Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

No Preamble: Eating Animals

February 29, 2016

Eating-Animals

I have struggled with the ethical dimensions of eating animals for most of my life. It first came to my attention when my high school crush, Katie Loughran, shared PETA’s “Meet Your Meat” video. I was appalled, like most who see the short (horror) film. Thus followed nine months of capricious veganism, and then many years of relapse. Even yesterday, my boss cooked up turkey chili in the breakroom and brought me a bowl: I ate it with relish, as he is a fantastic chef. But in the back of my mind lurks the ever-growing concern: The question of what kind a person I am in eating animals.

I write this brief reflective essay regarding a book I just finished, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. Speechless, or rather, so full of words I can’t contain them, I write this rambling account of the ways in which his book moved me; personally, socially, ethically, etc. the depth of Safran Foer’s argument cuts right through me. Personally, I’ve acted via the “conscientious inconsistency” Foer evokes regarding vegetarianism. Socially, I’ve found myself accepting meat from my manager/coworkers because they’re proud of their cooking and want me to share in their delight. As Safran Foer notes, it’s often more rude to turn away the meat than it is to stick to my principles. Ethically, I vacillate between thinking (1) it’s wrong to kill animals, and (2) it’s not inherently wrong to kill animals for consumption, but it is obviously wrong to kill animals in the manner of the factory farming system; this book does wonders to complicate that picture even further, as the author repeatedly suggests that there is indeed genuine ambiguity about killing for necessity. The list goes on ad nauseum, but Foer’s mantra that “Stories about food are stories about us” rings true for my own life.

The brief section titled “Battery Cage,” early on in the book, startled me to my core. Until reading that meager little page, I surprisingly hadn’t performed the thought experiment of being, myself, an animal confined to a cage for slaughter. The horror had gripped me in the studium (intellectual life), but never heretofore in the punctum (emotional life). The way Safran Foer turns the second person into a reinvisioning of the hierarchy between humans and animals is unnerving, to say the least. This is the first motivator for my now vegetarian/vegan-leaning ethical stance (if not yet in practice).

The section titled “Environmentalism” also shook my foundations, in the sense that my higher education is aimed towards Applied Environmental Ethics. In the light of his analysis, I must conclude that being a “casual omnivore,” as Foer puts it, is environmentally inexcusable (again, that difference between the studium and the punctum). It’s one thing to read about the environmental degradation resulting from our agricultural practices and, implicitly, my food choices. It’s another thing to see it phrased so bluntly: “omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gases that vegans do.” I don’t want to say something cheesy and (temporally) insincere but, in reading this book, my turbulence about the question of eating animals was absolutely slaughtered (pardon the pun). I can intellectually commit to reducing my meat intake–perhaps to zero–but habitually retraining myself and, in some cases, going out of my way and others’ to behaviorally commit, is another matter.

And, though Safran Foer doesn’t outright name it, his provocation for a “democratic” farm system reminds me much of what I’ve explored this semester regarding Food Sovereignty. I hadn’t heretofore transmogrified that movement into political terms (surprising considering how often I bloviate about American politics). To do so would require replacing “corporate” concerns with “civic” ones and, thus, extremely effort exerting. But, as with the work of John Dewey regarding the philosophy of education, redirecting the means and aim of any system towards democracy seems–to me at least–a noble, fruitful, optimistic endeavour.

I only maintain one worry regarding Safran Foer’s compelling narrative/argument: I find it interesting–if not frustrating–that Safran Foer neglects to mention artificially grown meat. For those unfamiliar, we are now on the cusp of scaling up meat tissue, grown without any animal to raise or kill. If our concern is, as Safran Foer writes, “all of the time […] between cruelty and ecological destruction, and ceasing to eat animals,” then I wonder how our concern would change regarding this “animal-less” (for lack of a better term) meat. That is, if we eliminate the suffering and killing of animals, but still eat “meat,” do we still have an ethical travesty on our hands? The only foreseeable objection to this innovation would be akin to arguments against homosexuality, one of squeamishness: “That makes me feel uncomfortable/That is unnatural, thus, wrong.” If this harmless new method of growing meat becomes scaled in the way the innovating company wants it to be, then how does Safran Foer’s argument shift?

(Link to a podcast in which “Meat Without Misery” is discussed at length: https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/meat-without-murder)

In any case, I highly recommend this book, Eating Animals, to all. It’s the kind of book I had to read in one sitting, the kind of book that is a perfect storm of the personal, social, and the ethical. Give it a read, and see where you stand in regards to the question of eating animals.

I’ll tempt you with this brief excerpt: “We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?

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Reviving a Conscientious Conservatism

December 28, 2015

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In regards to Christopher DeMuth’s piece in Imprimis, titled “Reviving a Constitutional Congress,” I propose the following analysis and evaluation. I find this brief essay to be wrong in many ways, but not in its reasoning. I write a lot from an admittedly “liberal” point of view, so I am attending to a conservative writer who makes some good points, for a change. I shall give no summary, rather, I will assume my reader to be one who has read his article.

DeMuth makes some assumptions at the top of this piece regarding the nature of preference for Americans: We have a “distrust of power,” and a “taste for competition.” I squint at both of these assumptions, because I can think of everyday examples where we worship power–or at least covet it–and cases where we wish competition would evaporate–for selfish reasons. I don’t think these two qualities are generalizable like DeMuth wants them to be.

He writes that “A well-led government can present, at least for a time, a unified, dignified, self-confident public face.” I circled “well-led” here because, at the present, virtually none of our congressional representatives have any integrity. They are often bought-and-paid-for clowns in suits, vomiting vacuous rhetoric. Despite this, I, personally, have faith in the ability a “well-led” government can play. DeMuth, on the other hand, seems to have a suspicion of government entirely on principle.

I agree with him that we need to increase the visibility of political competition. In fact, this is one of my gripes with the fact that most Americans only vote once every four years. When I voted for Mayor this past year, there was virtually no depth, substance, or difference between the two candidates for office. One had an R, one had a D. If government is to have the optimistic role I wish it to play, then DeMuth is absolutely correct that we need to “expose” competition for all to see.

Furthermore, I think DeMuth is correct in that “checks and balances are important means of policing the corruption and abuse that arise whenever power is monopolized.” Of all politicians, I think Bernie Sanders pays most lip service to this issue, particularly in his incessant perseverations on the urgency with which we need to overturn the disastrous Citizens United supreme court case (allowing unlimited lobbying and money in politics). Unlike DeMuth, my view is that money in politics is what has effaced the checks and balances system. Power is now monopolized by the top 1%–I really believe this–and, thus, our political system has been transmogrified into an oligarchy. We can bicker across the political aisle all we want, but until that legislative embarrassment is rectified, nothing truly integrous will follow.

I diverge again with DeMuth’s assumptive tendencies when he asserts that Americans especially care about “limited government” and “humble leaders.” Again, obvious counterexamples arise: Limited government translates to lower taxes, a concern of the Republicans. But a single-payer healthcare system, for example, run by the government is extremely more cost-effective than the current mayhem we have (and had before Obamacare). Take the UK, for instance; they pay 33% of what we pay and report better health outcomes. Privatizing healthcare is, ethically and economically, as bad an idea as privatizing police officers, to my mind. DeMuth’s second assumption, here, is that we praise humility in our leaders. If this were true, we would not see Tuesday night’s GOP debate full of war cries and threats to “carpet bomb ISIS…to see if sand can glow” (Ted Cruz). Donald Trump would not be dominating the presidential field and the news media if we loved “humble leaders,” as DeMuth assumes. Thus, I think we have reason to ditch the generalizability of his claims, once again.

I agree that we are losing a balance of power. But, unlike DeMuth, I think civil liberties are only exercisable insofar that economic security is achieved. By that, I mean retaining jobs in America with higher wages, stronger unions, and pay grades reflective of production-progress. That being said, we are the richest nation in the history of the world for a reason: We can outsource labor for the jobs we don’t want to do. I don’t know how to solve this seemingly aporetic economic issue, but I don’t think concentrating the top 90% of wealth in the top 1% of earners–who mostly either inherit it or just move it around to make more money–is a good idea.

I’ll assent to DeMuth’s criticisms of the “executive usurpations” of President Obama. Though I agree with the main thrust of the Affordable Care Act, it is cumbersome and not Obama’s place to be installing. I would agree to this much, but again I am coming from the position of considering healthcare to be a fundamental human right, as FDR once did. I look back to the New Deal with relish. That was the path I wish America was still treading.

DeMuth’s distrust in government betrays ignorance of the significant work the EPA and OSHA are doing in American Society. They are not perfect, but they are necessary. I would not agree with his snide criticisms that these organizations are not involved in “real policy.”

I agree that we are in an era of congressional “self-enfeeblement” in which nothing is getting done. I regularly watch C-SPAN’s live coverage of various voting decisions and debates in congress, which reveal the incredibly capricious arbitration and clunky system we have. Instilling seniority in Congress is an interesting proposal that DeMuth makes, but I maintain my suspicions. We have seen, too often, threats of government shutdown over petty, fatuously misguided issues (Planned Parenthood comes to mind, which is an issue in which DeMuth is obviously ignorant).

A vast number of congressional representatives run unopposed and, thus, remain in office, largely because most people don’t even know when to vote. Most Americans can’t name their home state’s own representatives. That is a scary reality. Not only are our politicians bought out, they actively gerrymander voting districts and precincts, insulting democracy. At every turn, politicians make it harder and harder for democracy to be enacted. I consider myself to be Independent or, more specifically, a classical liberal/libertarian. It is an outrage that we have become a two-party system in which smarmy slimeballs such as Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz, are seriously being considered for office. As DeMuth is pointing out, this is a fundamental, across-the-aisle issue.

Given this, I think the Senate has no role in regulating the internet, for example, nor even slightly veering from the constitution to justify their lobbyists’ ends. I think, like DeMuth, I am a civil liberties fundamentalist–a constitutional absolutist. If you throw away basic rights when they’re inconvenient, then you never really believed in them. That being said, I think DeMuth is wrong in arguing that the Internet is something we should have regulatory policy over. If our politicians were integrous, virtuous, and wise, I might change my mind; but, in the pockets of big business, I don’t trust them with my freedom of expression on the Internet.

When DeMuth criticized the admittedly abysmal approval rating of Obama (low 40s), I think he was unwise to ignore the fact that Bush, for instance, had an even lower approval rating (low 30s). Both parties are disappointing the majority of everyday Americans. But the heavy-handedness in which DeMuth uniquely besmirches Obama is hard to swallow.

 

The Five Step Plan:

  1. Congress retrieve its delegated powers, subjecting them to annual appropriations.
  2. Congress should exercise its appropriations power.
  3. Congress should relearn the art of legislating
  4. Congress should reconstruct an internal policymaking hierarchy
  5. The Senate should cut back to near abolition the filibuster and the hold.

 

1) I think my digressions above adequately address this point. Cure corruption, fix the news media, and then we’ll talk. Until then, this only treats the symptoms, not the illness.

2) Agreed.

3) Agreed.

4) I am suspicious of this premise, but I will grant that, if DeMuth’s proposal were to be implemented, we need to reestablish “devotion to broad political principles…and skill at articulation, debate, and the arts of legislative negotiation.” There, I could not agree more. We have lost democracy in this country precisely because of people’s unwillingness to be vigilant in the democratization and problematization of societal issues and structures. It is now socially acceptable to be politically uninformed and apathetic. One does not breach the topics of politics, sex, and religion, at the dinner table. I think this is unfortunate; they are cavernous topics. Given this, a true democracy would not need representatives and gradations of hierarchy. A truly democratic society would have legislators who simply carried out the wishes of the people. We somehow have abandoned the conversation and left it up to the echo-chamber of congress. That is a shame, to my mind. Thus, I don’t know if a “reconstruction” is what is needed, so much as a revitalization of Critical Pedagogy in public education, and a reinvigoration of political philosophizing among the general public.

5) The filibuster is something I don’t know enough about to claim anything authoritatively. I have seen a few filibusters–some long ones, I might add–and they are sometimes ridiculous. Sometimes they are important and dense with data, however. I’d have to read more into the filibuster to say more. But I agree with DeMuth that “government growth [has been reduced to] executive lawmaking, punctuated by spasms of legislation.”

 

Funnily enough, DeMuth calls attention to the criticism I would offer his piece, which is that our government functions so poorly precisely because of “extreme partisanship and Republican disarray.” But he tries to defend conservatism from a historical lens, which I think isn’t reasonable to add to his argument: our government structure is inherited by a long line of tradition dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, etc. That’s a red herring if I’ve ever seen one; not to mention the fact that the Greeks would not recognize our government as “democracy.” It has evolved quite a bit from 2,500 years ago.

I think the importance of secular, peaceable, legitimate, representative government, reflexive to all citizens, is far too understated in DeMuth’s piece. He resists the merits of compromise, which, fairly, give neither party what they truly want. I have more faith in the good nature of compromise.

There is indeed a power imbalance between “identity over locality, rationalism over representation, and decision over deliberation.” I think this goes back to education, again. Politicians are appealing to everyone, including the least educated, most credulous of us all. That is a little scary when stepping back from our place in society. I try to fact check every claim made by a political candidate. The failure to both politically and morally triage issues is egregious in America and, thus, the problems DeMuth is illuminating arise. I would object to his piece on principle: There is a reason European socialist countries report happier lives; I am not so arrogant as to disavow something because of the “infallibility of democracy and capitalism,” echoing Cold War propaganda and red scares.

I think the fundamental disagreement I’d have with DeMuth’s argument is that it is one from tradition: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I deplore all insipid, lazy deference to something because of tradition alone. Tradition is the mechanism through which Progress is shackled. We, in our society, are terrified of being wrong–it’s embarrassing and leaves us vulnerable–but making decisions, especially political and ideological ones, based on fear, is an awful idea.

But, this being said, DeMuth also is advocating for a “classically liberal” government, which I am, in some sense, in favor of. I am currently reading John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” which is a foundational philosophical-political text for classical liberalism and libertarianism. I find myself agreeing far more with Mill than with DeMuth. But, I don’t think DeMuth is coming from an unfair place or making a bad argument. I happen to have different assumptions than him about the role of government, but I think we are both trying with each breath to ensure democracy and liberty.

 

Essays from the Far East: Dao de Jing

June 5, 2015

Dao de Jing – Except from Chapter 2: “As soon as everyone in the world knows that the beautiful are beautiful, / There is already ugliness. / As soon as everyone knows the able, / There is ineptness. // Determinacy and indeterminacy give rise to each other, / Difficult and easy complement each other, / Long and short set each other off, / High and low complete each other, / Refined notes and raw sounds harmonize with each other, / And before and after lend sequence to each other— / This is really how it all works.”

This passage from the Dao de Jing exemplifies the function of making distinctions, that is, things immediately and inescapably implicate their opposites. For example, by calling something “beautiful,” there comes to light the things that aren’t beautiful—or, as this passage labels, things that are “ugly.” This, perhaps, is clarified further by the distinction between “light” and “darkness.” Light has no significance without knowing there is dark, and vice versa. That is, we couldn’t identify that we were living in darkness until the first light revealed itself in contrast. As the commentary on this passage notes, “dividing up the world descriptively and prescriptively generates correlative categories that invariably entail themselves and their antinomies.” In other words, categories create further categories. This passage from the Dao de Jing makes this kind of logic explicit, which I find myself really agreeing with philosophically, and noticing in the landscape of contemporary China.

China is a place that seems to really resist classification in a way that I can’t say applies to any other place I’ve travelled to. This country has such a rich history, which largely colors the way people here and outside of China conceive of this country, and yet, China is at the forefront of modernity, city life, and innovation. Essentially, it both breaks and embraces its own categories. China both reveres TCM—an ancient practice—and Western medicine—a much more recent development. The split in development between the Chinese people is somewhere between the nineteenth century and the twenty-first century, and pretty much nowhere in between. I read this passage from the Dao de Jing to very vividly illustrate this weird blurring-of-the-lines in Chinese culture today. China manages to both fulfill many of its stereotypes and, simultaneously, resists them.

Though our travels have revealed how not every Chinese person is a Daoist, there is certainly a confluence of religious/philosophical ideas percolating the modern Chinese way of life, which, in large part, comes from Daoism and similar sources. We see Yin and Yang permeating the landscape, not only symbolically, but visually and socially. For example, there is a balance between nature and city—especially the blend between forest and temple in Daoist religious sites—and there is a balance between the kinds of interactions people have with each other and the world. That is, very few people that I have encountered in China really exclude religious thought from their lives, yet, those who consider themselves “religious” seem to be few and far in between—especially in light of our ethnographic survey. The Chinese people aren’t afraid to take Daoist ideas, Confucian principles, and Buddhist metaphysics, for example, and blend them together. In other words, there is a balance in the way people in China look at the world; there is very little evidence of the “exclusive” Western way of commonly thinking about religion and philosophy, as most evident in monotheisms or analytic philosophy. Much of Eastern thought that I have encountered takes a gamut of sources into account in a really encompassing way that I haven’t seen often in the West. Surely, the Dao de Jing isn’t explicitly pointing this balance out, but I can certainly map this passage onto the modern cultural landscape of China.

This passage also mentions how “High and low complement each other,” which I take very metaphorically. The philosopher, Alan Watts, in his The Book, explains how trying to conceive of life without death is kind trying to keep the mountains and get rid of the valleys. In the Dao de Jing, I read this excerpt to apply broadly to life, that you can’t enjoy the “highs” without the “lows.” I’ve noticed in our travels across China that we’ve seen some really depressing sort of places and people, and I’ve been to places that our tour guide, Jack Dragon, would call “four star.” Each of them respectively don’t really retain their full potential without experiencing the other. In other words, if this trip was nothing but brilliantly furnished hotels and avoided poverty at all possible opportunities, I wouldn’t have a perspective on what China really is. Conversely, I wouldn’t take those “four star” places into such appreciation without trudging through the more saddening and frustrating parts. It sounds overly idealistic to pontificate about the way someone should experience China, but I genuinely think that the Dao de Jing is pointing out something that needs to be remembered, recited, and repeated in everyday life: That you can’t have one without the other.

No Preamble: Never Shout Never “Recycled Youth” (Volume 1) Review

March 2, 2015

This album is part one of a three-part set of releases. I write this on the eve of the record’s release. Follow this link to tune in alongside my commentary.

On the Brightside: Harking back to the animated music video several years back, its hard to swallow this rendition of the previously chipper tune. There isn’t much to complain about in regards to this track aside from the fact that the original version exists. And, at the risk of sounding overly nostalgic, there is just a disconnect between the timbre of Christopher Drew’s vocals and the tone of the instrumentation (most notably the violin). I enjoy the evolution of NSN but I’d argue this intro to be the weakest track on this record. Yet, this assessment is not a barrier-to-entry for most other tracks on Recycled Youth. 6/10

Sacreligious: I didn’t expect much from this track; this song always reeked of semi-commitment. In re-recording this, the band bears down on the melody and adds previously-nonexistent depth to an already familiar track. This song’s structure flows more openly in Recycled Youth. The occasional guitar pauses, the choir-esque floating harmonies, and the picking pattern across the chord progressions all contribute to a much more palatable version than the original. Of course, I don’t condemn the original. But if we’re picking between the original and the revision (?), the recycled version fares better. 7/10

Love is our Weapon: Track 3 is a genuine transition between the original and RY, unlike many others on here. Great flow. Good alterations. It feels organic. Drew’s vocals are at their best in conjunction with other harmonies–Again, Drew’s altered singing style has its weak elements. This song’s theme and instrumental march almost demand the harmonies/layers. 8/10

Black Hole/Liar Liar:  If I remember correctly, this came as a B-side on the Summer EP and I wouldn’t have expected this (great) song to make it onto this album. That aside, I couldn’t be happier that it did. The original will always maintain a special place in my music library, but this recycled version just feels right. The surf-guitar tones really chill down the song, and the light kick drum spruces up the lack of high energy. Didn’t expect Drew to hit the high notes, but he rocked it out quite splendidly. The guitar solo and light chorus at the end really wrapped it up nicely. 10/10

Robot: This track is nothing short of the conclusion to a musical. It feels less angsty than the original, which has its strengths and weaknesses. With just a touch more of piano (lead vs. rhythm), I think this recycled version would be impenetrable. Amazing bridge and instrumental. In fact, I almost wish the bridge/instrumental ended the song. Other than for the sake of mirroring the original, the final chorus serves no genuine purpose. Near miss with this track. It was almost amazing, but not quite. 8/10

Here Goes Nothing: Thinking back, I only now realize that this is the third version of this song I now own. There was the myspace demo in 2007(?), followed by the Yippee EP rerecording. For whatever reason, the older tracks seem to translate much better into these new versions. As I’ve noted, Drew’s voice and singing style have altered considerably in the intermediary period between the original and recycled version. I have never met a NSN fan who doesn’t point to the Yippee EP as NSN’s golden age (and I have to say its hard to disagree, despite loving each succeeding release). There is something trance-y going on in this, perhaps because the kick/hi-hat placements sound like something straight out of Fruity Loops. Definitely a highlight track on this record. 10/10

Sweet Perfection: Again, what a great rendition. If it weren’t for the fact that I already loved the original version, this might have sold me. Luckily the amazing harmonicas were kept, accented with a little more vibe than the original. The peppered surf-guitar sounds like something that would appear in the Hawaii special of The Brady Bunch. The chorus harmonies in this version really buttress the otherwise meandering tone of this track. Great, silly ending. 9/10

Trance-Like Getaway: These final two tracks had more to live up to than the other seven combined. Off the bat, the whistling and harmonica so wonders to set the stage. I’m a little disappointed at the lack of overpowering Time Travel-esque harmonies; a lot of the vocal layers have been cut out. In a way, I can see how this would have (more or less) been the original growth of this song. There is something more authentic about the way this song progresses than the original. Yet, the bridge fizzles out in a way that the original completely succeeded in accomplishing. There is a feeling of release and relief at the end of the cyclical buildup and, in this version, that aspect is lost. 7/10

Lost at Sea: Time Travel holds a place in my heart that is unmatched by very few records. This is the definitive song off that record, in my mind, and, that being said, I will critique from a position of assuming you understand that I love this song. The “recycled” version begins in a way that is so great that the remainder of the song nearly fails to accomplish that same level of emotion. The harmonies are mixed in a way that feels fresh, open, and independent of the rest of this song. The verses just do nothing to bolster the impact of the choruses. There needs to be more than one looping acoustic guitar for such a heavy-handed track as this. And then, what? A couple plucks on the acoustic just end the song (and the record)? Hmm. Hard not to furrow my brow at this lackluster rendition. 8/10

Overall: 73/90. This record has its strengths across the board. I’ve never seen an artist go down this route of reinterpreting, “recycling,” one’s past recordings. It’s both a treat for fans and an opportunity to bring consonance to the ever-evolving style of music NSN produces. While some of these songs are bogged down by comparison, this album stands quite well on its own. I highly anticipate volumes two and three in the near future.

Hatred & Love: The Cultural Politics of Emotion

February 25, 2015

I am generally not a fan of sociology, anthropology, psychology, and similar forms of “soft” science. I am certainly not against their existence–they can be useful–but I also see the problematic elements of such disciplines. That aside, I am reading Sara Ahmed’s book The Cultural Politics of Emotion. It is saturated with these sorts of analytics, drawing on the usual suspects: Marx, Freud, and the like. For those of you who have not read this book, I do recommend it. It’s clearly written and develops in a way that I, as a philosopher, don’t furrow my brow at too much.

Ahmed’s second chapter in this book is devoted to “The Organisation of Hate.” She draws a distinction between the way love and hate manifest in ourselves, and how, “Because we love, we hate, and this hate is what brings us together.” (43). I’m willing to grant the connection of causation between love and hate and I’m surprised that I agree with this assertion. When we refer to hatred it is almost definitely in the context of negativity. Yet, when I see a forest ripped down for another shopping center, I do feel genuine hatred. It’s not necessarily a hatred directed at anyone, but, rather, a hatred based out of love for something that has been threatened or lost. But Ahmed’s model seems to resist hatred. I wonder if she would grant that hatred can be a good thing (at times) or if it is always destructive? There isn’t much more development on this point in her chapter, as she moves on to the “Affective Economies” of emotion.

Yet, Ahmed expands in the section of “Hated Bodies,” how, “Hate is an intense emotion; it involves a feeling of ‘againstness’ that is always, in the phenomenological sense, intentional. Hate is always hatred of something or somebody, although that something or somebody does not necessarily pre-exist the emotion.” (49). This seems to contradict my example of the surge of hatred I feel at the sight of deforestation. Hatred, when based out of love, seems almost helpful. It is because of hatred that I write this post. It is because of hatred that I actively try to prevent such measures of senseless destruction to our native forests. Of course I could always aim my hatred onto the object of a person, construction company, or governmental department. This just seems unhelpful in the larger scheme of things, only because I know that very few people involved in such “development projects” as this don’t have a vendetta against nature. Most of these (usually male) workers are in need of money, contracts, employment in general. How can I hate those who have the same goal as me? It is not the people I fixate as my objects of hatred; it is the act itself to which I direct my emotion.

As I distinguish between people and acts as objects of hatred, so do I embolden this gap in the case of religion. Bluntly put, I genuinely hate religion. But–and this is an important caveat–I do not hate religious people. My qualms with Sam Harris aside, he takes good measure to distinguish between criticizing “religious ideas” rather than “religious people.” It is not helpful to demonize people in general, but, rather, the acts they perform. I don’t think anyone gets out of bed thinking, “I’m evil.” That sounds absurd.

We’d be wise to be conscious about the interplay between the objects of hatred we choose. This is true especially in politics. Every morning when I’m on the treadmill, I casually watch the competing headlines of CNN and FOX. Lately, ISIS has been in the headlines almost every single day. If ISIS is quiet, President Obama is under scrutiny. I find this to be curious in both cases. Regarding ISIS, I can understand how easily the transition between hatred of acts and hatred of people emerges. This line is blurred so cleanly that it’s practically effaced. The American people are being fed objects to project their hatred onto; this is dangerously irresponsible on behalf of news media. And President Obama is always referred to as the object for political action. In other words, it is “the Obama Administration” or, worse, “Obama” who we refer to as our government. In reality, as most people (I think) understand, there is an entire system of government of hundreds, rather, thousands of people in power. If Obama had the power we say he has, this country would certainly look different and we wouldn’t be paying hundreds of representatives. Returning to Ahmed’s discussion of hatred and love, this object-hatred is fallacious at best. We don’t want the news media to select our objects of hatred. We want to be the source of our own emotions (which Ahmed’s critique of emotion would reject), and it is prudent to be careful about the objects we allow ourselves to feel emotion towards.

So in thinking about the relationship between love and hatred, I think it’s not an unfair claim to find both emotions useful–contingent upon each other, in fact. Hatred can be a powerful fuel, one which is rather more renewable than fossil fuels. We just have to be careful how we use the fuel in question. Is it ever okay to love or hate people? I’d be surprised if anyone (at this point) didn’t think to themselves, “Of course it’s okay!” Well, I don’t know. I think we can love selectively. I think love is something to be channeled. When used recklessly, I think love can be dangerous, in fact. I’ve seen emotion, under the guise of “love,” tear people apart. Love is valuable. Love is near the pinnacle of important emotions a human can cultivate. (Curiosity, I’d argue is at the top.) But, like everything, too much is too much. Love is a virtue, but it can just as easily turn into a vice. And as we think of hatred as a vice, by extension, it certainly can be turned into a virtue. Perhaps Ahmed will disagree with me on this point but I see no reason to abandon something so useful.

No Preamble: The Legend of Korra: “Day of the Colossus/The Last Stand” Finale Critique

December 20, 2014

Obviously Spoilers: Be warned, it’s better that way.

It’s no secret that the Legend of Korra has been deeply overshadowed by the Last Airbender in many ways. I’ll avoid a summary of these past four seasons and dive into my thoughts on the two-part finale of the series that aired today.

Day of the Colossus

“Day of the Colossus” has some cool action scenes, but the pacing just feels awkward and imbalanced. Most of the appealing moments in this episode deal with Kuvira’s massive mech suit. We are led to believe that this massive platinum creation is about to efface Republic City from the map–not exactly an original plot device (see every mech anime ever)–and the previous episode leads us to believe that Kuvira just blew the warehouse, and those inside it, to bits.

This series has been saturated with Deus ex Machinas at every turn. This episode is no different. A brief, undetailed example would have to include Milo and his paint-balloons being…windshield wiped randomly? Kuvira must have, I guess, thought of everything. Or a better example is the “plasma saw” which we just now find out about in the nick of time. LoK constantly introduces new technology immediately before it is used to solve everything, i.e. hummingbirds, the EMP Varrick uses, etc. Additionally, the random zoo we’ve never seen or heard about just happens to have two very compliant Badger Moles. Convenient. Or simply lazy writing. A more careful and patient writing team would have slipped in a zoo scene three or four episodes ago, casually showing us that it exists. Instead, we just have to swallow an instantaneous, clean solution.

It’s difficult sometimes to discern where the line is being drawn between this being a kids show and a fanservice for the ATLA generation (teens/adults). But the line clearly exists, or at least is intended to. It’s great that a kid-friendly show can be dramatic, complex, ethically nuanced, and culturally diverse. LoK stands well there. But ATLA was so well-written, well-animated, cohesive in its own universe, and actually developed its characters in unusual and believably human ways. LoK just kind of forgets about its characters and breaks its own rules. ATLA’s unique “anime” style was meticulously honed from real martial arts forms and it seem that we have lost that model. Inventive bending? Seductive settings? Character individuality? Very few of these in LoK, if any, hit their mark. Point is, if you’re going to use a character as a plot device, let’s get to know and care about these characters, settings, and battle techniques.

The most redeeming thing about this series is the fact that it’s willing to allow meaningful action to take place. This is a rather morbid analysis of what’s “good” about this show but, being honest, fights and battles should be meaningful; we should not just blow off action without consequence–especially in a kids show (still questioning that). Action should have real stakes for the characters and for us as viewers. There weren’t any moments in this episode where the action seemed to be leading to the downfall of any character we’re invested in. This is true especially the protagonists: They end up virtually unscathed.

Hiroshi Sato’s death was actually written and placed within the story well. It hurt to see him go so altruistically. However, this is the one consolation. After we’ve seen buildings torn apart, explosions the size of naval ships, our characters blown out of the sky, knocked out, beaten up, etc. we get ONE death. Casualties: 1

There are admittedly some cute moments between Varrick and Zhu Li, some nifty bending choreography, etc. But overall, not a very impressive lineup of plot and character development, especially for part one of a finale.

The Last Stand

First, where did Mako come from in this episode? His character is simply dead weight after season one, and the way they’ve tried to write him back in at the last minute begs some ponderous questions. It’s cool seeing Bolin & Mako team up as brothers, but we’ve seen that. Bolin is such a more likeable, complex, well-written character which leaves Mako an embarrassment. Comparatively, I’d argue the Cabbage guy from ATLA has more complexity.

Su/Lynn’s sibling fighting style is just so much more interesting and action packed than Mako/Bolin’s. The Beifongs rock it out in every fight scene they are involved in and I really wish they had more screen time. However, a note to the animators, when disarming the weapon, the spirit cannon exploded upwards and Su/Lynn just ducked backwards out of the way unscathed. That’s um…not how explosions work. They would have been singed, at best.

Which brings me to my next qualm with this finale: The world’s most slightly inaccurate mega-weapon. These two episodes have at least seven near-misses, where BUILDINGS are taken down and our characters just barrel roll out of the frame. Again, good writing demands consequences. I, personally, can accept about two near-misses in a high-stakes fight, and then it gets insanely cheesy. In the words of the YouTuber JonTron: “Fool me once, I’m mad. Fool me twice, how could you? Fool me three times, you’re officially that guy.”

All irritations aside, there are some genuinely cool action scenes. It was pretty brutal to see Kuvira just casually tear off the most important limb off her mega mech suit. Then the mech eventually gets blasted into pieces from the middle. We see Mako almost die (seriously, if he died there exploding the spirit vine, that would have been AWESOME and SIGNIFICANT). We needed more scenes like these with weight to them.

But then everything goes back into Deus Ex Machina territory. The broken spirit cannon arm just happens to be in working condition, tangled along down Kuvira’s escape path. The Avatar State just happens to be a panacea which not only blocks the spirit cannon, but rips another spirit portal into the world preventing any casualties. (“Yayyy, peace and prosperity and flowers.”)  Seriously. The explosion goes into a spirit-nuke which engulfs half the city and EVERYONE IS OKAY?! Boo. You cannot just write this level of violence and have everyone be safe, just ducking behind walls by the breadths of their arm hair. I don’t want anyone to die, but if you’re going to introduce a weapon with the alleged capability (and willpower behind it) to wipe a city off the map, show me. LAZY. WRITING.

And then the line drawn between kid/adult audience is made pretty glaringly obvious in the final moments of this episode. Korra just befriends Kuvira. We get a few brief lines of, “You don’t understand my problems. I was an orphan!!” Weak sympathy, poorly executed, with scant setup. Having never formally been invested in Kuvira before her rampage this season, her character evolution feels stale, forced, and puerile.

This episode just wrapped up like the seventh Harry Potter book (of which, admittedly, I am still a fan): We see Korra go into purgatory, or what looks like it, see the villian, and then suddenly compassion happens and we see her come back to life (so to speak). Everything gets wrapped up with a pretty bow, no one except Hiroshi dies, and everybody literally lives happily ever after. Yay.

I was worried at the end. It looked like they were setting Makorra up again (Mako & Korra as a couple), which seriously is the worst pairing in Avatar history. Luckily, we see a hint, a pretty direct hint, at Korrasami (Korra & Asami as a couple). I am a huge proponent of the Korrasami ship, and we’ve clearly been getting flirting glances at the potential there. It would be fantastic to see some deviation of heteronormativity on the show, given how much the fans have vocalized their yearning to see it happen. There was even a Change.org campaign to make Korrasami cannon. And lets be honest, they’re so cute together. Realistically, one chaste kiss between them would have been all we needed to see without being “in your face” and “offensive” to conservative viewers/parents. We don’t need a makeout session. But they just hold hands. We’ve seen every other couple kiss (when appropriate) and here we just get a suggestion. Not happy. Cowardly writing. Nickelodeon, I’m assuming, shut this one down.

Overall: I’ve seen far worse from Korra (the filler/recap episode this season still makes me cringe). I still don’t see why she deserves the “Legend of Korra” title; the only legendary thing about Korra is her impeccability to lose a fight. In fact, LoK has kind of called the title, “Last Airbender,” into question given how many airbenders come back. I understand the team behind the show got repeatedly shafted by Nickelodeon and that their budget was more than slashed. Though it sucks that they were taken off the air, I’ll go ahead and say, releasing a TV show over the internet for free is a much more convenient/effective system. The lack of respect the Avatar team received with LoK makes me really sad because given what we’ve seen this show to be capable of at times, the iffy parts really stick out, leaving a sore spot of what could have been. From season 1, most fans expected another ATLA. This became quickly apparent to be a pipe dream. Instead, we get something that staggers across the finish line. Regardless, it will be sad to see such a long, fruitful, cult-fanbase die down at last.  I may not be satisfied on every account, but I can safely say I will return to LoK again some day. Long live the bending universe.

Edit: Having taken some time to rewatch and reflect upon this entry, I have to say that I was a little harsh in my review. I’ve noticed a lot of things I was complaining about this finale missing–my mistake. Korrasami has been officially confirmed by the creators and so I feel more satisfied with the ending at this point. There are still some action gripes I maintain, but aside from those, this finale bumped from a 6/10 to an 8/10 in my mind. Even sadder now.

“The Top 5” – Best Albums of 2014

December 18, 2014

1. Closure in Moscow – Pink Lemonade (10/10)

Pink Lemonade is a concept album built around the most hallucenogenic ideas I have encountered on a record (akin to The Mars Volta, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd). This record brings to the table ingenuitive ideas, trippy effects, impenetrably complex lyrics, and vocals that sound as if from the “Brahmatron” itself. More or less, Pink Lemonade dresses like a classic-rock album, yet somehow Closure in Moscow breaks that mold and comes across with incredible driving force and energy. No two songs feel the same, yet all flow into one another seamlessly. This record is a perfect example of what experimentation and musicianship can do when properly combined. The worst thing about Pink Lemonade is the fact that it took (literally) five years to make it into my mailbox. It was worth the wait. Favorite Track: “Church of the Technochrist”

2. Hail the Sun – Wake (10/10)

A very close contender for the number one spot this year, Hail the Sun’s first full-length, Wake, blew fans out of the water. Until about this year, Hail the Sun had been a rather esoteric Reddit-only-club kind of band. Their sounds derives itself from too many possible angles to wrap up into a generalization; they can be compared to anybody from The Fall of Troy, to Circa Survive, and to anyone in between. Wake has some amazing instrumentals, driven by Donovan Melero the drummer/singer (wtf, how does he do it?) and has lyrical concepts far deeper than meets the eye. Speaking of Reddit, check out their AMA from a few weeks back to get a broader scope of what kind of songs HTS were trying to produce on this record. Wake might have made it to number one if it had come out earlier this year and allowed time to marinate my feels some more. Favorite Track: “Disappearing Syndrome”

3. Artifex Pereo – Time in Place (9/10)

Artifex Pereo, since Ailments & Antidotes, have lost their original vocalist, and a lot of time on hiatus. Having fallen in love with their craft, I picked up Time in Place expecting a sloppier, more radio-friendly release. Let’s just say I was slapped in the face the second I put the CD in my car. This record packs one hell of an articulate punch. Artifex, as a unit, somehow blends the softest jams in with post-hardcore that, if released maybe 5 years back, would have changed the future of music as we know it today. This record gets a little too soft and angsty towards the end for my tastes (“Weep & You Weep Alone” and “Overview”) but, on the other hand, it’s nice to finally see Jeremiah Brinkworth get some solo time as keyboardist. Artifex are at their best when all instruments are involved, particularly blending heaviness & ambience within a single track–I’m not asking for breakdowns, just less loftiness. That aside, these are extremely technical songwriters who blend together some jams that very few bands ever have the ability to accomplish. Favorite Track: “The Golden Age”

4. Icarus the Owl – Icarus the Owl (9/10)

Though Icarus the Owl hasn’t chosen to experiment too much over the years, they somehow never fail to impress the listener. Icarus are so catchy–almost pop music–yet they remain completely, unintelligibly inventive and dynamic. This self-titled release is full of many jams that will refuse to leave you alone even when you aren’t listening to it. Their mathy movements and tap/sweep guitars dominate the background, whilst the playful drums and loose vocals kill the fore. I am still of the opinion that their previous release, Love always, Leviathan is one of the top ten records I’ve ever heard, so this record had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Icarus the Owl has not disappointed. However, there are occasional overlapping moments I’ve noticed in their song/lyrical themes, which is a symptom of owning all their records in addition to previous musical endeavors (Kill Your Ex). Not sure why this record warrants self-titling in particular; they’re only getting better as musicians. Favorite Track: “Lily Trotter”

5. Tides of Man – Young and Courageous (8/10)

This list would be amiss without this beautiful, experimental honorable mention. I was heartbroken when Tilian Peterson (Tides of Man’s previous vocalist) left to join Dance Gavin Dance, another favorite of mine. Still, when Young and Courageous came out in the spring, my pre-order arrived and I was hooked instantly. Tides of Man might resist the label, “Post-rock,” but it seems the most fitting way to describe the way this band has transitioned. No longer are their jams heavy and technical; they are simple, loopy, trippy, and free. Young and Courageous takes flight in many movements that old fans will (hopefully) still love and grow to appreciate. I’m sure I’m not the only one with bated breath, hoping for Tilian to return, but even if that weren’t the case, Tides of Man can kill it instrumentally. And their live show is…let’s just say, unforgettable. Favorite Track: “Drift”

Aside from this “Top 5” list and a handful of records that slipped through the cracks (Lights, Young the Giant, So Much Light, to name a few), this year in music has been particularly disappointing. Here are my “Bottom 5” list of flop-releases from 2014 which, while they aren’t terrible, do not live up to the caliber of the bands I have known previously: Chiodos – Devil, Emarosa – Versus, Manchester Orchestra – Cope, Memphis May Fire – Unconditional, Set it Off – Duality. Each of these records has maybe two or three redeemable tracks, but universally fail to build on their past groundworks.

Here’s to hoping 2015 has more low-hanging fruits.

No Preamble: Lights – Little Machines (Deluxe Edition) 2014 – Album Review

December 3, 2014

Lyrics & Vocals: 9/10
Lights’ voice speaks for itself; there are too few vocalists of her caliber today. In terms of lyricism, Little Machines delivers a melancholic mixture between dark and cute moments. Lights vocabulary never ceases to surprise the close reader. There are gentle and complex concepts, both philosophical and playfully childish at times. A few repetitive concepts appear, such as the cliche of metaphorically being “low” and climbing “higher,” or of being a child and suffering from the battle between youth and adulthood. Luckily, Lights does it well.

Musicianship: 7/10
Nothing especially unique about this album in juxtaposition with her previous releases. There are moments of grittier-than-usual synth percolating throughout some choruses and interesting patches dancing along in the background. Also a bit more guitar is present, or at least appears in more stand-out areas than before. Excellent balance in the mix. Her vocals sit perfectly atop the instrumentation.

Album Cohesiveness/Flow: 9/10
This album carries its weight at almost all times from front to back. There is a nice blend of tempos fluctuating across each song and, although a few tracks lag behind, no chorus feels stale or repetitive. Little Machines begins with the tranquil, progressive “Portal” which extends itself into the full flow of the rest of the album. Some highlight tracks are “Up We Go,” “Speeding,” “Muscle Memory,” and…alright the whole album is awesome.

Experimentation: 6/10
This is perhaps Little Machines’ only weak point. It seems that The Listening was a collection of past demos and experimental jams, Siberia was a process of really honing her songwriting, and Little Machines is a refinement of all these sounds and ideas. The final bonus track, “From All Sides” has promise of dynamically pushing Lights in unexpected directions. It takes a few spins to (not “accept,” but) really adjust to the direction this album wants to take the listener. Not much has changed, but no two songs carry themselves the same

Overall: 31/50
The only appropriate way I can describe Little Machines is “ear Skittles.” Not a perfect A+, but certainly worth picking up and acquainting yourself with. Unlike so many artists who release copy-paste albums when they “find their sound,” Lights keeps things fresh without alienating her audience. Old and new listeners alike should be able to find high points across all 14 tracks.