Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Petraeus's Mistress reveals a CIA prison in Benghazi, possibly

The bedroom farce of the Petraeus affair is sordid and unpleasant. I waited for Asia Times to write about the events for a real take on "Empire News" so to speak.  Pepe Escobar delivered, linking to this illuminating article: http://rt.com/usa/news/petraeus-benghazi-attack-cia-535/.

In it, Petraeus's mistress reportedly stated the following before her affair was revealed:

“Now I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually had taken a couple of Libya militia members prisoner,” Broadwell told a crowd at the University of Denver alumni symposium on October 26. “And they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that’s still being vetted.”

With this, it all may cohere. So Benghazi may have been a CIA illegal prison of sorts, for Salafi jihadist allies/enemies/both, products of all too rapid blowback predicted by Libya and Arab Spring skeptics. This at least provides a motive for an event shrouded in mystery and unclear motives.

For some reason, I highly doubt our press corps will get to the bottom of this question, versus the tantalizing sordid details of the bedroom, but there is always Asia Times I suppose. I only wish they would remove the pop-ups...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Taylor Swift's Red: Schizophrenic, but some Gems

Taylor Swift has clearly has captured the cultural consciousness, transcending her pop-country origins to become perhaps the leading American pop-star. Red sold 1.2 million copies its first week, the most in a decade we are told. She has sold the most albums in the past 5 years, and her fourth appears to continue this performance even admits industry sales stagnation.

But what of her song-writing development? Has the precocious author of "Fifteen" and other pop story ballads -- and subject of many a heated internet critics' debates -- progressed or regressed?

I have only listened to Red a few times but can say it is uneven, almost schizophrenic, but has plenty of great moments. The standout ballad tour de force -- "All too Well"-- is perhaps her best song yet, swelling as it does to a point of catharsis. Strangely, it is surrounded by two Max Martin pop numbers that sound like Avril Lavigne outtakes, "I Knew You Were Trouble"and "22", pretty fun and better than the somewhat irritating lead single "We are Never Getting Back Together" which is also of the same vein and originator.

There are also other rock-ish numbers that somewhat fall flat for me, although perhaps more will gain traction on repeat listen. The slower ballads, namely the aforementioned "All too Well" and "Begin Again" (the last song, what else!) push her traditional strengths further than before and are quite excellent. More controversially, I enjoy the other slower numbers such as "Sad Beautiful Tragic" and even "Everything has Changed", a collaboration dismissed widely as boring adult contemporary fare, that I think sounds great, despite its more general, even a bit boring lyric sheets by her standards.

What do we want from Taylor Swift, now that she is an adult?

She couldn't remake Fearless her whole career -- you're only 18 once. But much of her youthful appeal remains in her most recent output tinged now, however, by touches of romantic melancholy. The pop numbers will alienate some fans and win some new ones. But what remains is that Taylor Swift is, despite the expected growing pains of trying new styles, a master pop-country ballader. And one with the ear of America's youth, apparently.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, MAAD City

I was hesitant to listen to Kendrick Lamar's major label debut. The expectations were too high (the next Tupac!), the remnant of the man who was once Dr. Dre was too prominently involved (Beetz...), and even Section.80, which has some truly great songs, also has its share of pretentious duds, I trait I feared major label money might only exacerbate.

Yet, I did download it Monday morning (legally), and... it has taken me about 6 listens to figure out what is going on. Which is a lot.

 From the best I can tell, this is a concept album displaying song-story vignettes of a 17 year old or so Kendrick Lamar growing up in Compton, with the main story played out in skits, songs, and skits-within-songs. Frequently, Lamar adopts a novelty voice to inhabit other characters (or even his own conscious).

A commercial play, this is most definitely not. In fact, I would venture to say that the dominant tone of the album is despair. Compton emerges as a hellhole of needless violence, and wasted lives. Indeed, Lamar seems hell-bent on removing any lingering romanticization of Compton's gang-war mystique from the public conscious, especially in the rap industry.

As an artistic statement, more than anything I am struck by what a unified statement this album is. Lamar seems to have one message to communicate and works together many songs, skits, and mini-songs within songs to accomplish his goal, completely ignoring the modern state of single-driven music commerce.

Time will tell if this album's reputation lasts, but I am enjoying it hugely. Moreover, I think it is immediately noteworthy that I was completely shocked by the scope of Lamar's ambition with this album -- even beyond the consistency of his adroit rapping throughout, his artistic consistency of message is strange to hear in 2012. It is disarming to realize the only way to way to really listen to the proper-album tracks is from the first second on, without skipping a track. The bonus tracks are clearly distinct and are lighter fare.

 To be honest, I didn't ever except to see a unified rap album statement of this kind again in the vein of Ready to Die or Only Built for Cuban Linx... again, not that this album is of that caliber, but it definitely sounds like a coherent whole much like those albums do, rather than a collection of singles patched together (usually with a dose of filler to round out the playlist) as has come to define the rap ablum.  I mean we hear things like Lupe Fiasco's The Cool will be a concept album, but of course it arrives and it isn't at all... After years of this, you become jaundiced.

Well, I am not jaundiced anymore.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

VP Debate Moderator: Iran is the biggest danger to America

Some would differ. See Pakistan.

More broadly, I am not sure if I am missing something, but one hand, Romney-Ryan seem to be criticizing Obama-Biden for not foreseeing the dangers that manifested in the Libya debacle and also for not arming the Syrian rebels quickly enough.

Perhaps this warning of a neo-neocon revival and the confusion that entails is not off target.

Not that Biden is offering much more. I believe he just blamed the Great Recession on public sector debt build-up. By that logic, the Obama administration would be an epic fiscal failure.

As I write this, our helpful moderator just states "Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt." Ryan agrees -- "These are indisputable facts."

Dr. Lydgate would beg to differ, as perhaps Alan Greenspan, a man one would hope with some insight on the matter, would as well. See: print more money.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Traversing the BosWash Megaopolis

I've now lived for at least a time at three of the main points of concentration of the BosWash megapolis, so coined by a 60's social scientist of urban studies of some sort: Boston, Greater NYC (i.e. NJ) and now the Washington area.

Taking a bus or train between any of the cities, it is somewhat strange how urbanization never seems to end, at least between NYC and DC. Depending on your route, the trip from NYC to Boston can get somewhat rural in Southern Mass, Rhode Island, or Western CT. However, If you follow the golden coast in CT, beware of hours stuck in traffic undercutting the quasi-rural feeling of the Connecticut coast.

Going South from NYC on Amtrack, you essentially pass simultaneously from Greater NYC to Greater Philly, which quickly succumbs to Wilmington/Baltimore, and ultimately D.C. before the true American South begins.

Contrast this to the experience of leaving Indianapolis, IN which is surrounding by endless cornfields and tiny towns for hours in every direction, as you make the three hour trip to Chicago.

This amazing concentration of humanity and economic activity has its pluses and minuses, I suppose. While NYC proper seems to have solved its crime problem, surrounding communities in NJ such as Newark and East Orange have not been so lucky. Passing through North Philly, Baltimore, or even areas of D.C., one can encounter much of the same uran blight found in Detroit or St. Louis, sometimes on an even more massive if less acute scale.

This contrasts with pockets of absurd wealth throughout the region, frequently not too far from impoverished areas. While the level of wealth is perhaps matched by certain areas of California and Chicago, I do not think it is on the same scale. Witness NYC's insane trillion plus estimated GDP to support the conceited New Yorker's insistence that Manhattan is indeed "the greatest city in the world."

As winter approaches, however, doubt begins to grow in my mind. Why should we suffer this yearly pain -- not to mention, ridiculous cost-of-living -- when another megapolis with mild weather year round exists across the country exists just a short plane ride away?

As for the great ignored interior, they are perhaps having the last laugh as our inflated housing values refuse to budge despite the great correction seen across much of the country. Mit Ach and Krach...