Monthly Archives: January 2010

Just Kids – Patti Smith (2010)

A few nights ago I made it to Patti’s appearance at the Bagdad Theater here in Portland, for the release of her memoir ‘Just Kids’, and this morning I finished the book.  It’s a good one.  Centered on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she met in 1967, it tells of their bohemian artsy ways in New York City in the late sixties and early seventies.  Perhaps it’s to be expected, but in those times neither of them had yet really hit on what would turn out to be their strongest talents.  Patti was doing poetry and drawing, while working at a bookstore, and Robert was doing jewelry and sculptures made from bric-a-brac found and treasured (he resisted photography for a long time, only in part because it was expensive).  The book really does put you there with them, in an NYC that doesn’t exist anymore.

Here’s the word from Tom Carson’s NYTBR review:

“Just Kids” is the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s that any alumnus has committed to print. The tone is at once flinty and hilarious, which figures: she’s always been both tough and funny, two real saving graces in an artist this prone to excess. What’s sure to make her account a cornucopia for cultural historians, however, is that the atmosphere, personalities and mores of the time are so astutely observed.

Constant Battles – Steven A. LeBlanc (2003)

Following up on a strong recommendation in Stewart Brand’s recent book, I picked up and read Steven LeBlanc’s Constant Battles from 2003.  LeBlanc is an archaeologist, and his book is about his thesis that in fact there really never was a time of humans living in some sort of ecological balance with nature.  Instead he posits that whenever people started to overrun their resources, there was a strong tendency to warfare, and he claims archaeological evidence of this in finds around the world.

LeBlanc describes different types of warfare that seem to be found in different types of societies – from hunter/gatherer tribes to more complex agricultural groups and states.  While agriculture often had the effect of increasing the resource base, that tends to lead to population rise, and back again to resource constraints.  He does not believe that humans are in some way genetically programmed for warfare, that it’s more of a last resort in desperate circumstances (i.e. when resources are plentiful there seems to be less tension and less reason to fight).

In our modern world, while wars are unfortunately common, the actual numbers of people killed in them is quite a bit less than what he has found from the remains of tribal societies, where as many as 25% of males could die as a result of ongoing warfare.

The book itself is pretty short and not completely compelling reading, but the ideas here are quite interesting.

Vampire Weekend & Glen Ridge

I saw in a recent New Yorker article that Ezra Koenig, lead singer of the band Vampire Weekend, is a graduate of my high school in Glen Ridge, NJ. I liked their first record, and the new one, Contra, seems to be getting very good reviews, such as this one at Pitchfork.  Well done!

The Good News from Tyler Cowen

In his NYT Economic View piece today, economist Tyler Cowen notes the good news:

It may not feel that way right now, but the last 10 years may go down in world history as a big success. That idea may be hard to accept in the United States. After all, it was the decade of 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the financial crisis, all dramatic and painful events. But in economic terms, at least, the decade was a remarkably good one for many people around the globe.

He notes the economic progress made in many areas of the world.  He acknowledges the somewhat painful decade for Americans, but reminds us of some upsides:

Nonetheless, despite the positive news in much of the world, it’s questionable whether the decade as a whole has been good for Americans, economically speaking. Median wages have not risen much, if at all, and the costs of the financial crisis and irresponsible fiscal policies have become increasingly obvious. Those facts support a pessimistic interpretation.

TO put it bluntly, if the United States takes one step back and the rest of the world takes two steps forward, even in purely selfish terms we should consider accepting the trade-off, if only for the longer run. Most of us gain from the wealth and creativity of other countries, even if we can’t always feel like the top dog.

On Risk & Security

I like and agree with Bruce Schneier’s thinking here (when asked about whether a successful plane attack is inevitable in this Atlantic interview):

The fact that we even ask this question illustrates something fundamentally wrong with how our society deals with risk.  Of course 100% security is impossible; it has always been impossible and always will be.  We’ll never get the murder, burglary, or terrorism rate down to zero; 42,000 people will die each year in car crashes in the U.S. for the foreseeable future; life itself will always include risk.  But that’s okay.  Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy our country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage.

I want President Obama to get on national television and project indomitability. I want him to dial back the hyperbole, and remind us that our society can’t be terrorized. I want him to roll back all the fear-based post-9/11 security measures.  We’d do much better by leveraging the inherent strengths of our modern democracies and the natural advantages we have over the terrorists: our adaptability and survivability, our international network of laws and law enforcement, and the freedoms and liberties that make our society so enviable. The way we live is open enough to make terrorists rare; we are observant enough to prevent most of the terrorist plots that exist, and indomitable enough to survive the even fewer terrorist plots that actually succeed. We don’t need to pretend otherwise.

Happy New Year 2010!

Last night I made it to the Doug Fir, for the highly anticipated NYE set by Quasi playing The Who.  That’s a high bar, and the band did a great job!  With Janet ‘Keith Moon’ Weiss on drums, Joanna Bolme on The Ox’s bass, and Sam Coomes in orange Townshend jumpsuit on guitar, the opened at around 11:30pm with “Substitute” and roared into the new year.

Here’s the set as I remember it (order’s probably a bit off and I may have missed a few):

  • Substitute
  • I Can See for Miles
  • Pictures of Lily
  • Boris the Spider
  • The Kids are Alright
  • a bit of a jam leading up to the midnight hour… and then in 2010:
  • My Generation – guest male vocal
  • Long Live Rock – guest male vocal
  • Young Man Blues – guest vocal from Corin Tucker?
  • Armenia City in the Sky
  • Happy Jack
  • The Seeker
  • Can’t Explain
  • Won’t Get Fooled Again
  • Encore: Heaven and Hell

This was great fun!  Thanks to Quasi for making it happen.  I’ll take it as a good sign for 2010.