Elsewhere, December 18, 2010

Sufjan Stevens

Elsewhere: A collection of interesting links and articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so. Follow me on Twitter for more of the same.

World Magazine profiles the music—and rumors—of Sufjan Stevens:

And speaking of straight, or not: Friends and critics have been lighting up fan sites and message boards at least since 2005 about lyrics that are—or perhaps are not—homoerotic. There can be little doubt that he sometimes sings with a lush romanticism about male-male love. The music website http://www.last.fm features Stevens on its “homoeroticism” channel.

All that said, The Age of Adz is undeniably interesting—down to the cover and the album’s 12-page liner notes—both of which feature the art of Prophet Royal Robertson. Robertson is sometimes called a “primitive artist,” after the school of Howard Finster, whose art once graced an album by REM. Robertson (who died in 1997 and whose work is in the Smithsonian, among other high-end collections) used apocalyptic images, prophetic Bible passages, science fiction, and numerology in his art. These themes are picked up by the music in The Age of Adz. The fact that Robertson was a paranoid schizophrenic and toward the end of his life was overcome by misogynistic rage inevitably has fueled speculation about the possibility of Stevens’ own misogyny.

People have been debating Sufjan’s sexual orientation for years, but now they’re debating whether or not he’s a misogynist because he uses and references the art of a someone prone to misogyny?! By that logic, the fact that he wrote a song that expresses sympathy, compassion, and understanding for John Wayne Gacy, Jr. could mean that he’s a serial killer. It’s as if people have never heard of the concept of storytelling in songs.

Are the American people obsolete?

If the American rich increasingly do not depend for their wealth on American workers and American consumers or for their safety on American soldiers or police officers, then it is hardly surprising that so many of them should be so hostile to paying taxes to support the infrastructure and the social programs that help the majority of the American people. The rich don’t need the rest anymore.

To be sure, wealthy humanitarians might take pity on their economically obsolescent fellow citizens. But they no longer have any personal economic incentive to do so. Besides, philanthropists may be inclined to devote most of their charity to the desperate and destitute of other countries rather than to their fellow Americans.

If most Americans are no longer needed by the American rich, then perhaps the United States should consider a policy adopted by the aristocracies and oligarchies of many countries with surplus populations in the past: the promotion of emigration. The rich might consent to a one-time tax to bribe middle-class and working-class Americans into departing the U.S. for other lands, and bribing foreign countries to accept them, in order to be alleviated from a high tax burden in the long run.

TechCrunch’s Paul Carr responds to the most common questions posted by the site’s commenters with a FAQ:

...I’ve just spent an “enjoyable” hour looking through some of the recent (and totally genuine) comments posted below my columns in an attempt to figure out what lies at the heart of your rage. What I discovered fascinated me: a large number of the negative comments on TechCrunch take the form of questions. It also gave me an idea: perhaps if I could answer those questions in a helpful and friendly way, the people asking them – week in, week out – might stop being so angry. Order will be restored! Just in time for Christmas!

And people wonder why I’m not a fan of online comments in general.

More from Paul Carr, this time on why Wikileaks should be condemned:

I hate Julian Assange. I hate the way he’s posing as a champion of truth and justice whilst hiding in the shadows and resorting to blackmail in a drawn-out attempt to avoid having to answer criminal charges in a publicly-accessible court of law. I hate the fact that he’s trading on a myth that We The People have a right to know everything our governments are saying and doing in our name when, in fact, we elect people to act in our best interests on a global stage without necessarily giving us a heads up every time they want to have an off-the-record chat with a dictator. (If every tiny decision has to be made based on how it will play in public, then we’ll soon end up with a whole load of crowd-pleasing decisions but very little actual diplomacy. Palling around with Chinese leaders or Arab kings might be a strategic no-brainer but it doesn’t play great in the heartland.)

[...]

But here’s what I hate most about Wikileaks, and what no-one else here seems to be saying: that with this most recent round of leaks, the organisation has actually become a sworn enemy of openness.

Can science explain art, music and literature as nothing more than adaptations?

Since the early 19th century, strong claims have been made on behalf of “hermeneutics,” “phenomenology,” and “Structuralism”—disciplines that promise the missing “method” through which meaning is discovered and explored. But the claims have a tendency to evaporate on examination, so as to become special pleading on behalf of a particular set of authorities, a particular cultural inheritance, or a particular aesthetic taste.

Over the last two decades, however, Darwinism has invaded the field of the humanities, in a way that Darwin himself would scarcely have predicted. Doubt and hesitation have given way to certainty, interpretation has been subsumed into explanation, and the whole realm of aesthetic experience and literary judgement has been brought to heel as an “adaptation,” a part of human biology which exists because of the benefit that it confers on our genes. No need now to puzzle over the meaning of music or the nature of beauty in art. The meaning of art and music reside in what they do for our genes. Once we see that these features of the human condition are “adaptations,” acquired perhaps many thousands of years ago, during the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we will be able to explain them. We will know what art and music essentially are by discovering what they do.

Wired ponders the “death” of blogging:

Have we hit peak blogging, the point where blogging slowly becomes as antiquated as the CB radio, a niche hobby like woodworking, and a musty, ungainly verb that falls out of the popular lexicon?

There’s hints of it in the new Pew Internet report which finds that blogging by teenagers has fallen by half since 2006, and even young adults seem to be dropping the habit.

Related: Wired’s statement that the Web is dead.

CNN examines why C.S. Lewis continues to be popular over the years:

Lewis’ contemporary appeal may strike some as odd at first because he seemed so firmly planted in the past. A scholar at the University of Oxford in England, he wore shabby tweed jackets, smoked a pipe in the pub and was wounded in the trenches of World War I.

But Lewis’ popularity endures because of several reasons: his distinctive writing style, a tragic love affair and a shrewd choice he made early in his career, Lewis scholars say.

An astronomer claims that he was passed over for a job at the University of Kentucky because he is a Christian:

In late November, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled that the case could go forward, and a trial is scheduled for February. The case represents a rare example, experts say, of a lawsuit by a scientist who alleges academic persecution for his religious faith.

Both sides agree that Dr. Gaskell, 57, was invited to the university, in Lexington, for a job interview. In his lawsuit, he says that at the end of the interview, Michael Cavagnero, the chairman of the physics and astronomy department, asked about his religious beliefs.

“Cavagnero stated that he had personally researched Gaskell’s religious beliefs,” the lawsuit says. According to Dr. Gaskell, the chairman said Dr. Gaskell’s religious beliefs and his “expression of them would be a matter of concern” to the dean.

Talk about a small world: I took an astronomy class from Dr. Gaskell in my freshman year of college, and he also attended my previous church for a couple of years.

Jeffrey Overstreet reviews Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan:

Aronofsky’s last two films have changed my mind about the movie that announced his arrival—Requiem for a Dream. Many people thought it was too over-the-top. I was among those who defended it as a “cautionary tale,” saying that the wild intensity of its drug sequences and violent stretches were there to represent the dangerous power of addiction.

But now I feel differently. I think Aronofsky has the talents of a great artist, but he’s also an adrenalin junkie, and that keeps his films short of greatness. When, in the end credits, he splashes “Directed by Darren Aronofsky” and “A Film by Darren Aronosfky” across the screen, as if wanting to make sure we get the point, well… the point has been made. He aims to impress. And in his eagerness, he goes for violent energy over poetry, shock over suggestion, emotion over intelligence.

Kill Screen explores the popularity, tactics, and ethics of Angry Birds:

About responsibility. One could argue that the entire videogame industry is predicated on our desire to avoid real-world responsibility, and on our willingness to seek out distractions. Most of us are wasteful and inefficient versions of the people we would like to be. And yet the successful Angry Birds player must be careful about his resources, rationing and strategizing his every move. When I beat levels with six pigs to kill but only one bird to slingshot, I feel like MacGyver, Al Gore, and Mother Theresa all at once. Debt collectors and schoolteachers could stand to learn from Angry Birds. If only I could launch, via slingshot, my college loan payments….

I used to be pretty addicted to Angry Birds, like so many others out there. However, I’ve moved on, with Fruit Ninja being my current iPhone game of choice.