Disco Wagon Wheel!

29 01 2012

The geniuses at Penisco have outdone themselves. Revel in the new sensational product that will keep you busy with wonder and delight for many hours. Disco Wagon Wheel is so amazing that our advertising department didn’t know exactly what to say about this product. Well, they’ll have lots of time to think about it now while they look for new employees! This thing is really a treat for all!

Enjoy Disco Wagon Wheel when you unwrap it on Christmas morning, and have a blast with the old ladies. Boy George can’t keep his hands off it, nor can that old dyke in front of the American flag. Even Uncle Mary wants a piece of that shit. So buy Disco Wagon Wheel today, and enter a totally new universe of fun!

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Gay Marriage, Majority Rule, and Minority Rights

19 01 2012

As the Washington state legislature mulls a bill that would legalise gay marriage, conservatives are crawling out of the woodwork to stop its passage or to punish Republicans who vote in favour of it by attempting to end their political careers. (The National Organisation of Marriage is trying to do this.) Some of these individuals and groups also want to put the decision up to a public vote. The argument they use to justify this kind of move is that majority opinion reigns supreme in a true democracy. I will argue here that majority opinion does not necessarily reign supreme in a true democracy, and I will show why this is so in four ways: democracy is not just defined as “majority rule”, but also as “equality”; the majority have no right to speak on issues which do not affect them; courts must adjudicate the law impartially; and legislators are not obliged to represent the views of their majority constituents on issues which do not affect their majority constituents.

I want to let you know that I am not telling you how the law actually works; I am simply telling you how it should work according to the principles of ethical reasoning.

With respect to the first point, the issue of gay marriage centres around the definition of democracy. Many conservatives will argue that gay marriage should be put up to a public vote because, in a democracy, the majority opinion rules. However, the definition of democracy does not begin and end with majority rule; it also involves the concept of equality. According to the Random House Dictionary, democracy has the following senses: government by the people, a state having such a form of government, a state of society characterised by formal equality of rights and privileges, political or social equality, and commoners as distinct from the privileged class. The definition of democracy encompasses the concepts of both self-representation and equality, so any gay marriage opponent who invokes democracy on the basis of the former, while ignoring the latter, is giving us a skewed, incomplete understanding of democracy. This hardly helps validate their opposition to gay marriage on democratic grounds.

This biased preoccupation with self-representation is closely linked to the notion of majority rule, which is consistently invoked by gay marriage opponents. Gay marriage opponents constantly argue that the quintessential democracy is defined by the reign of the majority opinion. But this is not necessarily so. A lot of issues should be decided by the majority, because those issues affect the majority, but not all issues do. If we treat democracy as “self-representation”, then the majority have the right to rule on issues which affect the majority, but they do not have the right to rule on issues which only affect the minority. Gay marriage only affects the minority, not the majority, therefore the majority have no right to rule on gay marriage. Thus, the conservative argument that the majority should rule on gay rights on the basis of “majority rule” is debunked.

Immediately gay marriage opponents will point out that this argument is not sound because, when a panel of judges rule on such an issue, a majority of votes still matters. It is true that a majority of votes matters when a court of law rules on gay marriage, but there is an important distinction to make: while the public vote on the basis of their personal prejudices, judges are obliged to adjudicate the law. While popular opinion is based on popular prejudice, legal opinion is based on interpretation of the law. It is not exactly fair to compare majority rule on the basis of personal prejudices with the majority rule of judges who are obliged impartially to fulfil the law. Therefore, it is invalid to compare majority rule through a public referendum with majority rule through a court of law, and, hence, it is invalid to say that judges should be doing the same thing as the public with regard to minority rights.

But, of course, gay marriage opponents will argue that judges are only adjudicating laws which are passed by elected representatives of the people. So, now the question is, whose interests do those elected representatives actually represent? Gay marriage opponents would argue that they represent the majority opinion of their constituency. This is not necessarily so. If we accept that the majority should rule only on issues which affect the majority, and not those which affect only the minority, then elected representatives are not obliged to represent the views of their majority constituents on issues which affect only the minority. Instead, they are obliged to defend minority interests. And whose majority vote determines that, you may ask? None, because the vote would be a unanimous decision based on reason, logic, and fairness. Reason, logic, and fairness are the ultimate arbiter, not popular opinion.

Of course, not all legislators are rational, hence not all laws they pass will be based on reason. This does not, however, mean that it is right that they pass the laws that they do. It only means that they fail to acknowledge reason. In some sense, the greatest intellectual burden lies on their shoulders.

In summary, I haven’t tried to create the perfect defense of gay marriage in modern-day democracies; I’ve merely tried to challenge how we alienate minorities using “majority rule” as an excuse, even when the majority have no justifiable interest in the lives of the minority. In principle, democracy should be about how we satisfy our personal interests, not how we control the lives of others. And when there is any question about how an issue affects us, it should be boiled down to whom it affects, and this is determined by reason.

That said, if you live in Washington state, and you live in one of the six constituencies led by undecided Washington state senators, I implore you to contact your senator and ask them to vote “yes” on the bill legalising gay marriage. We are just two senators’ votes away from marriage equality. Just two! It is good for gay people and for everybody else.





Austra

18 01 2012

I think I may have discovered my new favourite band. That is hard for me to say, since Erasure have occupied the most prominent setting in my crown of musical gems since 1995. That may soon change. Their competitor is Austra, a synthpop/darkwave/indie electronica band from Toronto who just released their debut album, Feel It Break, last year. (Yes, I know, as usual I am late to the game.) However I am not yet ready to give the number one position to Austra, simply because Erasure have produced fourteen studio albums, and I have only heard one by Austra, but if they keep up the amazing work, they very well could earn that place. Besides, a tie between the two bands isn’t entirely out of the question.

OK, so you want to know what the hype is all about, don’t you? It’s about their coherent, well-developed style, their professional-sounding technical wizardry, their eerily fun dance sensibility, lead singer Katie Stelmanis’s chillingly pure, cold voice, their artistically spooky themes, their rich harmonies, their otherworldly melodies. All of these in combination produce a lush, full, satisfying sonic experience. Listening to their debut album, Feel It Break, one imagines opening up a book of occult lore and exploring the hidden mysteries within. I would liken them to a cross between Florence and the Machine, Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, and Karin Dreijer of The Knife and Fever Ray. But at least as creepy as Karin Dreijer. Finally, an album that sounds weirdly Scandinavian without getting mired in slow, dissonant, undanceable experimentalism. It’s musically exploratory, thematically fascinating, and fun to dance to.

Check out the video for their single Spellwork, taken from the debut album. In my opinion is encapsulates the overall deliciously spooky theme of the work:

This song gives me goosebumps. One thing that stands out is the strong verse-chorus structure characteristic of pop songs—but it’s all done in such a beautifully strange and ethereal way that it doesn’t sound commercial or formulaic. Stelmanis’s eerily quavering vocals are spot-on, the melody soars like some dark-winged bird over bare tree branches, and those rich harmonies complete the vocal arrangements. And those layers upon layers of tinkling synthesisers just sweep you away into a glittering fairy world of yore. I can’t get enough of the cryptic occult references, either. Lots of Youtube commenters have said that the video is “weird”, but it’s supposed to be. The song is about pagan rituals (or so I think), so obviously the video reflects that. It’s so enticing because it’s so arcane.

Then there is the light, bright, beautiful synthpop gem Lose It. This is probably as pure, pretty, and pristine as synthpop can get, and Austra have distilled the essence of the genre in this song, and yet we haven’t quite heard synthpop done in such a fresh, clever way before. At least I don’t think so. Just have a listen:

Isn’t that just delightful? It makes me pee my pants. And it makes me pregnant. With twins. The most remarkable thing about this song, I think, is the perfect harmony between Stelmanis and the background singers in the chorus. Together, they create this plaintive, crystal-clear, birdlike song of hope and sorrow. It almost sounds like Enya in a strange way, but a cool, synthpoppy Enya. Delish.

OK, on to our last video. Showing their ability to master a range of synthpop sub-genres, Austra reveal their goth goth side in this video for their single Beat and the Pulse, and boy is it sexy. Be forewarned: I don’t do censorship, so this video is not safe for work! (That means it’s NSFW):

So what did ya think?? In my opinion, This is the difference between pornography and erotica. The models are portrayed in a seductive, tasteful manner, and they exude a mysterious power. It’s not crass and exploitative; it’s subtle and stylish. Besides, listen to the pulsating bassline that suddenly creeps into your ears when the beat kicks in. And, again, that rich texture of harmonies fills out the song and sends chills down one’s spine. This is dark, sinister synthpop at its finest.

Speaking of weird Scandinavian-sounding dance music, compare Austra to Karin Dreijer when Dreijer accepted the award for best dance artist on behalf of her band Fever Ray at this Swedish music awards ceremony:

Kooky! And fabulous. Now that we’ve established that both Austra and Fever Ray are cool, creative bands with a statement to make, it’s time to ask the question: which one is weirder? All that matters is that they are weird, and there’s a rhyme and reason to it, even if the typical Beyonce-glamoured American can’t see past his milquetoast Top 40 music collection. Consider this Youtube commenter’s post about the above Fever Ray video: “Its unfortunate most people cannot understand the statement of the absurdity of award shows, come up, make a stupid speech and say thank you within 20 seconds and walk off stage for the next commercial, absolutely meaningless. If viewers can only see the surface level and think ‘Man that lady is weird, whats with the face?’, they need to start digging deeper past the surface [sic]”. So true. So, so true. I cannot improve upon that observation, except to say that the average American isn’t into the musical creativity of artists like Fever Ray and Austra, because they’re only exposed to the commercially successful acts.

Anyway, I haven’t written about a cool band in a while, so when I discovered Austra I just knew I had to say something about them and spread the word. I entreat you to do the same. Spread the word. As you would your seed. No, just kidding. Sort of. I can’t wait to hear their next album! I’m thinking of writing about new releases by a few other bands who make me want to diddle myself, like Glass Candy and Chromatics, so keep visiting this blog. (Oh, and I’m posting another instalment of the fabulous lady-comic Julie Gentron and the Lady League very soon, so look for that too.) So go out and buy Austra’s debut album Feel It Break—make sure it’s the deluxe version—and support one of Canada’s most talented and interesting musical products of recent times. (The album was released by Domino or Paper Bag—can’t remember which—and it’s on iTunes, of course.)





Julie Gentron and the Lady League, Vol. 1, Ep. 4: Duty Calls

14 01 2012

Written by Brandon Arkell and Seth Gordon Little

Last time on the Lady League, the ladies encountered an obstacle course in the Kuiper Belt, but they were able to warp-drive their way back home to London with the help of Donna Destruction. At the landing pad, they met a mysterious, foreboding figure, Lady Fairfax, who scolded them over their tardiness.

“Lady Fairfax, I apologise”, cried Julie. “You see, we encountered a sort of obstacle course in the Kuiper Belt—”

“—Mere congestion, Gentron!” replied Fairfax, rolling in on her wicker wheelchair, cane in one hand and gin and tonic in the other. “You know that MI6 agents encounter such notorious bottlenecks every day. You can’t possibly see yourself as special in the strive to defend the galaxy against the horrors which lie beyond our thin atmosphere—the microbes of Mars’s half-frozen crust, the virulent tar-women of Io’s angry volcanoes, the space-whales of Saturn’s engorged rings?” She paused and looked about her, then tapped her cane. “Wh-wh-where do you expect me to place my gin and tonic, girl??”

“May I, Lady Fairfax?” offered Rosalind graciously. Fairfax acquiesced, harrumphing indignantly as Rosalind reverently placed the gin and tonic on the spaceship console. 

“Ladies”, cooed the venerable matron, “you are tardy for your next assignment. I have intelligence on a surreptitious figure rumoured to frequent the salons of Paris, the gay bathhouses of Seattle, the opium dens of Shanghai. It—for we do not yet know what shape it takes—traffics in something more precious than the methane riches of Titan itself. Humans!”

“Humans!” gasped the Lady League. Fairfax nodded soberly.

“I—I don’t understand”,  said Julie. “Why, we should have no trouble apprehending a mere slave-trader. We’ve done it before. Remember Slimeball and his power over slime? That’s how Rosalind joined the League. She was his captive aboard his Red Sea freighter, and we helped her escape.”

“This isn’t some seaborne skirmish, Gentron”, thundered Fairfax, thumping her cane. She resumed her milder tone. “Due either to some sort of genetic mutation or medical procedure, this—entity—has acquired a symbiotic relationship with a material we all know too well—far too well. And it is to our detriment. Plastic!” The girls shrieked. “This being has commandeered the entire plastic manufacturing industry of Europe. It has so insinuated its way into the beauty and fashion marketplace that one cannot slide on a condom or spear one’s beans with a cafeteria spork without this—thing—turning it against one. The Continent’s brightest plastic surgeons have either disappeared or fallen into secrecy, avowing nothing for fear of retribution. I am afraid Britain is Europe’s last bastion of defense”, she said gravely in her rich, woody Home Counties accent. “This thing, it seems to control certain people. It targets beauties—those who have fallen under the knife, as it were. Supermodels. Actors. Homosexual fashion critics. The list goes on. Our best biophysicists cannot crack this one, girls. Earth—the solar system—is at risk of falling prey to this fiend’s wiles. It has evaded my smartest agents, some of whom never returned from their missions. I fear the worst for them. I fear that they have become a part of its shapeless morass.”

“Fairfax, this is horrible!” cried Julie. “Why, it is inconsistent with the Lady League mission protocol to allow such a crime against humanity to be committed. What can we do to stop this—this creature?”

“Nothing—but to hate plastic!” cried Fairfax. “You must waste no time. Take nothing of plastic with you—it is the warhead of this hideous fiend. You must rely on your own feminine prowess now more than ever. Rosalind Armour, you possess superhuman strength and near-indestructible skin. Donna Destruction, you can move objects with the power of your mind. And, Julie Gentron, with the power of your mind you can control all technology, including the arsenal of deadly weapons implanted within your body by extraterrestrial beings. Surely”, she said, focussing her bespectacled eyes on Julie, “as director of the MI6, I can rely on you ladies to fulfil the objectives of this mission?”

“We will do everything in our power to smoke this fox out of its hole and put an end to it”, said Julie, “even if it requires digging our bare, hangnailed fingers into that hole.”

“Beautiful. You will commence your assignment forthwith by escorting famed New York fashion critic Simpson Oswald to his next fashion show”, said Fairfax, cringing slightly at the name. “He boasts a number of friends in the industry, but, recently, he has acquired a few enemies, so we have reason to suspect he is target number one for this—this—plastic demon. Yes, I know that the pansies can be rather flakey and out-of-touch with reality, but you, Julie, are wearing one of his creations”, she revealed, grabbing the gin-and-tonic back from the spaceship console.

“Really?” cried Julie, scanning her shapely physique up and down. It was a sheer, form-fitting, silvery-metallic suit which covered everything but her face, and was implanted with myriad wires and electrodes which channelled and amplified her thought patterns. Unbeknownst to Julie, the electronic armoury embedded within the suit was the work of the galaxy’s best British engineers–its true powers remained a sinister secret. She wondered at the thing she was wearing, Who am I? What am I?

“What about me??” cried Donna.

“You’re wearing nothing but a leftover tarp from last season’s Halloween sales rack at The Bay”, said Rosalind peremptorily.

“But it’s vintage!” cried Donna, “and it goes with my complexion! Doesn’t it?” There was an awkward pause as everybody else looked at her.

“Enough small talk!” said Fairfax impatiently, waving away Donna with her gin and tonic. “Ladies, you will escort this Oswald to his next show in Paris. As I have stated, he is most likely the fiend’s next target. But beware the plastic demon’s wiles. I warn you. It is as sly as a snake in grass, and it owns every blade.” At this, Julie knew exactly what to do.

“Lady League”, cried Julie, “unite!” The League spread their legs in a buffalo stance and joined fists—which included Lupa’s fin—and a beam of super-powered lady plasma shot forth, illuminating London’s dank, dirty nighttime skyline. The girls were hot and ready to cream that plastic bitch.

Stay tuned for the next instalment to find out what the Lady League do with their legs.