Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Were The Sex Pistols the first modern hipsters?

First read this article in Adbusters entitled "Hipster: The Dead End of Civilization." I think it adequately sums up why hipsters are a bad thing and indirectly explains the difference between a true hipster and somebody who merely subscribes to modern fashions and wears tight pants. To summarize, it comes down to hipsters standing for nothing really except seeking authenticity through consumerism. Co-opting working class values and trends and spending lots of money doing it.

A lot of quote-unquote hipsters are really just artsy people who do cool things like sell street food in The Mission or make swimming pools out of dumpsters in Brooklyn. These people are not actually hipsters in my eyes. They are doing something and creating interesting things rather than buying something obscure and then ditching it when it isn't obscure or authentic enough for them anymore.

Again, great article, but I disagree with it where it draws a bright line between hipsters and punks...which brings me to the penultimate punk band, The Sex Pistols.

They declared their allegiance to the working classes and held mainstream society in contempt but really I think it's pretty safe to say they were just intellectually retarded nihilists consumed with image, self-indulgence and popularity. Sound familiar?

Sid Vicious was chosen for his attitude rather than his musical ability and they ended up becoming just as vacuous and rich as the ruling classes and cliched rockers they claimed to abhor.

Punk was sort of an interesting counter-culture moment and I see the value in bands like The Ramones and The Clash. I like the do-it-yourself attitude and the quesitoning of authority, but check out this quote from Johnny Rotten: "[The Ramones] were all long-haired and of no interest to me. I didn't like their image, what they stood for, or anything about them; They were hilarious but you can only go so far with 'duh-dur-dur-duh'. I've heard it. Next. Move on."

Newsflash...The Ramones were developing your sound while you were busy tearing holes in your Pink Floyd shirts and spending money on hair gel and red dye. Get over yourselves. Who cares how long their hair was?

Also, The Pistols (and pretty much all punks and hipsters) constantly talked about how much they hated hippies. The punk-hippie dichotomy really deserves to be explored fully in another post, but when you come down to it, they really weren't that different. The main difference I see is that at least hippies were trying to do something and change the world* while punks were consumed more with rebelling for the sake of rebelling and were ultimately a much more selfish group of blowhards. It's the same difference between a hiptser and somebody who isn't utterly worthless.

*That they failed and ended up becoming the big wigs they were rebelling against is irrelevant to me. At least they initially stood for something.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

America's unjust DUI laws

Though the number of unjust laws in this country is staggering, the Economist zeroed in on one area recently and took on our Draconian sex offender laws. That's right, The Economist. This isn't coming from High Times or Harper's or Hustler or even the "liberal" (as right-wingers see it) New York Times. This is from a magazine that opposed the provision of aid to the Irish during the Great Famine.

The magazine makes a great point that the system lumps all "sex" offenders together and makes it harder to differentiate who the truly dangerous deviants are.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least five states require registration for people who visit prostitutes, 29 require it for consensual sex between young teenagers and 32 require it for indecent exposure. Some prosecutors are now stretching the definition of “distributing child pornography” to include teens who text half-naked photos of themselves to their friends.

The Economist argues that watering down the sex offender registry makes it actually less effective in preventing child abuse. And the registry will most likely only continue to become further watered down because politicians will only continue to make the laws tougher and tougher in order to not appear soft on crime.

Few politicians dare to vote against such laws, [let alone propose to reduce the harsh penalties] because if they do, the attack ads practically write themselves.
This article seems to sum up about sex crimes what I have been thinking for a while now about drinking and driving laws.

It seems that our society insists on gravitating further and further back to the time of The Scarlet Letter. I wouldn't be surprised if sex offenders have to start identifying themselves with some sort of giant S on their clothing (we're almost there with their houses), nor would it shock me if people convicted of DUI soon have to brandish their car with some sort of giant warning. Many already have conspicuous breathalyzer boxes in the cars. Why not require giant pizza delivery-esque glowing signs that say "Hey, I like to drive drunk!"?

To be certain, driving drunk (and the key word is "drunk") and committing sex crimes are terrible acts that deserve to be punished. So many families have been permanently damaged by the stupid and often selfish acts of men and women who took their lives and the lives of other people on the road for granted when they tried to make it home after a serious bender.

I belive to correct this problem, it's not as simple as make the penalties increasingly harsher and make the threshold lower to prosecute. Laws of this type should be more about protecting the public and less about generating revenue for the state or allowing the politician to appear for photo ops and generate material for his reelection campaign TV ads.

As usual, the politicians have missed the mark on how to truly benefit the most people. According to MADD, "In 2002, 2.3% of Americans 18 and older surveyed reported alcohol-impaired driving, compared with only 2.1% in 1997." So as the penalties were getting stiffer and the threshold BAC has been reduced to where people can have only a couple drinks be over the limit, drunk driving has not really decreased at all. One study has suggested that lowering the BAC has had an ambiguous effect at best. The bottom line is that people are still getting behind the wheel and people are still dying from alcohol-related crashes. And if 2.3 percent is the number reported, then there are lots and lots of people who are also lying on their drinking and driving surveys.

So how many ways has the government tried to reduce the deadly effects of drunk driving on our society other than increasing the penalties and generating more revenue and political capital for campaign ads? If you ask me, the answer is zero unless you count meaningless public service announcements.

Aside from the most progressive of cities, how many places actually try to get cars off the road? To me, if you want to curb drunk driving, you have to get people to focus more on the driving part than the drinking part of the equation. Build more public transportation, encourage urban planning that allows for more walking or taxi rides, partially pay for people's taxi rides after midnight, instruct police officers to do more than lie in wait to nab drunk drivers and get them to proactively assist intoxicated people make it home without driving.

People who drink lots alcohol generate tremendous amounts of tax dollars for cities and help keep urban districts alive. It's hard to imagine a thriving city center where there were no bars or nightclubs. Drinkers deserve to be treated with more respect than gotcha policing and thousands of dollars in fines and legal costs and mandatory education. They also deserve more options than compete with the rest of the drunken hoards for an expensive taxi, find a sober driver to hang out in a loud and crowded bar all night, walk until dawn, or drive drunk.

I repeat, drunk driving is a terrible burden on public safety, but so is text messaging and talking on a cell phone while driving. Some studies have suggested texting is even more dangerous than drunk driving. But do you see texters losing their licenses for a year and having big black boxes installed in their cars to breathe in? When it comes to oncoming traffic, I would much rather see a responsible driver heading home after two or three drinks than somebody with his/her face in a Blackberry.

It's time to start examining our laws and what roles they really play in making society a better place*. Big problems need creative solutions, not the same old dog and pony shows that politicians have been using to get reelected for centuries. Let's stop treating streakers like child murderers and let's stop treating buzzed drivers like involuntary manslaughterists.

*I'll save drug laws for another blog post.

[Mostly] Spot-on San Francisco Take

Sorry for the lack of posting. I wish I could say that I've had better things to do than to transcribe my ramblings, but the truth is that I've caught a raging case of the lazies when it comes to writing.

To tide all three of you over, here are Anthony Bourdain's thoughts on my current home. For the most part, I think he does an excellent job of describing it. Tune into the Travel Channel tonight to see the SF No Reservations.

I'm Not Angry
By Anthony Bourdain on August 9, 2009 11:57 AM Permalink

Let me come right out and say it. I love San Francisco. I am helpless and unwavering in my affection--in spite of every effort over the years to find fault, to dismiss, to sneer. And there's surely lots to sneer at, San Francisco and the Bay being pretty much the epicenter of so many of my most cherished aversions: political correctness, veganism, rich hippies, sanctimoniousness about food, food fetishism, animal rights terrorists, gastro-dogma, and loud locavores who actually get their produce flown in from Chino Farms in San Diego.

But at this point, I bore even myself railing against the above. Hell, I'm not even bitter about San Francisco taking the lead in banning smoking anymore. They won that battle long ago. Game over.

I guess it's like any love that's true--sooner or later you learn to accept the good, bad and silly all together. It's all part of the package when you know, without any question, that you want the package. It doesn't even matter if one's love is returned.

Okay ... it does still drive me berserko watching a blissed out St. Alice, burning up a few cords of firewood (in Berkeley no less!) to cook two eggs for an unusually credulous Lesley Stahl.
But in general, I got it all wrong, didn't I?

It may be the town of Alice Waters but it's also home to Dirty Harry. The Grateful Dead? Yes. But also the Dead Kennedys. The excrutiating and treacherous lite FM sounds of the Jefferson Starship? True enough. But also Blue Cheer, the Count Five, Big Brother, Sly and Family Stone and the greatest band that never was: the Brian Jonestown Massacre. None of these entities could have come from--or taken root--anywhere else.

I don't think you could have one San Francisco without the other. If the San Francisco area weren't the perceived headquarters of anti-foie gras forces, I doubt very much there'd be an opposing force doing something as crazy as developing a foie gras vodka. I don't know that a less crunchy community would require a stuck-joyously-in-time museum of beef like House of Prime Rib. It's like a yin and yang thing ... a balance, man, one thing creates a need for another.

San Francisco, underneath a gossamer thin veneer of granola is in fact, a two-fisted drinking town, a place of oversized martinis, silver zeppelins overloaded with bleeding slabs of meat, restaurants you could call "institutions" that defiantly refuse to suck, and in an ever tidier, cleaner, Disneyfied world--where even New York's Times Square looks like a theme park, still, a delightfully nasty, dirty, beautiful, carnivorous, vice-filled town.

And you can, apparently, recklessly careen around town at high speed in a rented Mustang (from whom we received, by the way, absolutely no money, consideration or thing of value), shooting guerilla-style, possibly without appropriate permits or safety precautions--and the local constabulary can be remarkably understanding. I doubt they would have been as tolerant of the impromptu filming of a car chase where I'm from.

Oh ... and I'd like to mention that though Swan Oyster Depot does not appear in the show (because we shot a segment there for the previous series), I ate there almost every day while shooting in town. Mopping fat and roe out of those Dungeness crab backs with sourdough bread and washing it down with a cold beer? Perfect happiness.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pollan on the decline of cooking

Great essay in the New York Times from Michael Pollan on everything from how cooking has become a spectator sport to the new movie "Julie and Julia" to how a return to cooking could save your health. Like everything that Pollan has ever written, I highly recommend you set aside 20 minutes or so and take your time digesting what he has to say.

Ruhlman's post about Pollan's essay also makes a great point about the distinction between cooks and foodies, which is really quite a large distinction.

Nothing else really needs to be said. Read this stuff because it's a lot better than anything I've ever written. I'm not kidding, damn it. Read it.