Rain, ego, and marionette rock stars

It’s gray outside, which isn’t exactly new, but the persistence of the rain is. The temperature has dropped decidedly into fall territory, which seems a bit early to me. A year ago we arrived in Berlin to scout, and it was hot, T-shirt weather, a beautiful Indian summer. Since in SF we get our summers starting right around September, that seemed natural to me.

We spent a long weekend in Paris, to see our first and probably only European Rock Festival, the Rock en Seine. Lineup worth mentioning: Radiohead, Beck, Broken Social Scene, DJ Shadow, TV on the Radio, Morrissey, many sundry others. To save money, we brought our tent and camped at the festival itself, held on the banks of the river at an old aristocratic garden, lined with mediocre statuary and a lovely renaissance-like fountain. In practice this meant tents lined up tightly enough to bump against one another, porta-potties overflowing within minutes of being emptied, and forget about showers for a few days.

It’s possible I’m growing a little old for this.

Music ranging from hideous to ecstatic. A few new Radiohead songs, but otherwise largely the same set list. Still brilliant, but their impatience to move on is obvious. Beck played with a full marionnette-show, he and his band done in professional puppets, mimicking their every movement on stage. The best of all the performers, a musical chameleon, and still I wonder where his musical heart is. My favorite perhaps was watching the knit-hat unpretentiousness of Broken Social Scene, a collective in the rain, an antidote to all rock posturing.

Because there is more and more of that. Here and elsewhere. We are reentering an era of cock rock, emphasis on the cock; ’70s music, which is fine, but the stadium-sized egos (and ambitions) are back too. Two examples: Take Back Sunday, a mediocre post-Green Day band, singer with a desperate glam strut, throws the microphone in the air, twirls and spins, uncomfortable in his own skin and craving only the release of adulation. He crouches and catches someone’s glance, and says “That’s right, this is called fucking you with my eyes.” But it’s simply pathetic, not even confident enough to be truly obsene. Then the Raconteurs, Jack White’s new band, a supremely confident group that has every bit of rock/pop swagger and hook nailed. Songs stay in my head for days. And still they seem empty, as though they have everything right but the soul.

I prefer knit hats and violins. Or the weird bearded harmonies of TV on the Radio.

Your writing always seemed a little mechanical…

And so at last, writers, journalists, reporters, call us what you will, we’re being replaced by computers just like everyone else. The Thomson financial media group is using software programs to automatically generate earnings stories, within .3 of a second of the release of a company’s earnings statement. No chance of a John Henry moment there; it takes my computer longer than that just to load the page, much less for me to read and digest the information.

Reuters, too, is apparently using automatically generated pieces. Bloomberg says they’re not, but the conditions they have in their offices, and their stylebook, make the distinction a bit academic.

And so here we are. There’s propagation of information, and there’s storytelling. Newspapers and other media outlets are supported by people for whom information is a necessity. For them, the computer can do the job. Style doesn’t matter. Style and storytelling is a luxury, for people with time, like organic vegetables or free-range chickens. We shouldn’t kid ourselves about that.

Embracing violence, it embraces us

What does this say about us? America turns its resources to fighting the vague but real threat of terrorism. We start two wars. Support another one. The Middle East is radicalized, and new terrorists attracted daily with marketing campaigns more effective than Nike’s slam dunks.

And what do we get? At home gun crime and murders are skyrocketing. Law enforcement officials say we’ve rerouted funds and officer staff time away from programs that kept crime down, and towards preventing terrorism. Sure, we’ve still got three strikes, and an incarceration rate something like ten times any other country but the dictatorships we pretend not to resemble in certain uncomfortable respects. But people are killing each other on the streets again.

Time to declare Mission Accomplished again?

The Nazis march, but are outnumbered

A genuine Neonazi demonstration marched past our window today. The first we knew of it was a flyer on our door, of unclear origin, advising us of the approach, and suggesting a few ways to protest. Hang a flag, write our local councilperson, turn up music loud out our windows as they marched past.

We didn’t know what to expect. This apparently happens sometimes, though rarely in such an organized fashion. It’s apparently the anniversary of the death of Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s deputy. The group was denied a full commemoration, but a march was approved. I’m not sure what the difference is. Given that Hess deserted Hitler, and flew to Britain to try to negotiate his own crazy-person armistace (shockingly, unsuccessful), I’m not sure why they pick him to memorialize.

We walked up to Schönhauser Allee to watch them approach. Scores, perhaps more than a hundred police officers were there, in riot gear, with barricades holding back counter-protesters. When the marchers got close, preceded by dozens of police vehicles and a throng of hundreds of lefties shouting and waving signs for the Green Party, “Berlin gegen Nazis,” or just a big middle finger, a line of cops pushed us back. We retreated to our apartment.

I put my speakers out the window, to help protest. I picked Darth Vader’s theme first, but realized that gave them too much credit. Instead I put on the Chipmunks. A few minutes the group reached our block, for reasons we don’t understand the endpoint of the march. There were no more than a few dozen Neonazis, mostly twenty-something young men, some from out of town with banners advertising a group in Dortmund. I was suprised to see that their banners actually call themselves National Socialists.

It’s shocking, a bit. But that’s probably the point. These aren’t people who can get attention other ways. This brings out thousands of protestors, TV cameras, and an army of police. Not a bad day’s work for a mouth-breather craving validation of his existance. But then, that was what people thought the first time around, dismissing them as violent punks without a future. It makes me happy that the counterprotesters outnumbered them ten to one.

Thumbnails below click through to Flickr:

On the roofThe Nazis passAt the the cornerLed away

Go to war, miss the way the world changes

And so this is the outcome of Israel’s war. They have destroyed some of Hezbollah’s military capacity, rocket launchers and fighters. These are renewable resources. They have killed hundreds or perhaps thousands of Lebanese. Destroyed thousands of homes, and crippled the country’s infrastructure. They have inflamed hatred across the region; and the United States’ tin-ear backing has brought new animosity towards America.

Now Israel is withdrawing, and Hezbollah is moving in with bulldozers to clear the roads, performing those tasks that Lebanon’s shattered state cannot. Men with walkie talkies and promises of aid — which will be fulfilled almost immediately, thanks to money from Iran — are directing shocked refugees. Nasrallah’s stature is enormously increased; he is now the moral leader of the Arab world, in the way that Arafat once was. He has fought the Israeli army more successfully than any of the actual Arab states before him; and if he has dragged Lebanon into chaos and war behind him, he has nonethless bloodied Israel badly, and gotten away with it.

Bush is wrong. Hezbollah has not lost this war. Only Lebanon and its people, tragic and bloody, have truly lost.

It is increasingly obvious that the powers of the world, the US, Israel, perhaps even the Europeans, have not adapted successfully to the changing mode of war. Nation-states that can be attacked with tanks and smart bombs are not the problem. Iran notwithstanding (does anyone honestly think a military attack on Iran will solve problems?). What is happening today is not a war for territory. America is not an empire of land, and when it tries to act that way, it fails.

Todays conflicts take place in the emotions, in the head and heart. Guns fire differently here, turned against those who wield them. What does it matter if the US or Israel kills a few or a few hundred militants, if that empowers them further?

Learn the rules of engagement. Look at what’s happening around the world. For Bush and company to understand the future, they must genuinely understand the pain they are causing though violence. Ask themselves if their sons and daughters were killed, whether they would be likely to give up their struggle. Perhaps instead if their daughters were sent to school…
Traditional war is as useful as firing a bullet against the approach of the sea.