Sunday, 22 July 2012


This guy, right here. He's got Eminem-like rhyme schemes and delivery, but with the sharp lyrics of Blue Scholars. Hopsin sounds like a guy who's spent years perfecting his craft only to find that mainstream rap is talentless and inauthentic, so he raps against the very genre he uses so well. Listen to this.

Friday, 20 July 2012


The ballot or the bullet, some freedom or some bullshit
Will we ever do it big, or keep just settling for little shit

We brag on having bread, but none of us are bakers

We all talk having greens, but none of us own acres

If none of us on acres, and none of us grow wheat
Then who will feed our people when our people need to eat

So it seems our people starve from lack of understanding

Cos all we seem to give them is some balling and some dancing

And some talking about our car and imaginary mansions

We should be indicted for bullshit we inciting

Hand the children death and pretend that it's exciting

Listen to this. The flow is pretty simple, but it's produced by the absolutely incredible El-P and the lyrics are amazing. 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Gallows Humour funny when one prisoner is telling it to another. It's commiseration, a way to cope with shared hardship. When the executioner is the one telling it, it's just cruelty. This is why jokes about some terrible things, like the general unfairness of the world, work: because we are all in Schopenhauer's words fellow-sufferers. Nuclear war, death, and aging all fall into the same category. When you belong to the group that is statistically far more likely to rape - not to mention the group that benefits from rape culture - telling rape jokes is not funny.

Look at it this way. Police brutality jokes work best when they're being told by members of the groups that suffer the most abuse (say, Dave Chappelle), but they work pretty well in general because most of us exist below the cops in the hierarchy of everyday power. If, on the other hand, a policeman is telling police brutality jokes...

At best it's grossly insensitive. At worst, it's a threat.

(h/t to the Pharyngula commentariat)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Police Motorcycle Boots

I generally don't post search terms that led here, but this one is priceless:

can you jump a fence wearing police motorcycle boots?

Unfortunately, I don't think I've answered that question on this blog. Sorry! But, thinking about it, you'd need either good upper body strength or a fence with really wide links. Motorcycle boots (although I don't know about the police model) wouldn't jam well into chicken wire. However, since the question read 'jump' not 'climb', you should be able to hurdle a low fence easily in police motorcycle boots, assuming you can build up sufficient speed in your run-up.

If you're running from motorcycle police on foot, make sure to pick a fence that's at least head-height - while their boots might not slow them down, motorcycle pants tend to be quite restrictive and hard to climb in.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Now We Are All Morlocks

Check out this review of HG Wells' novel The Time Machine. It's easy to romanticize books we read when we were young or books that defined a genre, and The Time Machine was both of those. The review doesn't slam it, but it doesn't pull any punches either - especially when the Time Traveller himself is concerned.

"I really like the concepts of the future that are explored, but by being presented from the perspective of the world’s most casual scientist, we see very little of how the new societies actually worked. At one point in the book I did question how this person managed to create a Time Machine considering nearly every problem they face is one born of their own stupidity."

Read more here.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Capitalism And You

I've written a little, mostly whimsical article about McDonald's restaurants in Melbourne. Given that it touches on capitalism, I figured it might be of some interest to you radical types.

If 'Coca-Cola' is the most recognised word in the world, then McDonald's golden arches would have to be the most recognized symbol. There are McDonald's restaurants in one hundred and nineteen countries, and economist Thomas Friedman once famously said that no country with a McDonald's has ever gone to war with one another.

He was wrong, of course – take the US invasion of Panama, or the 2006 Lebanon War – but McDonald's has nonetheless gained a certain currency among capitalist, free-market types. Even in liberal Melbourne, where 'capitalism' is a dirty word, street corners throughout the CBD blossom with fibreglass-fronted, golden-arched fast food restaurants.

The rest of the article is here.

Monday, 9 July 2012

We've Got A Date!

The Mountain Goats' new album, Transcendental Youth, finally has a release date: October 2. The few songs I've heard live (Diaz Brothers, White Cedar, Counterfeit Florida Plates) have been incredible. It feels so good to be excited about a new Mountain Goats album - All Eternals Deck and The Life of the World to Come were good albums, but they didn't really grab me. I hope this one does.

In celebration, here's a live video of Diaz Brothers, a piano-heavy, energetic song inspired by a throwaway line in Scarface.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Snow White And The Huntsman

...was arguably the worst piece of film I have ever seen, bar none. I'm talking about sheer incompetence on the director's part, on the writer's part, and on the actors' parts. It managed to stretch over more than two hours while delivering nothing in the way of pace - seriously, the setup was a few minutes of narrated exposition and the plot stopped before anything like an actual ending. Excellent actors like Charlize Theron were reduced to cheesy video game villain territory: screaming an unconvincing 'You cannot defeat me!' while literally on fire. Kristen Stewart was given barely any lines at all, preferring to stare vacantly at the other characters and scenery.

Also, I suspect that Kristen Stewart is contractually obligated to have two competing love interests in every movie she's in: one rebellious bad boy, one baby-faced good guy. Chris Hemsworth was entertaining, at least, and a great deal more convincing than any of the other actors. 

Let's not forget the dwarves! The dwarves felt like they were shoehorned in at the last moment, probably because they were. They fell on the good-magic end of the Snow White and the Huntsman world, with Rowena's mirror magic on the other end. The mirror magic was kind of cool in a special-effects way, but it committed the cardinal sin of fantasy magic systems: inconsistency. Vagueness is fine - we don't know the nature or origin of the Mirror itself, or of the blood-magic thing - but when a rule is explicitly stated and then immediately broken, with no explanation, the whole thing falls through. We can't have Rowena claiming that her powers don't work in the dark forest and then, in the very next scene, see her brother exercise those very same powers in the forest with no problem at all. It's unconvincing, and worse, it's lazy.

These are minor criticisms, though, and pale into insignificance before the general badness of each line and of each line's delivery. My theory is that the director was shooting for a cartoonish, exaggerated fairy-tale mood, and succeeded. Like a fairy tale, we are told, not shown the major plot elements. Everything is black and white, everything is transparent. On the other hand, the director was also shooting for a gritty, realistic mood. People die. The film is uniformly serious. These two things (cartoon fantasy and gritty realism) do not work well together! Let me repeat: cartoon fantasy and gritty realism do not work well together. Or not, at least, when the film takes itself as seriously as this.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Jumping Fences

 When I was in high school there was a fence that ran around the entire outside area. It was about chest-high for most students, and covered in chicken wire, so all but the most unfit could climb it easily. A small number of students jumped over and back in every break, choosing to get lunch from a nearby cafe rather than the school cafeteria. Most people didn't, though.

I've been thinking a lot about the schooling system recently - thanks in no small part to Ivan's wonderful series of teaching posts - and what is especially interesting is how empty of real physical authority schools are. Teachers, now more than ever, are restricted with how they can manhandle children, and many parents are on the alert for physical and other abuse. Which is a good thing! But what it means is that teachers are given a strange task: to control and discipline students without any recourse to physical power. Disrespect a cop, and he can arrest or harass you (if not legally, then practically) but disrespect a teacher, and he can - what, yell at you? Send you to a more powerful teacher to yell at you? There's no credible threat of violence to back up the teacher's authority - and yet many teachers somehow manage to control their students.

The fence that surrounded my high school was easily climbable, but fences are never just fences. They're symbols of power, little signs that say: "you will be punished if you cross this boundary". If you fear the associated punishment, even a knee-high fence is impassable - if you don't, you can scale a fence that's twice your height. Even though the punishment was negligible in practice (a stern talking-to or an hour sitting in detention), almost everybody internalized the idea of fence-as-boundary very quickly.

It's not simply the fear of getting caught, either. When you are constantly surrounded by Authority, you develop (as I did) a little teacher in your head, or what the great philosopher Terry Pratchett calls a "policeman in your skull"*. Foucault wrote about the disciplinary powers of the 'panopticon', a prison where each prisoner is under constant observation. To be watched, without knowing exactly when or how, is to be always looking over your own shoulder. In the end, you police yourself; you fall victim to the great illusion that associates Authority with an all-powerful God. You become totally incapable of accurately assessing the actual power that authority figures - teachers, police, etc - hold over you. Even in situations where you know you can jump the fence and get away with it, you don't; or you do so with extreme agitation.

This is how you create and maintain authority over a huge group of people: you catch them young, you monitor them all the time, and you punish the extremely disobedient. It only takes minimal use of force to get people to police themselves - if most of them are already doing it. If you ate your lunch at the back of the oval, where more people jumped the fence, a strange thing happened. You saw people go over, and come back, without anything happening to them. You saw people break the rules and not get punished. You learned that you didn't have to police yourself, and that you could buy or eat your lunch wherever you liked. You broke a part - a very small part - of your conditioning.

The food at the cafeteria wasn't so bad. But food that you buy yourself, at a place you choose, tastes so much better.


* He put it much better than me, in Thud:
"Coppers stayed alive by trickery. That's how it worked. You had your Watch Houses with the big blue lights outside, and you made certain there were always burly watchmen visible in the big public places, and you swanked around like you owned the place. But you didn't own it. It was all smoke and mirrors. You magicked a little policeman into everyone's head. You relied on people giving in, knowing the rules. But in truth a hundred well-armed people could wipe out the Watch, if they knew what they were doing. Once some madman finds out that a copper taken unawares dies just like anyone else, the spell is broken."

Sunday, 1 July 2012

So Long Mom

Here's a little Tom Lehrer to tide you over:

While we're attacking frontally, watch Brink-er-ly and Hunt-er-ly describing contrapuntally the cities we have lost. What excellent rhyme echoes!