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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Dance With The Devil

Immortal Technique - Dance With The Devil

In order to finally catch up with the books I've read over my vacation, I'll just include the last two in one entry.

Don't Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff is the first one. I read it on the flight back to France after I had gotten it as a christmas present. The basic premise of the book is how to argue with a Republican. According to Lakoff frames that are used in public discourse dominate the debate more so than facts do. Thus, a debate about tax relief will always put a Democratic partisan at a disadvantage simply because the word relief already implies that taxes are something inherently bad that need to be treated similarly to a sickness. In order to win any kind of public discussion it is accordingly of the utmost importance that positive progressive frames are formed. Without these, Democrats cannot win any elections in the near future. I am usually quite sceptic about these ideas that the form in a way is more important then the package. I feel that a democracy should strive to have an enlightened population that forms its decision based on the facts presented to them. Somekind of Homo Oeconomicus modell. Yet, this book made me doubt myself a little. I realize that most people aren't as informed as they should be and that these people can easily be swayed to vote for one party or another by simple catchy headlines, it seems likely that in order to win any kind of election one needs to adhere to these modus operandis. All in all Lakoff makes a very good case for his argument and I would completely recommend his book for anyone interested in political discourse. One negative point, in the later chapters Lakoff tries himself at some political analysis as well, where I found him to be weaker, most likely simply because he leaves his usual field of studies (he is a linguist after all).

The second book was a little less intelligent made for an entertaining read though, similarly to the Terry Pratchett novel I discussed a couple of days ago, Tony Hillerman's Skeleton Man belongs to the genre of easily accesible books that one can read in one sitting. Hillerman writes crime novels that take place in the area of the Four Corner Reservation, his heroes are officers of the Navajo Tribal Police and he is always good for a thrilling crime novel. Definitely one of the most enjoyable bestseller writers of the day I know.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Top 10 of 2006

Following my personal Top 10 of records published in 2006:

10 - Bob Dylan - Modern Times
Is there anything new that I could potentially say about Mr Zimmermann? I doubt it, simply fact that the greatest American poet of the 20th century has produced a new album warrants a spot in the Top 10.

9 - Dr John - Mercernary
Dr. John covering Johnny Mercer. Mac Rebennack has published typically New Orleans albums in the last couple of years and all of them are good. His voice coupled with the typical New Orleans piano and the brass in the back work every time.

8 - Van Morrison - Pay The Devil
Van the Man goes country. With three Hank Williams covers, the most American Irish ever shows just how far he has immersed himself in American music. Great Album.

7 - Solomon Burke - Nashville
And another Soul crooner exploring the country route. Burke had already recorded the odd country tune before (and Southern Soul and Country have been perpetually close anyway). I would call this the best traditional Country album of the year and it definitely should have been up there in the Country charts (only made it to 55 though as modern country simply is too washed up and poppy nowadays).

6 - Aaron Neville - Bring It On Home
I usually don't really like Aaron's solo work (the Neville Brothers' stuff is great), his voice is too soft and his material and back up to much geared for the Easy Listening market, but this one is simply amazing. The subtitle is The Soul Classics giving it the impression of a compilation, but Neville has decided to re-rerecord classics by Sam Cooke, The Stable Singers et al. I wish he would always sing like this.

5 - Charlie Musselwhite - Delta Hardware
I hadn't really known this guy before, had him down as just another mediocre white Blues singer. In fact he is far better and this is easily the best blues album of the year. Nomen est omen, this is pure delta material, nothing extravagant, nothing fancy, no Fat Possum-like electronic experiments. Just the good stuff.

4 - Neil Young - Living With War
As above my opinion of Neil Young hadn't been to high before (too experimental a folkie for me that dude) and I wonder how this album will sound in 10 years when all this furor about the current US-administration has quieted down. Yet, right now this is a great album, a running commentary on politics in the vein of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and the Almanac Singers, a blunt attack on the misuse of power by Bush and his cabinet set to rocky music.

3 - Jerry Lee Lewis - Last Man Standing
If I calculated an age average of the singers on this list here it would probably not bode too well for my standing for younger readers of my blog (meaning everyone), but what can I do, the music is just so much better. As most older legends do at some point Jerry Lee has recorded a duets album, these sometimes are quite sad affairs with older geniuses coupled with young pop guys in order to prop up sales delivering songs that suck. This is not the case here, not at all, most of the co-singers are older stars in their own right (Buddy Guy, Little Richard, Keith Richards...notable exceptions are Toby Keith and Kid Rock) and Jerry Lee dominates all of them. Wonderful Rock N Roll album.

2 - Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome
Bruce Springsteen definitely is too much of a Classic Rock kind of guy for me. Decent and everything, just doesn't really work for me this Stadium Rock stuff. This is different. Covering Seeger songs (and thus again a political statement considering Seeger's well-documented left-wing history) Springsteen and band sound as if they just got together one saturday night at his house and recorded these songs for fun. You can hear how much fun they had playing this stuff, good ol'timin' stuff.

1 - Hank Williams III - Straight To Hell
And finally someone under 40 on this list. May I introduce the son of Hank Williams Jr, the grandson of Hank Williams himself. Can anyone think of a more pressing heritage as a singer? His third (studio) album of Country music and it is his best. Aggressive, hard-rocking Country that keeps the Outlaw tradition going. None of that soft, bland Nashville BS, neither the flag-waving Toby Keith kind. My only problem is that I can never decide whether I like the hard rockers or the slow crooning songs better. Get it!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

C.S. Lewis

I watched the Chronicles of Narnia on my computer a while ago and really liked that movie - even if it was for kids. When someone told me that the movie was based on an English classic series of books for children I decided to read those. All in all there are eight novels in the series, I've read three of them by now and will not start any of the other ones. The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe, The Magician's Nephew, and Prince Caspian were all decent enough. In fact, the first one I really liked, but they were all just a little bit too similar to each other. This - of course - might have been due to the fact that they are children novels after all. I did enjoy the three though, only shouldn't have read them as fast after another as I did. The premise is that there are multiple worlds and that entries into one filled with witches, kings, and dwarfs exist for us to be found. Followingly, a changing number of kids enter that fantasy world and experience adventures which lead to them restoring, establishing, founding a good and just kingdom. Recommendation in regard to this series has to be differentiated. If you have a son, daughter, nephew, whatever of a certain age, go for it and read the book yourself as well. Just don't buy it for yourself only.

The Sea Wolf

I finished The Sea Wolf by Jack London (god, I love having vacations like this, where I can finally read a lot again) as well. It had been a really long time since I had read something by London (the last time I probably was about 12) and I had forgotten what a good writer he is. If I scrape up my memories of literature theory correctly (and I suck at that, I only like reading books really) London was part of a movement called Naturalism (as opposed to Realism), which means you have an outsider coming into a closed society and populated by savages or at least men (nearly always men) with a deeper connection to nature than the ones in the civilized world. These stories usually end with the death of the characters in the portrayed societies.

This basic groundwork holds true in The Sea Wolf as well. Hump, as he is later known, is a literary critic and gentleman that by accident ends up on a ship headed to Japan in order to do seal hunting. This ship - the Ghost - is dominated by its captain - Wolf Larsen - who rules over his crew with a harsh hand and ensures his position with pure violence. Hump in the course of the story is transformed from a civilized weakling into a man that takes actions on his own and in the end actually dares to stand up to Wolf Larsen himself. Interestingly - and quite untypically for such a novel I believe - enough a woman enters the picture as well, making a love interest the centre of the conflict between Larsen and Hump. I do not want to go any further into the story or its ending, I warmly recommand this as lecture for anyone.

Monday, January 01, 2007


I actually finished four books before I ever touched this one and I've already reviewed them as well, but I wrote those entries on my laptop and I have no internet connection on that one right now, so they will be up here Wednesday only when I get back to Paris.

With prices as low as they are here and an exchange rate as favourable as the current Euro-Dollar one, I've bought myself three books over the last week, one of those was Thud! by Terry Pratchett. Apart from Karl May Terry Pratchett (Tony Hillerman would be close behind I think) is the author by whom I have the most books. This does not necessarily reflect his exact position on my favorite authors list though. Basically, he is a good, fun, quick read, that I enjoy every time but that one does not really have to reread or cherish for a long time. His books could be called a more sarcastic Harry Potter with social critique. Pratchett recounts the adventures on a world called Discworld, which is populated by dwarfs, vampires, trolls and other fantastic creatures. Yet, what differentiates him from other authors of this genre is that his writing is dominated by a very dry - British I guess - sarcastic humor. He portrays human beings (and other not so human beings) with all their lusts and desires out in the open and not hidden behind a curtain of civilization. His descriptions ridicule wars, racism and virtually every other deplorable human activity.

Thud! tells of a possible troll and dwarf battle breaking out because of the anniversary of another troll and dwarf battle hundreds of years ago. Our hero - Sam Vimes, commander of the guard - is trying his best to prevent this from happening. Let this be enough about the actual story, I can definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting to spend an entertaining 4-5 hour read (depending on your reading speed obviously, I am relatively fast I think).