The Internet’s Brutal Downsides

In the past 30 years we have … come to understand the internet’s and high tech’s steep and brutal downsides—political polarization for profit, the knowing encouragement of internet addiction, the destruction of childhood, a nation that has grown shallower and less able to think

Peggy Noonan, in Artificial Intelligence in the Garden of Eden []

Credit to Richard Geib, who quoted this in his recent post Peggy Noonan and Technology Tribalism and “Troll Nation” – Very Online and Very Angry [].

Both articles are worth a read; the state of American Society and the dangers of AI and unconstrained Silicon Valley are worth discussing. But… I don’t know. I was struck by a certain feeling of pessimism in both.

Noonan’s opinion piece,which was published in the Wall Street Journal [], comes across as “I always knew it was bad”. Hind sight is 20/20, and maybe she has written about this before, I’m not familiar with her writing, but she spends a lot of time on her allegory and healthy dose of fear mongering but no solutions. There is a lot of fear over the rapid rise of AI —AI is coming for our jobs, AI is going to destroy education, AI is going to get our of hand and end the world a la Terminator— so what? Noonan offers nothing. And telling us that the egos of Silicon Valley are out of control, megalomaniacs is like saying water is wet. I expect people published in news papers to offer some solutions to problems. Not just spread existential dread and stoke anger. Fox and CNN do enough of that.

Geib’s blog post is a bit too much grumpy dad, complaining about the state of the world (kids are smoking pot and warning PJs all day!). He also explains his plan to run away from all the polarization and decay to a nice retirement somewhere far away while the world burns itself down if it wants to.


Sungei Simpang Kiri Jellyfish

I’ve posted before about the wildlife around my house in Singapore, Wild Singapore. During the lockdowns of COVID there was a noticeable increase in the wildlife, but these days, with life back to normal, there is less. I haven’t seen the otters since I posted the video about them. There are still fish and birds on a daily basis, and a monitor lizard every once it a while.

The other day I saw a new one: jellyfish. First just one, then as I focused on the water I saw another, then another. There were quite a few floating around.

Jellyfish swimming in Sungai Simpang Kiri

I guess it’s not too odd. the bridge were I cross the canal is only two and a half kilometers from the ocean and is tidal. But, this is the first time I’ve seen jellyfish.


Back to Mine: Faithless

Realse Date
October 16, 2000

I stumbled in this album in a used CD shop in Islington while living in London in late 2001 —the same shop I found Dusty in Memphis in. I was already a fan of Faithless [] and I’ve covered Sunday 8PM is on this list, so initially I thought that this Back to Mine album was a new release or some Europe only release that I had missed.

Turns out yes, but no. Let me explain; Back to Mine [] was (is?) a series of albums published by a small label in England. Each release was compiled by a different DJ or producer —and in this case both a DJ, Sister Bliss, and a producer, Rollo— and each release was a collection of songs, sometimes mixed, sometimes not, that inspired the artist or the things they would play in their own house after a night out.

I loved Faithless’ Back to Mine album so much I dove off the deep end and bought up as many as of the releases as I could find. I got a few more in England, then a bunch off off of EBay when I was back in the US —I don’t think they were offically released in the US. I even got a few in Singapore. According to Wikipedia there are 33 volumes, I think I have up to volume 25, maybe it’s time to go back and get there rest.

I have to say a that it’s a mixed bag. Some volumes I love, others are not to my taste. Music is funny that way, what an artist you like, likes or is inspired by, maybe completely not to your taste. How many Beatles or Led Zeppelin fans likes Blues?

Anyway, let us talk about Faithless’ entry into the series, number 5, released in October 2000, is still my favorite. It’s mixed most of the way through.

The sheer epic mess of the track selection on this album is mind blowing. I could write about how amazing each and every track is on it’s own and how it works as part of the the whole on this album. But’ I’m not going to do that, I’m going to restrict myself to a few highlights:

  • The album starts with a brief into, just under a minute of a new (at the time) Faithless track which sets the mode, chill, ambient, downtempo… take your pick.
  • After setting the stage the albums slides into “My Life” by Dido (Faithless producer Rollo’s sister), which is the final track off her 1999 album No Angel, which is a phenomenal album. “My Life” isn’t something you would think of on a downtempo electronica compilation but it works brilliantly here
  • Immediately after “My Life” is “Childhood” by Dusted, this song is just pure awesomeness and is the beginning of a few tracks of perfect turn-of-the-century downtempo in a row
  • In the middle of this downtempo selection masterclass is “Mushrooms” by Marshall Jefferson vs. Noosa Heads — this is one of my favorite tracks on the album, where every track is a favorite; the vocal samples are perfect, the dude talking about the first time he took mushrooms, because his girlfriend was freaky, but he didn’t know she was that freaky, is awesome, the type of silly story sort of chill you want on a late night after the club album. Reminds me of “Fluffy Little Clouds” buy the Orb
  • We have to talk about “Another Night In” by the Tindersticks. This is the saddest song ever. It’s this depressed slow, dark rock song with mumbled lyrics about loneliness and lost love, it’s dark and depressing but it works here

I could write about every song. Seriously. But I’m gonna stop. But lets talk about the last two songs on the album:

  • The penultimate song is “Fade Into Me” by Mazzy Star, yep, that one, you know it, you love it; It brings the mixed part of the album to a melancholy close, perfect wind down
  • The final track begins with a sample “please daddy can I have one more? No son, you gotta go to bed right now. Oh please please please. OK then just one more…” leads into a reggae version of “Billy Jean” by Shinehead. Holy shit is it awesome, “a beauty queen with an M16…” Listen to it.

This album is in the running for my favorite album of all time. I can’t listen to it enough. Tragically, this album is not available on Apple Music, I checked in the US and the UK store. It’s also not on Spotify. I suspect it has to do with rights, it was probably never cleared for digital back in the day. The newer albums starting with Volume 29, released in 2019 are there. I tried to create a playlist but “Childhood” by Dusted is not available Apple, some specific remixes are not available or only available as mixed versions, etc., but here it is:

Luckily, someone did the leg work of building a playlist on Spotify too, but again there are missing tracks and it’s not the same unmixed, but you can appreciate the individual songs here:

quotes ranting

The birth of a kind of fascism?

What is most striking to me, and most discouraging, is that they are so apathetic while being neither blind nor unconscious. […] They witness the rise, more ominous every day, of racism and reactionary attitudes—the birth of a kind of fascism.

Simone de Beauvoir, in America Day by Day

Simone de Beauvoir wrote that in 1947. She was visiting Oberlin collage in Ohio. She wrote it in her diary during a trip across the US and later, in 1948, the diary was published as America Day by Day. I have not read much of Beauvior writing, only a few passages during philosophy classes long ago. But, after seeing this quote in a recent Wisecrack video on Nihilism [], I checked out America, from the Internet Archive’s Open Library [], and read some of it. I wanted to get some context before I posted it. Here is the full paragraph from the book, page 94 of the 1999 edition:

What is most striking to me, and most discouraging, is that [the students] are so apathetic while being neither blind nor unconscious. They know and deplore the oppression of thirteen million blacks, the terrible poverty of the South, the almost equally desperate poverty that pollutes the big cities. They witness the rise, more ominous every day, of racism and reactionary attitudes—the birth of a kind of fascism. They know that their country is responsible for the world’s future. But they themselves don’t feel responsible for anything, because they don’t think they can do anything in this world. At the age of twenty, they are convinced that their thought is futile, their good intentions ineffective: “America is too vast and heavy a body for one individual to move it.” And this evening I formulate what I’ve been thinking for days. In America, the individual is nothing. He is made into an abstract object of worship; by persuading him of his individual value, one stifles the awakening of a collective spirit in him. But reduced to himself in this way, he is robbed of any concrete power. Without collective hope or personal audacity, what can the individual do? Submit or, if by some rare chance this submission is too odious, leave the country.

Simone de Beauvoir, in America Day by Day

The reason I wanted to post the quote, is that when watching the Wisecrack video, it struck me that Beauvoir wrote that in 1947. The second half of it could have been written yesterday. It could be a comment on the current state of America, at least if you are left leaning. Admittedly the first half is not reflective of America today —there have been a lot of protest in the past few years— but the second half’s relevance jumped out at me. Not for the first time, I was reminded that the soul of America is, in many way, unchanging.

In the pages around this passage Beauvoir talks about how American capitalism crushes the individual; how big companies and their political allies fight to suppress the common people, by suppressing unions; how Americans think America is the greatest, without any real evidence or experience. She writes that American students feel a sense of greatness, and their responsibility that comes with that, but also a sense of fatalism that as an individual American there is nothing that anyone can do to stop the machine.

The problems don’t seem to change, we still see the conflict between capital and labor, the tendency of our patriotism towards something more fascist… But, on a more positive note, maybe some things do change; Beauvoir said but they themselves don’t feel responsible for anything, because they don’t think they can do anything in this world. But within a generation the colleges of America would be the wellspring of the protests against the Vietnam war. So, the fatalism of students or the character of American society as a whole, did change; people did stand up and say “my voice can make a difference”. Maybe it was the hangover of them war and depression where these students grew up, and not living inside the devastation of the war like the Europeans did that shaped this particular moment that Beauvoir encountered this fatalism in the students of Oberlin.

Today in America, as in Europe and many other places in the world, university students are a primary source of popular drive for change. Trying to change the world when you are in college is a right of passage for many students. When I was in college I attended anti-war rallies in the US and England, I volunteered for Amnesty International, campaigned for the International Campaign for Tibet, and, of course, I became a vegetarian. Even if your view of the problems and solution does not change with age its hard to devote too much of your life to protesting when you have kids. Also, I live in Singapore, protesting is… frowned upon. Many of these issues are less of an issue in Singapore, even if they are present. What can you do?

Personally, I try to make sure my kids are aware of these issues, and other issues of importance, like climate change. I donate to organizations that fight for the causes I believe are worth. I’m sure I could do more, give more, devote more time. But, c’est la vie. I’m glad there are people out there who don’t outgrow the age of protest. We need them, even if their are too many that rate too far to the left and right to offer solutions I can believe in or even back. Discourse and (peaceful) protest are important parts of American democracy. And as the ability to have civil discourse has seemingly evaporated at all levels of government the protests are more important. When democratic governance can’t or won’t address the issues the popular democratic methods need to take their place. Maybe that’s why we saw such big protests for Black Lives Matter and such a big focus on the voices raised by the #MeToo movement.

Seeing the small protests that took place when Trump was charged and arraigned this week give some hope that maybe America’s fascist tendencies are on the retreat again. Or maybe they will just rally around a different candidate now; fascist like a winner. We’ll see. The US election is about to being again, the greatest show on Earth.


Verve // Unmixed

Various Artists
Realse Date
April 30, 2002

I bought the Verve // Unmixed [] in late 2002 or early 2003 while living in DuPont Circle in Washington, DC. I got it at the little music store near Kramer books. I bought a lot of Jazz around this time. When I was in Europe I went to a lot of old Jazz bars, including Le Bilboquet in Paris or Ronnie Scott’s in London when I could afford them and in many, many smaller places all over Europe that I never even knew the name of. Little basements in Paris and Prague, upstairs rooms in Florence and Barcelona. I don’t know where I picked up this jazz bug, but I was into it.

When I came back to the US, while I was job hunting I watched Ken Burns Jazz [] on TV at my parents house. Jazz is, like, 19 hours long, and almost entirely about jazz from before I was born; Louie Armstrong and Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, John Caltrain and many more. It was a great introduction to the history of jazz and the golden age from 1920s up to the late 1960s.

This is all to say that I was into jazz and, especially older jazz styles at the time I stumbled across the Verve // Unmixed CD. So an album of classic jazz from the Verve [], who’s back catalog of jazz is second to none sounded like an extrodonarly good idea.

I immediately fell in love with it. Some of the songs a I knew already while some were new to me. It’s an eclectic mix of songs and styles, starting with “Spanish Grease” and ending with “Hari Krishna”. In between it spends time in New York with “See-Line Woman” and Brazil on “Who Needs Forever”.

This mix is, apparently, not for everyone. I read one review in preparing for writing this where the reviewer was saying that the album lacks any sort of coherent theme or vision and that the transitions between songs are jarring. They conclude that the album is less than the sum of it’s parts dispite the amazing songs on it. I could not disagree more. The album is not a meditation on a specific style or concept or artist, it’s a survey of some of the greatest jazz recordings of all time spanning the golden age if jazz.

The most potent song on the album is the penultimate song, Billie Holiday’s take on “Strange Fruit”. It’s just stunning. Holiday’s vocals are filled with pain and the muted horns are crying as she describes the horrific scene of a lynching. When you listen to the lyrics, you think “this song shouldn’t be beautiful”, but it is, it’s so achingly beautiful. If you really listen to the lyrics it’s going to haunt you but the singing and playing is so beautiful that you’ll come back to it again and again.

The great women of jazz are on full display on the album: In addition to “Strange Fruit”, Billie Holiday gets another amazing track, “Don’t Explain”. There are also two tracks from Nina Simone, “See-Line Woman” which I already mentioned and her legendary take on “Feelin’ Good”. Then there is Carmen McRae’s “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, Sara Vaughan’s “Summertime” and Ella Fitzgerald’s “Wait ‘Til You See Him”. Most of the songs on this album are “jazz standards” that have been performed by countless artists over the years but these are the gold standard versions of these standards.

The core of the album, between (excluding the first track, “Spanish Grease” and the last two “Strange Fruit” and “Hari Krishna”) cast a spell on me every time I listen to it. “How Long Has This Been Going On”, “Summertime”, “See-Line Woman”, “Feelin’ Good” and “Don’t Explain” transport me to another time and place. A place I could never have actually been. They transport me to the sweaty jazz clubs of the Harlem Renascence. In my minds eye, I see the grainy black and white photos of 1920’s Harlem that are in Ken Burn’s Jazz, and I imagine the music coming from the basement clubs. At the same time scenes from the Harlem of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man [] play out in my mind. Invisible Man, made a huge impression on me, and I read it and re-read it at about the same time, first in London and later in Washington, DC. It’s a novel that reminds me, every time I read it, of the evil of mankind but the resilience of people, the people what made this music.

It’s funny that I also associate these songs, sometimes, with a vision of Paris between the world wars. A vision I got from reading Jean Paul Satre’s The Age of Reason [] (don’t click on that, god that review is shit, on paragraph for a book I loved, note to self: rewrite that shit.) A significant portion of The Age of Reason takes place in a smokey jazz part in Paris. When I visited Paris in the early 2000’s I visited The Club St. Germain one of the original clubs. It was no longer in the basement, having moved upstairs into Le Bilboquet, at bit more of a restaurant. But the original club was one of the premier post-war jazz spots in Paris, in all of Europe. When I sat there I thought about Satre’s characters sitting in the same spots.

In my research for this post, I see that Le Bilboquet closed and has reopened in a different location in the years since. So, the one real place I sat listening to jazz that this album transports me to, is like the Harlem of Invisible man or Ken Burn’s Jazz, a place in memory only. At least the music lives on.

Did I convince you this album is worth listening to? Listen to it on Apple Music:

Or listen on Spotify: