Summer 2009 Humanities


My music interests have remained mostly the same.  I’ve gained a new appreciation for some old bands, though. 

I’ve been listening to Blue Scholars and Common Market, Washington based hip-hop groups, recently.  Their music has a good message (politically / philosophically) and is very community-oriented. 

I just started listening to Sweatshop Union.  They’re a Canadian hip-hop group.  They had one song that I heard on Pandora (“Hit The Wall”), but I just discovered that they had other good songs too.  Their politics are good, and they even integrate snippets of Noam Chomsky speeches into some of their songs.  There is also a female voice (political person giving speeches) on some of their songs that I KNOW I’ve heard, but I can’t remember the name.  It’s been bugging me immensely.

What I like about them is how comprehensive their social critique is.  Most progressive hip hop groups have a few songs without that much critique in them (ie, miscellaneous love songs) and a few songs about class or race or some other issue.  Sweatshop Union is entirely political, and their songs touch on everything.  For instance, “Thing About It” talks about the media and activism, militarism, intellectual property, the environment, GMOs, water privatization, and probably some stuff that I missed. 

Another thing I’ve been thinking about recently is the role of the artist in different philosophies.  I’ve noticed that there are a lot of self-justifying philosophies.  Ie, Plato creates a world where the philosopher is king; preachers come up with a world where listening to preaching is the only road to eternal salvation; authors speak out against science and the enlightenment in favor of art.  But the messages that seem most strong to me tend to be the ones that realize that art is a starting point, not an ending point.  In Camus’ The Plague, the act of writing is important, but none of the people who write quit their day job.  Every writer in the book, including the narrator of the book, recognizes that their first duty is to combat The Plague.  The doctor or the volunteer is more heroic than the writer.  In “Thing About It”, the chorus is “But the thing about it is we can’t just sing about it / we can’t just sit around and wait until they fin us out / we figure out where we’re going while we live in doubt.  / If you want my truth, listen how and just think about it.  / Thing about it is we can’t even think about it.  / Can’t afford a minute’s time to think about it, bring about a change, so / take a second and shake your head and then, / take a step ahead and think about it”.  The artist is only important as a catalyst for thought and action for social change.

I also got turned back on to The Magnetic Fields.  They make a bunch of interesting songs that seem more about exploring a particular theme than just putting together pleasant sounds.  They have a 3-disc album, 69 Love Songs, that explores many facets of love and love songs – they aren’t just love songs, but songs about love songs. 

They also have an album called “The Charm of the Highway Strip” that explores the implications of the highway and mass transit generally.  I only recently started appreciating the album because previously I had just listened to the songs independently rather than listening to how each of the songs interact with each other. 

For instance, the first song, Lonely Highway, is about someone leaving a town, and it verges on being a love song to a highway: “Lonely highway,  only friend, / you’ve got me to keep you warm again.  / Lonely highway, don’t you cry / Let me hold you in my arms tonight”, and the next song, Long Vermont Roads, fights back against that idea: “after all those trains and all those breakdown lanes / the roads don’t love you and they still won’t pretend to / after all those days on the god forsaken highway / the roads don’t love you and they still won’t pretend to”. 

Some of the songs go into social implications.  For instance, Fear of Trains discusses someone who resisted mass transit because of the effects of modernization on her local culture: “it was the government train that took away her childhood, /  it was the KKK that took away her past, /it was the white man’s will that her’s be broken, / but that barefoot girl had grown too fast”. 

The last track with lyrics, Sunset City, closes the first track nicely.  Rather than featuring someone running away from a city, Sunset City features someone who moves on to the next city: “Oh Sunset city, I’ve got to see the world / don’t hold me too tightly; don’t whisper my name. / Sad eyed baby, I’m not that kind of girl: / when the dust stopped rolling, there’s no more to the game”.

My open source ideology also extends to my media.  I finally moved on from Winamp to VLC.  Each of them let you play songs and videos, but VLC is open source.  Because it’s open source and still in active development, it’s also much more feature rich than other media players.  It can play basically every type of media file – mkv, ogg, flac, flv – in addition to all of the common ones.  It lets you record.  You can set it up so that it’s controlled from online.  You can change the playback speed of songs and videos; I’ve found that I can watch videos at 1.5x speed and still catch everything without any difficulty.  You can add in custom subtitles.  And much more! 

There are a few rough edges, but it feels good using a media player that I can ideologically support.

Letter on SLE

I made a few brief comments on SLE that I gave to my section leader. 

Interestingly enough, I think I’ve written some form of letter regarding the humanities part of my education pretty much every year since I started high school.  My most recent letter, though, had more comments, so I’m more hopeful about some of them being implemented than in the past.  For instance, there are a few ways that they should be using technology that would make everything so much nicer – ie, recording lectures and posting them online.  Then, when there is a dinner for people who might want to major in History, I can actually attend rather than attending a lecture that could I could easily listen to later.  There’s way too much going on on campus to make it to every class.

What class will I comment on now that I’m not taking any humanities classes?