Joanna Newsom.

I’m listening to the aptly named Joanna Newsom sing her crazy songs. Her new album, Ys, borders on total brilliance. Newsom is a harpist and her incredible voice, wavering and pitching and heaving in the waves of her music, sounds like the harp she plays. The songs are orchestrally constructed, full of sweeping violins, plucking chords, and a rare backup chorale. It’s almost as if Newsom came down to our unholy earth and blessed us with these tidy morsels of overwrought, delightful Viking lust.
Kind of a cross between Kate Bush, Bjork, Sufjan Stevens, and a range of new music recording artists, the new album is phenomenally produced. Steve Albini, who produced some of my all-time favorite bands (The Pixies, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Superchunk, The Breeders, Fugazi, PJ Harvey and others) also produced one of the tracks on this little masterpiece. Newsom signed with my fave new label, Drag City, and she worked with Jim O’Rourke on the mix. It’s a bit of total turtle soup: there’s Jews Harp, electric guitar, harpy harp, cymbals, and a cameo of a singer that sounds like Nick Cave (it’s Smog’s Bill Callahan). The whole thing is just rattling around in my tin brain. It’s a rock opera for sad men, a siren call for mermaids, a plaintive cry for long commutes and desperate sonic youth.

Thoughts in Grey.

I’m redesigning my business’ website. A few weeks ago, I tried converting the new design into pure gray and it looks really, really nice. (I don’t even know the proper spelling of gray/grey, and it still looked nice.) Lately, I’ve been thinking that everything will soon be in shades of grey/gray.
One of my favorite Mac/technology blogs has been in battleship gray forever. The author, John Gruber, and many others, believe that Apple’s new operating system, due out early next year, will sport a fine new graphical user interface that takes gray to the next level. Gone will be the translucent and transparent iconography that Apple and Windows users have come to enjoy. Gone, hopefully, will be red, green, yellow, fuscia, and lilac. (You can see a little of what the future holds by downloading Disco, designed by the Dutchman Jasper Hauser.)
Other things are grey. Mice are gray. They have been on the planet a lot longer than we have. Cockroaches, too, are often a shade of grey. They have been around longer than mice. Elephants and dolphins, who are probably smarter than humans are, are gray.
A few years ago, VW came out with a beautiful shade of gray for its Passat and Jetta cars. That gray had a blue feeling. I don’t know what grey does for driver visibility on the road. Probably not too much. This is probably why you don’t see too many of those grey VWs anymore.
I used to know somebody who worked at Grey Advertising. Grey has a terrible (and sadly ungray) website.
Sometime during the time I wanted to become a doctor, between the ages of 4 and 21, my grandfather gave me Grey’s Anatomy. I poured over it, but apparently not enough.
In Poland, there’s such a thing as a grey market. It was essentially a means for newly liberated citizens to find and get work without having to pay the government immense taxes. It worked. Perhaps it still does.
It’s said that when someone’s skin turns gray, they’re dead.
The aura that swamis and other priests see around people is usually a beautiful shade of some color or another. I understand that smokers cast an aura of grey.
I also think that we cold all end up as Grey goo. That might be fun. But I hope Apple comes out with its grey operating system first.


I’m a big fan of Seth Godin, who has dropped out of sight (my fault) recently. He had a great post on his blog a few days ago, called When to start. It’s simple. Get to it. All that.
This weekend was the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup, held here in Winnipeg. I’ve been hearing about it for months and I finally twigged on Tuesday that the Grey Cup is as big and dumb and fun as the Superbowl. It’s a big deal: $30 million will be brought to Winnipeg just this weekend, parties have been going on constantly since Thursday, major corporate sponsorships, huge hot air balloons flying overhead, traffic. It is.
After looking around for a few months for an onlnie task organizer and notekeeper, I’m trying out Backpack, the mid-weight information manager from 37signals. So far, so okay.

Borat as Conflict.

I haven’t seen Borat yet but I’ve read over a dozen reviews of the movie, which makes me superbly appropriate to post a few comments about it.
1. The movie’s website is a work of genius. The site looks exactly like what you might expect from the Ministry of Information of Kazakhstan but, moreover, it looks like the best of what I’ve called, for a few years now, “dirty design.” The site, with its poorly rendered typefaces, flying flag, discombulated “controls” on the movie, flashing blue text, missing images, non-matching photos, bad grammar, and poor line breaks is a case study in web design done in the 1996 year of internet. Further, the HTML code sitting behind the site is equally bad and wonderful.
2. While I appreciate that no venal stone is left unturned and the film is non-stop funny-funny, I’m not sure what the true underlying politics are. (My semiotic theory studies are old and rotten at this point.) On the one hand, Borat could be seen as a tall-tale deriviative of Mr. Bush and his friends and colleagues. A confident boor and a collegial misanthropist, Borat could be said to represent the worst tendencies of the current Administration, the fierce inanity that directed the country to go to war because of hyped pretenses. Here, the sendup is aligned with the left, as Borat dismantles the monopoly of stupidity we have witnessed. On the other hand, Borat could be seen as a highly reactionary impulse, a schmuck who can be likened to someone in contemporary blackface that seems to think that insulting minorities (and everyone is a minority) is a right. By taking on the disguise of a less recognized Caucasian (and therefore legitimate) culture, Borat can smile at the inherent divisions created by our clouded social vision. In this case, he could be seen as a manly return of the repressed, a social revulsion by those in power who largely enjoy the class, religious, and ethnic divisions we experience daily.
3. The movie has received some criticism by various reviewers because news anchors and journalists have succombed to interviewing Borat in character. I tend to agree that news producers have no excuse for perpetuating free entertainment on their news programs. Their responsibility, unfortunately for them, is to present the news, the reality behind the screen, to the public. By interviewing “Borat,” they do a disservice to the field of journalism.
And so ends review of movie-film Borat in blog by man not seeing yet movie-film.

A New American Order

It’s hard to believe, but after all these years in the desert, the Democrats took it (almost all, waiting for Virginia) back today. I’m amazed and excited for the country. It’s obvious and corny but nonetheless true: American democracy is a privileged and imperfect system but it astoundingly tends to work. The country’s health, measured by yesterday’s election, is stronger not because of who got elected but because they were elected and because change is considered a good thing in America.
I think the Democrats should gloat, grin, shake their fists, stick out their tongues, moon the pundits, and sing heroic “We Are the Champion”-type songs. It’s deserved and Howard Dean should get loads of credit. A Muslim was elected, a black candidate was elected in the South, a woman may soon be House Speaker. These things are not trivial. A shout should be shouted.
But then I hope that the Democrats roll up their newly pressed sleeves and get to work. A lot of the world is poor, malnourished and living in fear and there’s not a lot of time to lose.

The Last Drop Drips.

I have to hand it to the editors and publisher (Conde Nast) of the New Yorker. While print journalism is increasingly going “walled garden,” allowing only paid subscribers to access their content, the New Yorker continues to publish its often superb pieces online. I’m a long-time New Yorker subscriber, even here in Winnipeg, and though it’s expensive ($90 per year!), it would take a lot for me to give it up.
In last week’s issue, Michael Specter wrote a frightening article called “The Last Drop: Confronting the possibility of a global catastrophe.” It’s worth in its entirety and reviewing it in detail will not do it justice. But, essentially, Specter makes a provocative yet realistic assessment of the world’s coming shortage of water. We’re in trouble. Here are just a few quotes from the first half of the piece:

There is no standard for how much water a person needs each day, but experts usually put the minimum at fifty litres. The government of India promises (but rarely provides) forty. Most people drink two or three litres—less than it takes to flush a toilet. The rest is typically used for cooking, bathing, and sanitation. Americans consume between four hundred and six hundred litres of water each day, more than any other people on earth. Most Europeans use less than half that.

China has less water than Canada and forty times as many people. With wells draining aquifers far faster than they can be replenished by rain, the water table beneath Beijing has fallen nearly two hundred feet in the past twenty years.

If a large bucket were to represent all the seawater on the planet, and a coffee cup the amount of freshwater frozen in glaciers, only a teaspoon would remain for us to drink.

As people migrate to cities, they invariably start to eat more meat, adding to the pressure on water resources. The amount of water required to feed cattle and to process beef is enormous: it takes a thousand tons of water to grow a ton of grain and fifteen thousand to grow a ton of cow. Thirteen hundred gallons of water go into the production of a single hamburger; a steak requires double that amount.