Sunday, December 23, 2012

Top Albums and Songs of 2012


I had a hard time filling the last few slots of my top ten albums this year. Not for a lack of good music - there was a lot of great music released this year. I liked quite a lot of it. But I want to fill my top 10 with music I LOVE. So here it is, my list of my favorite 10 albums this year, supplemented below by 5 songs I just had to include.

*I tried to make a playlist on Spotify and embed it here for your listening pleasure, but had lots of problems. Songs that I couldn't get to appear on the playlist have links.

I have a hard time believing that First Aid Kit's The Lion's Roar only came out earlier this year. I feel like it's been around forever, in a good way. For me it's an instant classic in the sense that it seems like the Swedish sisters' tunes have always been in my life. "Emmylou" may just be the love song of the year.

Music critic Ann Powers called Japandroids' Celebration Rock party music for 40-something dudes. Who cares? These 2 guys explode endless summer and eternal youth from their guitar and drums. With lines like, "let's get to France so we can French kiss some French girls," and fireworks bookending the album, Celebration Rock is joyous, pop-rock fun.

I came to Y La Bamba's Court the Storm and Field Music's Plumb not knowing anything about the bands. I actually still don't know much about them, except that they both made exceptional records this year in which individual songs take you on unexpected journeys, and albums contain whole sonic lifetimes.

Fiona Apple's  The Idler Wheel... and Beth Orton's Sugaring Season were both surprises for me this year, mostly because I'd never really connected with either singer before. But both of these albums drew me in with their quirky beauty. I returned to them again and again, each time hearing something new.

Best Coast made my top 10 list in 2010 with their debut album, Crazy for You. 2012's The Only Place continues their earlier sound, and honestly it might not have made my top 10 list this year if I hadn't been leaving LA behind this fall for a job in Texas. This album makes me want to wrap my arms around California, just like the bear on the album art. A sentimental favorite that makes me feel like I'm back there, even if I'm a thousand miles away. "Why would you live anywhere else?" indeed.

Outernational actually released two albums this year: the concept album, Todos Somos Illegales, and the EP, Future Rock. I've probably invited you to Outernational shows multiple times, and most of you have never come. 2013 has to be the year you change that! The band makes a righteous racket in the name of imagining the world we want to live in. Check them out on Bandcamp and read my blog post about them. They're your new favorite protest band.

Dinosaur Jr. I Bet on Sky: melodious crunch. Grinding lilt. I've always been a fan of the idea of Dinosaur Jr., if that makes sense. But this album grabbed me at a visceral level and wouldn't let go. Another sentimental favorite in a year of big change, going back to my previous life in Massachusetts.

The Coup's Sorry to Bother You was a late entry onto my list. I've been a fan ever since Party Music, but missed this when it came out earlier this year. Once I got my headphones on, though, I was hooked. If you like that Emma Goldman (mis)quote about dance and revolution, then this is the album for you. Shake your tailfeather to lyrics about overturning the education system and class war!

These standout songs all come from albums that I liked quite a lot, just not enough to make it into the top 10.

Spiritualized "Hey Jane" - My favorite song of the year. Just shy of 9 minutes long, it could go on forever as far as I'm concerned.

The Mynabirds "Generals" - "Get your black boots on" cuz The Mynabirds are leading the march towards the revolution!

Girl in a Coma "Smart" - Yes, they are making a Smiths reference, and yes, this is fun, smart pop by a trio of Texan women.

Death Grips "I've Seen Footage" - I wasn't in the know enough to get the leaked Death Grips album, No Love Deep Web this fall, so I've had to content myself with their album that came out earlier this year, The Money Store. Compelling duo makes visceral punk rap. Almost made my top 10 albums.

Kishi Bashi "Bright Whites" - I'm conflicted about adding this, now that the song is in a Windows commercial. But I do love it, so here it is.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Forget New Year's...Resolutions for a New Era

From Azul Amaral on Facebook

"I am not scared that the world is going to end in 2012, I am terrified that it will be the same."

In honor of yesterday's solstice, which marks the transition from longer nights to longer days, as well as the transition to a new (unwritten, as yet unknown) Mayan calendar, it strikes me that this is the time to resolve what kind of world we want to live in.

The course we're on is clearly unsustainable. What will you do to make sure the world doesn't stay the 

12/23/12 Addendum: Bolivian President Evo Morales made a beautiful statement to this effect, saying in part that this moment marks "the end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a bio-centric life. It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth. It is the end of sadness and the beginning of happiness, it is the end of division and the beginning of unity, and this is a theme to be developed." Read a longer piece about Morales' statement on Common Dreams.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Entertainment Weekly - source of compelling gender critique?

Recently, my subscriptions to Entertainment Weekly and Adbusters arrived on the very same day. Seeing them next to one another, I had a momentary pang at my apparent wild contradictions. How could I subscribe to both? Luckily, my rationalization kicked in right away: I need to know what mainstream culture is doing in order to critique it.

Sometimes, if you're lucky, mainstream culture critiques itself.

I just sent the following in to EW's letters to the editor in support of a recent commentary in their "News and Notes" section. Unfortunately, I can't find the article online to link to here; it's worth looking up if you can get your hands on the Holiday Movie Preview issue. We'll see if my letter gets published.

Thank you for your article, "Worst Wives Club" (November 9/16, 2012) about the disproportional derision directed at the wives of TV's antiheroes on shows such as The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc. Though author Keith Staskiewicz doesn’t quite come out and identify the fans’ hatred for characters like Lori, Skyler, and Betty as misogyny, his description makes clear that the viewers’ vitriol is not gender-neutral. I do wish Staskiewicz had taken his excellent critique one step further to the writers, show runners, and producers who create these women as “everything from narrative distractions to nagging shrews.” We do know from examples like Friday Night Lights that it is possible to create and sustain critically-acclaimed portraits of loving, equal marriages in which both husband and wife have strengths and flaws. In the midst of a second Golden Age of Television, Hollywood needs to be held to higher standards. Staskiewicz’s article is a good start.

This issue calls to mind the exchange I had with (swoon) Jane Espenson about women writers and female characters, as well as Greg Rucka's excellent article, "Why I Write 'Strong Female Characters'." It's an important discussion, and I, for one, am glad that EW is participating.

After the first season or so, the Mad Men writers
stopped showing us WHY Betty was so unhappy and
 were content to present her as nothing more than a bitch.
Tami Taylor remained complex throughout
the whole run of Friday Night Lights.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Defending Academic Freedom

Below is a letter, to which I am a signatory, defending Professor David Shorter at UCLA against recent attacks. The details are contained in the letter and in the embedded links, but in short, he was reprimanded for including a link to an organization critical of Israel on his course website, and asked to promise not to post the link again. After the text of our letter, I am including links to background information and other letters of support, for your information. This is an insidious attack, one which we must broadly expose and defend against, because it attempts to prevent access to information about divergent viewpoints at a public university.


Mark Yudof, President, University of California
Dr. Andrew Leuchter, Chair, UCLA Academic Senate

Dear President Yudof and Dr. Leuchter,

We, the Graduate Student Organization of the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance (WAC/D GSO), would like to express our concern for and solidarity with our faculty colleague, Associate Professor David Delgado Shorter. In our view, the recent questioning of Dr. Shorter’s teaching methods has raised serious concerns about academic policies and pedagogical freedom at the University of California. The class in question is “Tribal Worldviews”, which Professor Shorter taught in the Winter Quarter of 2012. This course explored indigenous worldviews in relation to colonialism, globalization, and media from a variety of interdisciplinary approaches and cross-cultural analysis. The course has been offered for three years and this last quarter happened to include a website critical of Israel within a long list of optional research materials for several other topics in the seminar. 

The AMCHA Initiative, a group that "endeavors to inform the California Jewish community about manifestations of harassment and intimidation of Jewish students on colleges and university campuses" lodged a complaint to the University of California administrators and faculty. AMCHA contended that Dr. Shorter’s actions amounted to the promotion and advocacy of a boycott of Israel. On April 20th the organization stated on its website that they had “achieved an important victory” based on the response from UC administrators regarding their complaint which implied that Dr Shorter had in fact committed an error in judgment and would not repeat the mistake. The AMCHA article spoke of Dr. Shorter as being among UC faculty “who use their classroom and university resources for anti-Israel proselytizing.” We find such a statement to be patently misleading and the actions of the UC administration in this matter a betrayal of the principles of academic freedom within the University of California system.

The inappropriate and short-sighted reaction to this incident by UC Administrators, whose job it is to protect and encourage pedagogical innovation is alarming. Dr. Shorter's insightful and provocative approach to learning gives primacy to the development of students' ability to engage in rigorous critical analysis and intellectual self-reflection important for creating substantive solutions to seemingly intractable, real-world issues, such as the rights of indigenous cultures. 

The key rationale for the University's criticism is the fact that Dr. Shorter is a signatory to the advocacy group whose website he listed. This site, however, was an optional resource for an optional assignment, and at no time did Dr. Shorter advocate for support of the website’s political group. More importantly, this logic entirely evades the fundamental issue of whether or not study of divergent or even controversial political views positively cultivates intelligent and rational consideration of the relevant issues of the course, which Dr. Shorter has kept open for debate over the three years in which he has taught the class.

As you know, the press has now taken this story national, primarily because of how this case reflects on the very function of our institution. In reaction to the controversy, columnist Glenn Greenwald plainly and insightfully pointed to the case’s central issue as it relates to the broader populace:

“My real question is this: what kind of person goes to an academic institution and then demands to be shielded from political ideas that they find objectionable? Of all places, academia is supposed to permit and encourage the challenging of one’s assumptions and beliefs. At least in theory, that’s the prime value of studying at a university: learning how to think critically, which requires subjecting one’s views to rigorous dispute. The petulant entitlement needed to demand that nobody in that setting ever cite or mention objectionable political views is just staggering; it also reveals a severe lack of confidence in the validity of one’s own views.”

As emerging scholars we are particularly alarmed by the inappropriate handling of the matter as the difficult economic climate in the State of California has challenged the core principals of higher learning, knowledge production, and civic engagement. We are witnessing these values, the very principles upon which the University of California was founded, being relentlessly eviscerated by the rapid corporatization and authoritarian paradigm being foisted upon the UC system and the hundreds of thousands of students and employees who give the system its true social value and are the very raison d’etre of the system itself.

As graduate students deeply committed to academic freedom and these core principles, we steadfastly support Dr. Shorter in his stand against any and all efforts to censor his coursework or denigrate his tireless efforts to improve the quality of learning at UCLA and beyond and we join the California Scholars for Academic Freedom in insisting upon an official review of the inappropriate way in which UCLA’s academic leaders handled this matter.


Members and alumni of the Graduate Student Organization of the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance

Lorena Alvarado 
Samuel M. Anderson                       
Jacinta Arthur de la Maza           
Feriyal Aslam                                   
Emily Beattie 
Harmony Bench (alumna) 
April Rose Burnam 
Rosemary Candelario (alumna)
Alissa Cardone (alumna)
I-Wen Chan
Chey Chankethya
Deborah Cohen                       
Anna Creagh          
Alison D’Amato                       
Jennifer Monique Delgado
Sharna Fabiano
Cesar Garcia
Doran George                     
Maria Gillespie (alumna)         
Peter Haffner
William Michael Jelani Hamm
Mana Hayakawa
Claudia Hernandez
Elyan Hill
Ana Paula Hofling
Sarah Jacobs
Neelima Jeychandran
Sarah Leddy
Cynthia Ling Lee (alumna)
Dana Lea Marterella
Andy Martinez
Leonard Melchor
Carol McDowell
Olive Mckeon
Meena Murugesan                  
Nguyen Nguyen                                               
Lorenzo Perillo                                          
Jose Reynoso
Cristina Rosa (alumna)
Cedar Bough Saeji
Michael Sakamoto
Mathew Sandoval
Carolina San Juan (alumna)
Carl Schottmiller
Angeline Shaka (alumna)
Yehuda Sharim
Joseph Small
Alexandra Shilling
Pallavi Sriram
ล ara Stranovsky
Elaine Sullivan
Rita Valente                                                  
Andrea Wang
Sarah Wilbur           
Alessandra Williams
Kat Williams
Sara Wolf                                             
Allison Wyper (alumna)


‘California Scholars for Academic Freedom’ challenges UCLA on censure of prof who linked to BDS website
Native American and Indigenous Studies Scholars defend UCLA Professor David Shorter and supporters of BDS
Open Letter from the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Response to Jane Espenson’s “On Sex and Writing (Not That Kind of Sex)”

Jane, I respect the frak outta you. Your Buffy episodes were some of my favorites, and actually might be what made me start paying attention to television writers in the first place. I then thrilled to see your name pop up on others of my beloved shows (Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Game of Thrones), and I even added Once Upon a Time to my viewing solely because of your involvement.

I hear what you're saying in your Huffington Post essay, that women shouldn't be hired just to write female characters. That such a practice limits women’s opportunities and potential. That women (and men) are talented enough to write across the gender divide, and in fact that good writers can write anything. Ok, sure. And a big thumbs up to your encouragement to women and girls to write, write, write. (I'm an academic, and love your Twitter writing sprints!)

But I think that your piece ignores the systemic piece of the puzzle. Or rather, you do acknowledge it near the end of the article, saying that the problem remains “HOW to get people to take gender off their list of reasons someone isn't getting the job.”


That Hollywood is still a (old, white) boys club was made all the more stark with the recent revelation in the Los Angeles Times of the make up of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: 94% white, 77% male, 2% African American, less than 2% Latino, only 14% under 50. Granted, this is movies, not television, but it still reveals where the power lies in Hollywood, and it's not with women, nor with people of color.

Feminist Frequency’s recent vlog post on the 2012 Oscars and the Bechdel test offers another measure of the appalling lack of representation of women as full (named! speaking about things other than men!) subjects in Hollywood.

Facts (women writers are just as talented as men) and figures (women are 50.8% of the American population) clearly haven’t been enough to cause a radical shift in who writes, directs, produces, and greenlights projects in Hollywood. That shift is not going to happen without a hell of a lot of concerted pressure from outside and from within.

If the powers that be, in their limited wisdom, think that they might need to diversify their staff so that their female and people of color characters are better written, at least they’re acknowledging that they need to make some room at the table, even if for specious reasons. Did the addition of 6 new writers to the third season Glee writing staff, including two women (yay Marti Noxon!) and a Latino man give me hope that the female and people of color characters on the show might receive the same rich development that the male—and especially white, gay, male—characters previously did? You bet. Is it possible that an all male writing staff could have done a good job with all those characters? Sure. But the fact is that they weren’t, and they somehow recognized that, and made a decision to expand the roster of who was in the writer’s room. (I’m not saying women and Latino writers automatically = a better Glee; the jury’s still out on that one.)

All this to say: Jane, I love you but I think your argument is too utopian. Changes are not going to happen just because more women write well. Change will happen because the powers that be see a financial and critical incentive (thank you, Kristen Wiig and Bridesmaids) to greenlighting women writers’ projects. Change will happen through concerted pressure that demands shifts in hiring policies. And change will happen through transformations in societal expectations and opinions. Of course, kick-ass women writers are integral to each of these steps, and to keeping the pressure up, and to raising the issues in the first place.

While I disagree with some of your points, Jane, I think that you raising the issue is part of the pressure I’m talking about here. So thanks for your writing. This piece, and all of it.

p.s. I promise I will watch Husbands. Soon.


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