringent guardian the stage goes dark and the play folds.

 Not only the the usual subjects China, Burma, Vietnam, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Cuba, increasingly Venezuela are attracted to suppression of information. No state is really immune from it. Western states even the United States. The recent news focus on those trying to break Wiki-leaks demonstrates that few like whistles or whistle-blowers, and many cannot regard such an organization having purpose. However; secrecy will be deployed not only for national security but for the absence of scrutiny in general. Even further, many who consider themselves libertarians and lovers of freedom would have little trouble regarding that freedom as being the freedom from public inspection of that which desires privacy. In that notion a world of data (and public good) disappears. The collusion of private officers with public officials. Existence of various manufacturing procceses, products, by-products toxic and otherwise, and profits. Unless you are a shareholder signed to non-disclosure and read into the program it's none of your business how much Exxon-Mobile made last year or how. Industrial complexes would merge slowly out of sight. Some would question what right anyone has to know what anyone else does. Half the internet would come down the next day. Whatever that would be; it would not be the open society.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Ain't no one going to turn me round.

 Over the past few years I've tried to get out of the business of writing posts about rock and roll musicians when they pass on. There's too many of them and I've liked too much of it. Every so often; though, you've got to make an exception.

  Last Wednesday Alex Chilton guitarist and singer with the band Big Star and the Box Tops before that died at age 59 Alex Chilton dies at 59; led influential Box Tops and Big Star bands - Days before he was to play a gig at SXSW in Austin SXSW: A Memorial for Alex Chilton at the Big Star Show - ArtsBeat Blog - The rest of the re-formed Big Star -- Jody Stephens with the two ex-Posies, John Auer and Ken Stringfellow, went on with the show joined by a set of guest singers and further original member Andy Hummel in a bittersweet tribute set SXSW honours Alex Chilton with memorial gig | Music | The SxSw gig was on the heels of a comprehensive box set Keep an eye on the sky (Musical CD, 2009) [] that came out on Rhino last summer and shows in London and New York.

 I always knew his song "the Letter" from the Box Tops, a staple of top 40 radio when I was younger and still in rotation with 60's formatted stations.  I began learning of Big Star material his subsequent band soon after arriving in college and getting involved with the student radio station [some Big Star background: Relix - Features - That '70s Cult Band: Big Star Remembered]. Playing the original of September Gurls reintroduced to people from the Bangles cover, and going on from there. I even saw the Bangles play their version. I bought Big Star's Third record recorded in late 1974 when the band was down to just Chilton and Jody Stevens, which was widely available in its mid 80's release, and I envied those who had no.1 Record and Radio City which weren't so much. There were even those at WMUC who had the Flies on Sherbet LP which was a strange and uneven record, even for Chilton. Some recorded performances of this material had Alex backed by members of the Soft Boys. The song "Hey! little Child" which was covered by Tommy Keene in 1984 dates from this period. Rowland Howard's band covered it in the late 1980's

 One of the sweet things about never owning the first two Big Star records is that those songs can still catch me up and floor me when I hear them now. These are not only songs like "September Gurls" and "Mod Lang" which I think of as being more well known, but also "Ballad of el Goodo" (from where this post title is drawn) "O my Soul","Get what you deserve", "Thirteen", and of course "What's going Ahn."

 I used to play the Tav Falco and Panther Burns record too, For some reason it was only recently that I put together that the Panther Burns half of that eponymous duo was Alex Chilton. Chris Stamey did a single "In the Summer Sun" with Alex Chilton 1977. I always figured that was an early db's song, but that band didn't form till the next year. Not only Stamey but most everyone in Mitch Easter's orbit reflected Chilton and Chris Bell's Big Star vibe to varying degrees. There was a brief period when Chilton seemed to have dropped off the map, A second wider release of the delayed third Big Star record, Sister Lovers, in the mid 1980's put him firmly back on the map.

 I saw Chilton play at the 9:30 club during the tour in support of High Priest a 1987 LP that not only featured a song about the Dali Lama, but also an improbable cover of "Volare". The Feudalist Tarts ep which had come out the year or so before was a stronger outing -- I always liked the song "Underclass", but the LP brought him out for a national tour of the indie band club circuit. The Replacements not only memorably wrote a song about Alex Chilton, but went down to Memphis and recorded a record at Ardent studios with Jim Dickinson Chilton's producer. With Chilton overdubbing some guitar parts. Back in 1979-80 Alex Chilton had produced the first Cramps LP in Memphis, recording at Phillips and mixing it down at Ardent.

 I don't recall he did any Big Star songs for that 9:30 club show. It seemed there was things he hadn't come to terms with then. The type of fame that he had claim to: respected working musician, rather than rock star. The type of songs he wrote and sang that suited him best - the early Big Star material against much of the latter stuff. A lot of this seemed to settle out by the 1990's when he formed a new version of Big Star with members of the Posies so he could play that material again. Surviving being flooded out of his house by Hurricane Katrina in the meantime. It seemed that recognition had finally come round for them.  Now it feels like a certain era in American rock and roll has closed out. Here's to remembering Alex Chilton now.

- - -

Addendum 27Mar10.  Looking over what I wrote, I decided I needed to add a further thought. Something that would speak towards what it was that made Alex Chilton and Big Star unique, their sine qua non. I think it was the difference between Big Star and the Box Tops. The Box Tops were a simple pop band, as typical now as then. A handful of kids tightly controlled by managers, labels, and the professional overseers put in the recording studio to complete an lp of pleasant and vaguely memorable inoffensiveness. The Box Tops didn't write their own songs. "The letter" was a fine song, but Chilton at age 16 when he sang it hadn't been anywhere long enough to want to get back that bad. And the song "Sweet Cream Ladies" ....whose perspective does that song reflect? Whatever.

 When Chilton joined up with Chris Bell and his band Icewater, one thing they had going for them is that they had been hanging around Ardent studios for a while. They knew how to use a studio, they knew how to record themselves. No one was needed to run interference on them. There was no one who was going to impose a "pop filter" on them. In 1972 they settled down to making a record that reflected their thoughts feelings and experience. A music not tied to a drab working prettiness or cultural pandering.  It was this sensibility that endured them to the DIY and indie kids of ten and twenty years later. There is a fine line of difference; though, between self realization and self indulgence. This is easier to spot when coming at the hands of an established act: indulging their egos after making a pile of money. It's as great a danger for those laboring in obscurity. testing the boundaries of their abilities and understanding.  Big Star threaded that line as well as any rock and roll band ever has.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

 A 28 Febrary 2010 article in the Washington Post commmenting on the flux of opinion on China There's a new Red Scare. But is China really so scary? - The worry and fear bordering on irrationality. The open admiration of China's order and efficiency.

 The Mufson Pomfret article kept its eyes on the facts and kept a ledger on the new China's pluses and minuses. A skeptical sympathy with China. The others not so much : in the links the Post article contains (and unusually the online version contains several external links) there is a certain abandonment of critical distance. It reads as a collection of Fan boys of decisiveness and schoolgirl crushes on authoritarianism. It is true those who accord the greatest capabilities to China are generally looking to China as a straw man. They use this to ask for greater power and greater aggressive posture, essentially they desire to become more like what they view as the more successful state. None of this detracts from the actual and considerable accomplishments of the Chinese in both culture and economy of the last several decades. My focus is really elsewhere, a reflection on the open society and its relation to a sustainable culture of human well-being.

 Generally this is a continuation of a previous post's line of thinking casting China as one of the new breed of hyper-successful start-Up Nations. Unencumbered economies having our lunch and eating it too. Then I was considering what might keep a ideological  authoritarian state from falling down the well of Lysenko-ism. I imagine as an interim solution China steers toward the practical side of authoritarianism. 

 Admiration of success oriented authoritarianism seems to stand some frankly many on their heads. China is a country organized to get things done they say to themselves. Those as unlikely as Lindsey Graham and Thomas Friedman among them. Though since the Tea Party wing named Sen. Graham as a mere "rino" (republican-in-name-only) I  can't tell those two apart. Through the looking glass they see a totalitarian industrial policy of unabashed corporatism, but not regulation. There is a great appeal in action. Movement and manufacture is the ideology of the modern state that is going places. Such men of action have nothing to fear from authoritarian rule. Their accumulation of wealth is protected, Their freedom paid up and licensed, if borrowed. As long as they remain useful and loyal. In modern China many see the enviable perfection of can-do America. a unitary one-party state committed to wealth and wealth holders, privatized (more or less - hidden at least) into the right hands, dismissive of regulation on industry or any thing, utilizing the power of the state to sweep aside obstacles, like rights of the non elite.

There is an enduring attraction of authoritarianism: Outside, the trains don't run on time so they say (Mussolini's apologists and the Gang of Four) Are there unifying elements to Authoritarianism? Marxism (Maoism) however now tempered by Confucism and capitalism? A pan-cultural availability of a fascism and other forms of police state despotism? Elements that make it more than just enviable, that make it emulatable? A will towards order and efficiency power as the only value.  I thought of Umberto Eco's essay Eternal Fascism written originally for the New York Review of Books in 1995; reprinted in different places since particularly effectively in Chris Hedges Book American fascists the Christian Right and the war on America. []. I spent my spring Break -- two delayed federal holidays, two unpaid furlough days -- reading this book written by Hedges, a former New York Times correspondent, who also wrote "War is a force that gives us meaning". Hedges prefaces the book with Eco's 14 elements before demonstrating the adaptability of ideological despotism, how the subset of the Christian Right, adhering to dominionist precepts is utterly fascist to its core. Ur-Fascism is entirely cross-cultural. It is an ideology of response to modern mass culture. It may be seen as existing in a set of closely related reactions that prize unity and supplied purpose over the unsettling freedom of autonomy and self determination. To take choice away and supply a series of straw antagonists internal and external is an enduring solution to feeling of powerlessness, uncertainty and contradiction.

 The incomplete rationality of modernism and bureaucratic government leaves holes in the social fabric. Years ago I read part of a book by Max Weber  The rational and social foundations of music. [] he drew a metaphor between modern societies and composed music (high brow music) for the purpose of demonstrating that any attempt to inflict rationality on music - through any arrangement of a scale, division of vibration and a system of harmonics built upon it. Or through any bureaucratic division of administration, contracts and a systems of representative government could never form a comprehensive fully realized seamless whole. It would always be necessary to close the gaps through instinct and art and iterated trial and error. Toleration and compassion. This; though, provides a opportunity for a subtly deceitful nostalgia, and call to lost purity to claim what was formerly held and that the right leaders could return for the price of unquestioned obedience. Fascism trades in nostalgia, towards black and white clarity where grey shades, ambivalence, doubt and questions are disparaged and disallowed.

 As a last point. Google is currently in talks with Chinese government  Google says it's in talks with China - Los Angeles Times. Trying to find a way to keep portions of it varied enterprise still online in the middle kingdom February set deficit record; Google says China feud may be resolved soon - For academic and tech China an internet indexer that will return  search results for the necessary web and not just some committee's preferred web, for Google a market of incomparable vastness, one that if they're not  Microsoft will be Microsoft plants Bing on Google-free Chinese Androids - The Register. They can be counted on to find some way to keep that train rolling on, and running on time. I expect to hear any day that Google now agrees to only hand up the heads of dissidents to Chinese state police authorities on melamine platters, rather than silver gold or porcelain platters as don't be evil gives way to don't not make money.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010
It came from Upsala

It is the middle again of the annual WFMU fundraising marathon WFMU Dot Org. This is when - to take a dry run through the story - WFMU the former campus radio station of Upsala college of New Jersey, late and laid to rest these past fifteen years, tries to raise the million or so dollars to perpetuate itself another year . The station is minded now by shards of the students or staff that was there when it ended, alumni and a vanguard of the like minded WFMU - Wikipedia.

At my job as a copy-cataloging clerk for the University of Maryland Libraries, I ocasionally will have reason to work over a box of materials sent over from one the broadcast archives we are associated with  National Public Broadcasting Archives or  The Library of American Broadcasting . These will be books that belonged to retiring radio professionals, books of retiring professors, and items published by the NAB, and other things they have gotten a hold of. Many of these items will have titles like "How to do Radio, How to do Morning Radio, How to develop a Morning Radio personality". Their appendices are filled with details about the proper format-clocks and day-parts, GV, MV, FV and recurrents. How many times you should run a promo [untill half your listeners have heard it three times]. Most of these books are written by people who are in their own way trying to be desperately earnest about it all. The end result is to make sure at the end of the day no glint of creativity  or spontaneity shows through the process. The greatest good is control, seamlessness and a perfect existence in the background.
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WFMU is not like that. They are free-format DJ programmed radio. Their knowledge of music, their segues, their dead air and provocatively awkward pauses. Real wing and a prayer radio (Wing and a Prayer is a song by Joseph Spence). It is active radio, engaging radio, Radio that can maintain a real dialogue with a musical communitity. The last bastion, and model of real radio.

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