earnest confessions of the week

I have said two kind of cheesy things this week which were true. Might as well publish them, eh?

1. I really admire and want to be like George Washington. I went to Mt Vernon (George Washington’s house) a few years ago with my parents and sister, and I was really inspired. Aside from the fact that I thought it was badass he had the key to the Bastille (it’s hanging in the foyer), Washington was really a Rennaissance man. He was always learning and trying new things, and he had a diverse career. (Said to my friend Cory on Tuesday night while eating pizza.)

2. I just told my boyfriend of nearly a year I think it’s really great that I feel like I know him better now than I did a month ago.


death of cd’s / rebirth of paying for music (drip.fm)

Part 1: CDs are dead

1999: the year I started college. That summer I ordered from the Apple store my very own computer (my mom paid for it obviously), one of the new all-in-one iMacs. When it arrived to my parents’ house I immediately installed and configured the operating system and hooked it up to my parents’ phone line to begin doing things. Configuring Netscape, I guess. Re-bookmarking my favorite sites. Probably some stuff with my AOL account. I think I downloaded some cool “computer graphics” artwork to set as my desktop picture. A The Matrix screensaver. During the installation process, Apple had walked me through the steps to configure it for a WLAN network, but I wouldn’t understand what that was until a few weeks later, when I moved into dorm and followed the IT helpdesk’s guide to getting connected. After successfully setting my (pink) computer up to run on the FASTEST INTERNET I HAD EVER EXPERIENCED, I quickly began to realize from friends, via AOL instant messenger and ICQ, that one of my life’s passions, music, was about to blow up in my face.

A new friend, an upperclassmen I had introduced myself to online in one of the Washington, D.C. rave forums over the summer, sent me a drum and bass song via chat. I started finding songs online to trade back to him, and to keep. Napster did not yet exist for Mac, not until the summer of 2000 I believe, but there existed actual webpages offering downloads, spyware- and ad-free. The MP3 Crackhouse was one that I went to a lot. My collection grew; especially after I figured out how to get the iMac onto the college’s Windows network, to access all the music which my PC-using colleagues were downloading and sharing.  I signed up for a show on the campus radio station, knowing that I would be able to offer amazing new music every single show, fresh off the internet. That Christmas I asked for a CD burner (decent hardware MP3 players weren’t yet available). At first I was converting all my MP3s to audio format to listen to on normal CD players, but by the end of my sophomore year, I was just using the discs to store the MP3s as data, having realized that I would never buy another CD player ever again.

My purchase of CD albums didn’t altogether stop, though, not right away. In 1999 a lot of MP3s were still kind of rough in quality, and even with Napster the infrastructure to find non-pop music wasn’t fully developed. That came with P2P networks like Oink, where you had to upload something good in order to be granted downloading privileges. So I kept buying CDs for a while. Music stores were still often good “curators;” Willie’s Records and Tapes (no website, sorry) in Richmond, Virginia still had tons of hiphop I wouldn’t have known about or been able to get if I relied solely on the internet. Plan 9 music, also in Richmond, and Other Music, in New York, had a lot of good compilations. I remember I went to London in 2002 and dropped about 200 GBP on electronic music compilations, all on CD. By 2003, however, I was only really buying second-hand CD’s. It was really starting to sink in that digital was more useful to me as software, and in 2006 I effected a vinyl-only policy for hardcopy music.

Part 2: it is an honor to pay for things that I value

In all this time I had, meanwhile, never purchased any digital music. MP3 Crackhouse gave way to Napster for Mac (Macster?) gave way to Soul Seek gave way to bitorrents. In 2007, blogs, supplemented by Soul Seek or bitorrents for special needs, had become my main music source, or DJ mixes. I was no longer stealing most of my music; I was being given it for free. RCRD LBL is a great service if you like their editorial taste, which posts free mp3s, paying artists with ad revenue. I was on their daily mailing list. I even contributed to a music blog for a while myself (emptyskeleton.blogspot.mx— it migrated to a Mexican domain after I left… they’re following me!), uploading music I was ripping from CD promos received via my community radio station, where I had a show. (I also started doing a weekly show showcasing music blogs!)

I did make one purchase, finally, in 2009. My friend’s band, Zombie Zombie, had released an EP that I had been unable to find for free download. And since I actually know them, and actually wanted to own the music, I bought it on Beatport for 5 bucks. It was worth it, of course, but that is really the only time I had been confronted with music that I wanted that I couldn’t easily get, without paying. (I have never used iTunes, by the way, for content. I consider it a pain in the ass.)

Until! Until… last month I signed up for drip.fm, the online music sales service started by the record label Ghostly International in May 2011. They, a favorite label of mine, have recruited other really good labels, such as Stones Throw, Domino, Morr Music, Dirty Bird to be part of the service. Customers like myself choose a label and pay a monthly subscription fee, set by the label, to receive whatever content the label wants to send them. I signed up for Morr Music, a label out of Germany featuring cerebral, non-dancy electronic music. They give me an album a week for $10 a month. It’s working out great. I have new music served to me, and what’s more I am thrilled to be buying music again! Really. Possibly because I know that 70% is going straight to the label, a good label that I like and who probably shares as much revenue as possible with their artists; Drip gets 30% for disribution. What I am not paying for is plastic, marketing and distro to Clear Channel Communications, or record store overhead.

Ghostly, the way they talk, seem to be taking Drip.fm as an experiment. I guess they don’t want to go too bold, considering all the flux around digital. But what I would like to see is them offering packages if I buy more than one label, for example. I could also see a music promotion service, the companies which send promos to radio stations and probably bloggers in exchange for airplay/publicity, doing something like Drip for regular listeners. There were several that served my radio stations that I would pay for: Spectre was one of my favorites, though now defunct, and Terrorbird… I would consider paying for their stuff. Forced Exposure is awesome– at the college station, I convinced them to start sending us promos, but I had to really differentiate us, our station, in their eyes in order to get them to. As a grown up, I would probably pay them $30 a month, for the quality and variety of stuff they carry.

My Morr Music/Drip.fm dashboard:

“The first black president has made it harder to talk about race in America”

I am chilling out on Saturday night reading the Washington Post and listening to experimental electronic music from Iceland. As soon as I post this I am going to watch the pirated copy I downloaded last week of Terms of Endearment.

Point of this post is to comment on Daniqua Allen’s thoughtful article in the Post from a few months back, expressing disappointment that people in the U.S. haven’t been able to use Barack Obama’s election to help ease us into more water cooler-type conversation regarding race. I have had a bunch of thoughts related to Obama and race over the last four years, so I will include those, too.

A) I am also disappointed by this lack of water-cooler discussion.

B) Just because it hasn’t gotten easier to talk about race on a personal level doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still do it. I have been in several circumstances where I talked about race while stammering and blushing and feeling kind of clumsy. But I still did it, because I believe it is important.

C) Once at a party when I still lived in Richmond, I tried to explain to a bunch of white people from Massachusetts in what way Virginia is a swing state. My line was that Virginia was normally just a swing state in state-level elections, that it has not normally swung in federal elections. I went on to suggest that it had swung in 2008 because of higher black turnout. The white people from Massachusetts might as well have thrown their beers at me. I wish a black person had been there.

D) Daniqua may be a “ghetto-sounding name,” but it’s very pretty. Also, if I were a recruiter, anyone from the ghetto applying for a white-collar job would have my respect.

E) When Obama was elected, the Virginia ballot count officially putting his national numbers over McCain’s, I was in a bar with my friend Daniela watching it because neither of us owns a television. When they announced the Virginia result, the bartender started popping champagne bottles, and as the glasses were being handed around, I remember the person on TV saying something like, “And history is being made, America’s first African-American president.” Right when she said it, the thought really only hit me for the first time, but it hit me hard: “He’s not black, he’s bi-racial!” The word “octaroon” started dancing around my head. The whole idea of separate, distinct racial groups suddenly just seemed so irrelevant.

F) I really want to do one of those racial DNA tests. Parts of my family arrived in Virginia in the 1600s. We have had plenty of time to miscegenate. I want to know if I am part black. Or Chickahominee.

G) My theory about why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize: they gave it to him because everyone outside the U.S. viewed a man of African descent getting elected as President of the Free World as a much-needed push to restore global faith in the dignity, fairness, and promise of the United States. Which with the current balance of power is something that could be seen as quite a helpful accomplishment towards peace.

Going to watch Terms of Endearment now.

June 16, 1904

“A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals to discovery.”

-Stephen Daedelus, Ulysses, Chapter 9, “Scylla and Charybdis”

Other sweet, funny, arrogant, ironic, and joyful Ulysses quotes here. Happy Bloomsday!

u.s. news media lame oh wait that’s not news

Ugh. Just wanted to check in with English-language/U.S. coverage of the student uprisings that were happening in Mexico this weekend, so I went to my old source the Washington Post and searched “Mexico.”

The first thing that comes up is this crap. “Front-runner in Mexico’s presidential race pledges respect for democracy and plurality.” That is the headline.

I didn’t realize that the PRI owned the Washington Post (actually, the Associated Press) as well as Televisa, but it sure sounds like they’ve got the same bland-ass copywriter on their payroll.

Background: this candidate is the “front runner” because the Mexican media is heavily manipulated by politicians (and vice-versa), and also gangstas judging by the journalist homicide rate. (Because there are homicide statistics for journalists here.) When characterizing the persecution of journalists and hampering of free speech in Mexico, Freedom House actually uses the term “systematic impunity.” Apparently this news is not as important as the story about a politician who, quote, pledges to respect democracy and plurality.

Anyway, since there seems to be not that much reporting on the student marches that happened this weekend in Mexico, I will briefly summarize. Around 40 thousand “mostly young,” as AP says, college students marched through the city Friday and again Saturday to demonstrate what they see as obvious falseness in media claims that he is the “front runner.” There were offshoot marches in cities around the country, and even in other countries (including a group of 40 in NYC). This was after he was jeered by hundreds a week earlier when giving an obligatory interview to the Ibero University’s radio station.

I get that these kids are fresas, but AP doesn’t even make it to that level. What we have here is a very clear example of syndicated journalism eating its own barf, and then the Washington Post goes and republishes it.

Seriously, it makes sense that a wire service like AP would get stories from the big local media conglomerate, but why bother running the story if they aren’t even going to fact check it? Or reality check it?

Here, of course, the L.A. Times has a more realistic take.

more thoughts on mexican lateness and the term ya

Although I do still appreciate punctuality, I don’t really mind the stereotypical Mexican concept of time. I think I have discussed this before, but I have always seen it as just a less rigid concept of lateness. Five or ten minutes late isn’t “really” late for a lot of people. Unless the bus leaves without you I guess. But I prefer to think of the cultural tolerance for lateness as them being flexible.

As a comparison, looking at my native culture’s punctuality, I have considered the risky, “northerly cultures” argument. Germany, Switzerland, Scotland. In places where the length of a day fluxuates dramatically with the season, perhaps cultures develop a heightened sensitivity to time. If you sometimes only have three hours of daylight you tend to schedule it pretty carefully. And in places where there isn’t too much variation throughout the year of when the sun rises and sets, perhaps people think less about racing minute hands. The day is pretty much always twelve hours long, big whoop.

I recently read an article in the magazine Algarabía about the 19th-century German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, who studied the Aztecs. That article, written by Jaime Labastida, got me thinking a little bit more about the historical roots of this phenomenon. From that article I learned that, studying the Aztec calendar, Humboldt observed the Aztecs measuring time and space together, as one measurement. They didn’t deal with time but rather with space-time. Concept not popularized in northerly cultures until the 1930s mas o menos, by another German.

First off, this blows my mind, yet I am not surprised. I kind of already thought the Aztecs knew how to travel in time, and that feathered serpants are dinosaurs.

But secondly, it made me realize Mexicans are descended from a culture whose conception of time is not so much as a scheduling tool. It’s broader than that– Mexican, Aztec time consciously tracks movement. It’s not fixed in space. It is relative.

I recently got a Mexican to confirm this for me, with respect to the term “ya.” I have experienced countless frustrations with “ya,” which translates as “now” but not really. Now I think I understand it a bit better, haha, contemplating it from a space-time perspective. “Ya” = the present time and SPACE of the person speaking. So “I’m getting there ya” could actually mean “I’ll get there when I get there.” Which I had already learned from experience anyway, but still. I find it satisfying to be able to articulate why. It’s because the Mexican “now” is four-dimensional.

Thank you, Dr Labastida. And Aztecs. And Humboldt.

twin cities

Something that has blown my mind for a while is all the metropolitan areas straddling the Mexico-US border. It first occurred to me after a student of mine, a guy in Mexico’s immigration service (it’s called “migration” here, from Instituto Nacional de Migración), had to miss class one day because of a trip to Tijuana. He’s Cuban, btw. When he came back he very animatedly described to me the fact that the physical border barrier there extends out into the Pacific, to keep discourage people from crossing via ocean. He was laughing about it, actually… because it’s ridiculous.

But anyway, out of this conversation emerged further news to me, that Tijuana and San Diego are the same metropolitan area. They just have a freaking checkpoint and demilitarized zone separating them, kind of like Berlin during the Soviet era.

Check out this map of the border (click to enlarge). In fact several border cities have a counterpart directly on the other side, which makes sense. Border crossings are commercial and logistics centers; they provide jobs, which means that citizens of both sides with similar economic interests migrate to them. The “two” cities that develop on either side are politically separate, often linguistically separate, sometimes socioeconomically separate, and in some ways culturally separate, too.

However if you stop talking about cities proper and move on to urban geography terms, the combined population of the two cities is yes, a metropolitan area. It’s sort of like St Louis and East St Louis, or Chicago and Gary, or Oakland and San Francisco, or Brooklyn and Long Island, or Maryland-DC-NoVa. But these border cities have, well, the border.

Obviously Ciudad Juarez, Chuihuahua is a border city, the twin city to El Paso, Texas. Mexicans have joked to me that the mayor of Juarez lives in El Paso, but actually I don’t think it’s a joke.

Okay, and… Juarez is the murder capital of the world. This title makes it sound like it could be extreme street violence, but actually it is a war… 50,000 people have been killed in the narco struggles nationwide since 2006. In 2010 alone 3,000 of those people were killed in Juarez. That’s compared to the FIVE PEOPLE who were killed in El Paso that year.

Google directions, El Paso to Juarez:

Click to enlarge; 3.3 miles (12 minutes). War <–> No War. In a word, vom. Guácara.

I’m not saying I want the narco war to spread over the border. God help us all. I also realize that my comparison of St Louis-East St Louis to this situation would not be unharmonious.

But still… for fuck’s sake.

Screenshot from the video game Call of Juarez: the Cartel, by Ubisoft, released yesterday.