Bad ideas grow in strange gardens

Boing Boing does many things reliably in its cataloging of “wonderful things”. Its five contributors give us a window on pictures of weird shit someone put up on flickr, thrilled fawnings at repetitive science fiction, customer service gripes that bring down whole industries, and attempts to confabulate the programmability of your TiVo with freedom itself. Its well-scrubbed cast of peripatetic Californians have been into the things they’re into for quite a long time, and is made up of the kind of terminal self-actuating monad that cheerfully confuses the repeated gratification of vapid, secondhand obsessions with the more profound human curiosity that in other social conditions would lead to literature, philosophy or political action.

We check it roughly every 45 minutes anyway, jonesing for the next Victorian medical illustration, biographical factoid about some long-dead spacedork, or household gewgaw from somebody’s trove of midcentury populuxe cheese that makes Richard Neutra look like Mies. Reading Boing Boing is watching American online “culture” chew its cud and fart while blankly staring at a fence.

One of these contributors is don’t-ask-us-why nerd sex symbol Xeni Jardin, a presentable go-to commentator beloved of lazy segment producers, who call upon her to jazz up snoozy NPR and PBS offerings with her insider perspective and asymmetrical outfits. During some time off from target practice, Xeni recently found out about that nasty nasty Hugo Chavez and has been helping out those who are afraid of what mass literacy and justice might do to their privilege, passing along messages from university students who are furious at losing their primary source of imported reruns.

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You are there


The New York Times gives us a glimpse into its Rolodex of old school contacts, in an article about efforts to preserve a moderate-income Bronx building in which Kool Herc DJed his first parties and, as he does not tire of reminding us, invented this shit:

“This is where it came from,” said Clive Campbell, pointing to the building’s first-floor community room. “This is it. The culture started here and went around the world. But this is where it came from. Not anyplace else.”

Also deemed worthy of quotation is Grandmaster Caz. As the building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue comes off of the Mitchell-Lama program it will become a market-rate apartment building, and tenants are trying to force the landlords to maintain the low rents that were offset by the program’s low-interest mortgages. At 1520 Sedgwick, the occupants are trying to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places — potentially preserving it as affordable housing — because Herc threw his early parties there.

The article also troublingly equates withdrawal from the Mitchell-Lama program with “gentrification” — blame “the yuppies” or blame “greed” but don’t blame the structure of the deal itself, which seems to have been set up to achieve exactly this outcome. Mitchell-Lama involved handing city-owned land over to the landlords, which is what capital does when smacked around by beefy Rockefeller Republicans: agree to a secure but limited return for a defined period of time in exchange for eventual complete control over the property. Kool Herc seems to be more concerned with continually reconfirming his primacy (his OG status is not in dispute, but his sweeping claims to cultural ownership are) than with helping the tenants out with an interesting strategy to keep their homes, but we don’t hire DJs to referee land use, we hire them to rock the party and shout out their own names.

Questions for class discussion:

-Given that historic preservation projects often pick the most relevant stage of a building’s long history to which they restore the structure, does that mean that we will be forced to lovingly replicate decaying infrastructure and “benign neglect” in restoring the Bronx River Houses to their appearance in the late Ford Administration?

-Are their other cultures whose “classical” period is redefined by a few dozen middle-aged men who have leveraged their position as “cultural radicals” into bullying elder status vis-a-vis a growing coterie of worshipful journalists/academics, playing off of the ossified hierarchies that would have had their teenage selves obsessed with well-scrubbed respectability a la Booker T?


KRS-One, by way of contrast, is entirely running on fumes by this point and can think of nothing more to rap about than his own imagined centrality to rap — oh, sorry about that, hip-hop culture. His dire new track, a collabo with former meaningless-80s-beef rival Marley Marl, “I Was There“, recites several of the mass public events at which KRS was a spectator, and on which his authority (and presumably that of the tens of thousands of other attendees) is based: an address by Nelson Mandela at Yankee Stadium, Stokley Carmichael’s funeral, the debut of Yo! MTV Raps. Some private events at which KRS was “there” are also listed: the births of his children (we would have thought that hip-hop transcended being a decent father and partner, but what do we know as we weren’t there), the various labels at which KRS has had successively smaller packaging-design budgets (we would submit that maybe a Koch affiliation isn’t quite the badge of honor it seems).

Indeed Mr. Parker takes special care to let us know he “was there” at the 1995 Source Awards, where Suge Knight and Puffy bleated threats at one another. Let the record show that 12 years turned this televised snit between intermittently solvent pop-rap moguls, both thoroughly hated by the herds of KRSoid backpackers who roamed the landscape in that era (leaving naught but shitty tags, mumbled pieties about the “four elements” and blunt innards in their wake), into the kind of historical event at which one’s presence is a badge of authenticity.

KRS poses these assertions as his claim to superiority over “hip hop historians” who are doing culturally retrograde things like writing books about events in the past. These might include the opinions of people who are not KRS-One, who may have different recollections of what occurred when they too were “there”, or who may even have been in other places and will claim that where they were was “there” and that where KRS was at the time was someplace inferior or potentially less important to the world than it was to the erstwhile Blastmaster himself.

This petulant and self-centered posturing — from the man whose worldview and incisive intelligence were so expansive as to work shit like a cogent and catchy exegesis of the origins of the notion of “race” into fucking rap videos and suchlike — is apparently an attempt to not back down from the juvenile rhetorical sucker-punching of a fellow participant at a Stanford University roundtable last year. He turned the panel’s talk into a denunication of “enemies to the culture”, who had been “slandering” him in other fora, and when other panelists tried to school KRS in how not to act like an irrelevant psycho, threatened to “beat your fuckin ass”. Audio and links to further discussion can be found here, but our own opinion may not really count in the end for we (thankfully) were not there.

Man on a white horse

Yes, still here motherfuckers. Just because there’s no updates for a time doesn’t mean that anyone’s been sleeping on shit so recognize.

Ah leaders. We are supposed to love leaders in Quebec, because although we have a civic life and associational tendency that is virtually unparalleled on this continent, we are still governed and shaped by a merry little band of rich people who like one-stop shopping when wielding influence and seeking public congratulations for their accomplishments. Lucky for us that they’re a rickety and second-rate ruling class, and always have been; the failed scions of Scotland gave way to the self-congratulatory “self-made” types from the sticks and the successive generations of preening overambitious sons of Outremont that Stanislas and Brébeuf cough up like clockwork.

Today, La Presse is unhappy with the mayor but it can’t figure out why. So it builds a shockingly incoherent article, critical of his lack of take-charge leadership, around last year’s sneering public smackdown offered by Tremblay’s former friend Charles Lapointe the professional tout, who is bitter that his economic sideshow is not universally regarded as the three-ring circus of servility he believes that it should be. Tout aux touristes.

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Over at Midnight Poutine we are treated to an instructive lesson in the difference between print journalism and online “coverage”. In fact, in a Baudrillard Memorial Moment, we come to embody the lesson our very selves. Chris DeWolf of urbanphoto gets a link to his piece in Saturday’s Gazette about the STM’s proposed smartcard system, Assertions is drawn into the fray due to an MP editor’s brief moment of confusion about whose blog is whose. And feels obligated to take a now-ritual morning swipe at the Gazette. Then steel glints, nostrils flare, and two transit herbs mix it up. Until the storm passes and love reigns once more.

(Not without this side pulling that move where you accidentally click “post” and the page doesn’t load, so you think you’re safe, but then you spend too much time continuing to polish your little words and by the time you post your interlocutor has already responded. Which makes you feel super swift and totally classy. Like Rochelle Lash.)

You see, print media pay people to research and write stories, and pay other people to edit them and remove their intemperate or inaccurate statements, because they exist in a context of responsibility and accountability. It is from this that the print media derive the sodden, flimsy vestiges of their fast-disintegrating authority. Whereas most online “media” don’t pay anyone to do fuck all, much less retain the authority they never had in the first place.

In Montreal, one of North America’s great transit and port cities, the English daily doesn’t pay anyone to regularly cover transportation. (Does it? See, that’s one of those intemperate and potentially-inaccurate statements that nobody’s getting paid to check!) Instead, it relies on freelancers to provide what coverage it can occasionally be stirred to provide. Because freelancers don’t require benefits, or require the paper to maintain a newsroom where human beings might want to work for more than a year or two, or require publishers and editors that know the business and that are more concerned with treating their people right than with pleasing some fuck in a Bentley. Even competent and engaged freelancers, like DeWolf is on this very topic, are no substitute for an actual commitment of resources and people to the day in, day out grind of beat reporting.

Now we here at Assertions are as dedicated to freelancers getting money as we are to the third person. That, in fact, is our next tattoo: a back piece with FREELANCERS GET MONEY in blackletter script. And what better freelancers to hire than aficionados with love for that which they cover? But when those sorts of serious discussions of the infrastructure that makes your life work are increasingly rare, don’t wonder why: it’s because it’s as hard to cover the STM on the cheap out of CanWest’s Winnipeg headquarters as it is easy to score cheap points hiring your right-wing pals to snipe at Quebec from a closer and more comfortable perch.

Monday’s Media Morsels (via Midnight Poutine)

This old house

UQAM has made indications that it is indeed contemplating what most observers anticipated: a reassessment of its space needs and a retreat from its recent real estate purchases. Le Devoir reports that several components of the Voyageur complex are under examination, including the portion of the residence halls that were to be UQAM’s component of the larger Cite universitaire project. Work on the La Patrie building has stalled halfway through and the Saint-Sulpice library building, gorgeous and little-visted when it was the BNQ’s main Montreal facility, has now been left entirely empty as UQAM acquired it for no particular purpose and has no money with which to renovate it.

Right around the corner, the city is having vaguely similar problems with the old central library building facing Parc Lafontaine — the collection and the entire idea of a central library got folded into the Grande bibliotheque project, without a clear vision for the future of the original structure. La Presse tells us that renovation of the library to house a clutch of municipal arts and culture agencies has proceeded slowly. Apparently the city went to the trouble to estimate the overall cost of the work, before defining exactly what work needed to be done. Maybe the best thing to do with news like this is to take it as a koan: meditate on the seeming paradox until you reach a higher understanding, then be sure to share it in the comments.

Incidentally, the childrens’ library (currently in the lower levels of the old central library building) is moving to de la Visitation, where it will be folded into a project to enlarge the Association sportive et communautaire de Centre-Sud. While it’s all well and good that the children of Centre-Sud get a new place to sit in beanbag chairs and look at pictures of dinosaurs, an administration supposedly panicking about the flow of families off-island would do well to consider locating kid-oriented facilities somewhere like Rosemont, instead of in a neighborhood where the new development is characterized by high-end one-bedroom condos. And you never see toddlers at Parking these days.

With big-money downtown cultural announcements being made, and Benoit Labonte’s name liberally applied to most of them, it’s almost as if he’s getting ready to run for something.

Finally the cavalcade of dance facility capital funding continues. Compagnie Marie Chouinard is moving into the Aegidius-Fauteux building, which was built as the Jewish Public Library in 1949 and that most recently housed the periodicals department of the Bibliotheque nationale.


Suburbs like to act like they’re creations of god, the same lil’ ol’ community that’s been there since farming days, only now with tens of thousands of residents. So folksy, so homey, and offering convenient access to so very much that you don’t have to pay taxes to support.

One would think that the outcome of the megacity flap, the victory of the West Island’s arbitrary crazy quilt of lilliputian municipal anglostans over modern solutions for better regional management, was enough to restore the often-tempestuous love affair between the Quebec Liberal Party and a key component of its base. In those heady days, West Island suburbanites suddenly discovered that their anomic shitscape inhabited by a few hundred thousand bored and anxious mallrats was a community, and one that those sovereigntist bastards were going to take from us.

Now Bourque Newswatch (no, you don’t get a link, because he’s a dick) — Canada’s favorite allegedly pay-to-play “news” aggregator — alerts us to a new twist in their knickers. The Globe and Mail reports that West Island mayors, frustrated with Charest’s disinterest in fully undoing one of his predecessor’s most sensible decisions, are going to add their voice to Mario Dumont’s coalition of right-wingers, soft nationalists who still think it’s 1993, and lumpen idiots from Quebec City. Continue reading

Weighs a fucking ton

A favorite of many Assertions fans, Brad Neely is one of those people that are on such a level that to use the term “cartoonist” seems a shameful elision. His black-and-white work for Hunter Kennedy’s Minus Times (now seemingly moribund, or perhaps just sleeping) made one sit up and take puzzled notice, and his now-famous YouTube video is perhaps the greatest encomium to a Founding Father of our as-yet-brief era.

His arrival at new funny video provider Super Deluxe is the harbinger of deep incursions into your bandwidth and your productivity. Fear him.