Friday, February 25, 2011

The Next Phase — The Masoni Review

To those long-time readers and followers of Masoni Raves About, you might be interested in the new project I've begun working on. While what you’ll see is something of a work in progress, the site is actually some four years in the making. In March 2007, I began this blog, Masoni Raves About, which became an outlet for my opinions on everything from the latest political issues to the loudest of summer blockbusters. In 2010 I shut down this venture, leaving behind some 200,000 lifetime visitors and a few dozen regular readers.

The Masoni Review is the spiritual successor to this blog, seeing as it will still offer many of my and others’ opinions on political news and entertainment. However, this time around the tone will be far less adversarial, focusing instead on the generation of interesting and relevant content. With the help of a few editors we’re in the process of finding, we hope to offer the best sort of articles on technology, entertainment, and current events. I’ve got some great things planned for this little corner of the web, and I can’t wait to show them to you.

If you’re interested in following our progress as we steadily work towards launch, you can Like our page on Facebook to receive the latest information. You can register on the new site to leave comments and Like or tweet various posts with your relevant social networking accounts. Thanks for your interest and feel free to leave feedback, comments or questions for us. Thanks, M.

Navigate to The Masoni Review

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Waxing Indignant

I think I may be done blogging. My longstanding political and philosophical blog, Masoni Raves About, represents a time in my life when I was frustrated, iconoclastic, and ideologically alone, and I needed an outlet to express my opinions in a public forum. While my opinions haven't changed all that dramatically, my childlike need to broadcast them has.

The blog as it stands is but a shrine to my now-waning idealism, my naive conviction that the elements of our society I perceived as evil or destructive could be changed. I now understand that power has been wrested from the idealists - from the ideals themselves - and rather lies now in the hands of the manipulative and unwavering powers who would rather disseminate and nurture hateful ignorance than correct it.

I created my blog as a teenager at odds with his circumstances, hoping that through reasoned explanation his mind might be better understood by others. I now understand that no amount of logical argument will clear up the things adverse to my worldview, and no matter where I go I'll be surrounded by forces who hate at least something I stand for. In short, I'm yet passionate about my ideals, but I suffer no delusions of realizing them - this country has robbed me of that. So rather than exhausting my limited resources and time trying to change the warped minds of racists, bigots, and homophobes, I'm instead going to carve a niche for myself in the society they've constructed.

I have no power to change what I cannot tolerate, and that will remain true no matter how much of myself I pour into a child's weblog. Wilhelm Stekel reminds us that “the mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” I suppose this means I've come of age.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 5 Albums of 2009

Yes, I could have compiled a list of 10 or even 25 albums, but laziness and thrift convinced me otherwise. I also could have made a list of the best albums of the decade, a project I may yet tackle, but the list would be 50 or maybe 100 albums long at its shortest. Included should be a short sample of each track I identify as a "standout favorite," courtesy of the recently-acquired-by-Apple So, without further ado, of all the albums and breakout artists the world became familiar with in 2009, here are my 5 favorites.

5. Manners, Passion Pit
electronic | Frenchkiss Records

This electronic group from Massachusetts wowed ears worldwide with their first album, following a promising EP from last September, which has fast been embraced by not only electronic music aficionados but also the mainstream pop culture elements, everything from radio stations to commercials for the Palm Pixi. Standout tracks include "Sleepyhead," "Make Light," "Little Secrets" and "Moth's Wings."

4. Blood Bank - EP / For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver
indie folk | Jagjaguwar

Yes, listing both a band's EP and its subsequent album as number four might very well be construed as cheating, but for Bon Iver I'll make an exception. Producing some of the most soulful acoustic music around today, these folk-hipsters introduced us to one of the best albums and sounds of the year. Favorite tracks from either disc include the moving a cappella "Woods" and "Skinny Love."

3. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Phoenix
indie synth pop | V2 Records

These French rockers have long been familiar within indie music crowds, but their 2009 masterwork has transcended these barriers and become known as some of the most recognizable and fun music around today. While the album seems flawless from song to song, my favorites include "1901," "Lisztomania," and "Fences." Try listening to these guys in the car - you won't regret it.

2. Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective
psychedelic pop | Domino

As for this dense and near-perfect record, it deserves the countless accolades it has been accorded over the past few months. Topping most top albums lists I came across, this album is simultaneously reminiscent of the Beach Boys and likely to induce a psychedelic stupor. There really aren't many stronger songs than the others, every one seems so perfectly suited to its track position on the album and its placement amongst the other masterpieces. That being said, the standout favorite - the flagship track, if you will, - is doubtless "My Girls."

1. Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear
psych folk | Warp

A perfect album from a group likely to become my favorite over even longstanding champion Radiohead, Veckatimest is without question my favorite album of the year, if not among my favorites of all time. No album since Kid A has so effortlessly matched meaningful and understated lyrics with powerful music reflecting a profound instrumental prowess, and this record's intense fine-tuning is best appreciated on a set of speakers which will do its interwoven melodies justice. I cannot express the depth and complexity of each individual track without overstating this record's perfection except by saying this: if you listen to any of the bands or albums listed here, make it Grizzly Bear. Like Animal Collective's opus, the tracks on this album are each too wonderful to order, but my personal favorites are "Southern Point," "Two Weeks," "Ready, Able," and "While You Wait For The Others." You can click here to play the album through, since regrettably doesn't offer free listening to Veckatimest. M.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Response by Masoni on "God, Take 7"

Following Hollanes' response to my original God, Take 7, here is my own reply to his refutations. Basically, I'm continuing the flow of debate here. Italicized are his replies to my original arguments. Enjoy, and feel free to offer your own opinions on the matter in the comments of either my or Hollanes' post.
The question of evil is a good one to ask. Personally, I think that evil exists because without evil, what makes the good, good? If you don’t have anything to contrast to then you’re just left with a gray area of moral actions that is neither good nor bad. Without things like disease, how do we appreciate good health? Without poverty, how do we appreciate wealth? Evil, and anything that is unfortunate, exists so that the good parts in life are just that much better.
...[h]e create[d] evil so you can recognize what it good. Without evil, what is good? Do good things become great things and not as good things become the new evil? There has to be something to contrast.
First, I'd like to point out something like a perhaps-unintentional pun which seems to have arisen in your first sentence: "...evil is a good one to ask." I've heard this argument before, in many different forms, that evil is a necessary component to the human understanding of good. Without appreciating the terrible parts of life, the cancer and AIDS and starvation, you wonder how humans could appreciate the good. This argument is a dangerous one to present for a great many reasons, foremost among them your unintentional assertion that "good" and "evil" are relative terms - good as merely the absence of good. Why is this dangerous, you ask? It seems perfectly reasonable that god could have created "good" things and evil sprang up as a direct result of that, and therefore god is not directly responsible for the creation of evil on Earth. It is essential, however, to understand that good and evil are two sides to the same coin, and that in a theocentric worldview god would be directly responsible for everything, up to and including the indirect fruits of other inventions. God himself is solely responsible for this sort of logical dichotomy in the first place, and - since god is infinitely powerful and created absolutely everything, - could have easily created a world where neither good nor evil necessitates the other. To say that god accidentally or indirectly created evil by creating good would place limits on god's infinite power and infinite foresight.
I’m actually unsure of how to word my argument; it’s awkward going from thought to actually explaining it on paper for this one. I’d have to say that God created free will as a gift. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but think about it. You have the freedom to do whatever you want, whether it is against God or not. Maybe God gave free will with the intent that people would recognize that he has granted them that privilege and to do anything other than good would just be a slap in the face. Maybe it has something to do with the next point that you bring up, predetermined fate.
This and your next refutation are very similar in nature, and so I will respond to each simultaneously rather than in kind.
I think the fact that God has granted us free will gives people the ability to choose their own fate. The best way that I can describe this is a train track. I can choose whatever train track I want, I have been given the free will to do so, but when I choose that track and I go down it, that fate is sealed. I can choose to go down the track of killing, but that would lead to other things and ultimately, my not so pleasant after life. But lets say that I choose a track that isn’t as extreme but is pretty bad, one like dealing drugs. I can choose to go down that track that leads to something bad, but at the same time I can turn that around. I can choose to get off at the nearest stop and take a different track to the fate that I so choose. My high school band teacher always told us that you can always be used as a bad example and I completely agree. Maybe you screwed up, but now the entire band (or community) knows what not to do. This would also go back to why God has created evil...
Free will as a "gift" is another common argument, a concept within which many Christians seem to find great deal of both solace and comfort. First, I'll refute the assertion of free will as "gift," then explain why free will is completely nonexistent and therefore beyond worrying about. God giving humans free will as a gift is like a parent giving his child a live grenade for Christmas. Yeah, it could be kind of cool to show your little schoolmate friends the weapon of war your super-cool parents trusted you with, but in the end it's a completely irresponsible and irrational gift-giving decision which represents either wanton disregard or malignant intentions regarding their child's wellbeing and safety. Free will seems a terribly dangerous gift because it allows god's beloved subjects to choose into eternal damnation. Here, have free will. It's a gift you can do whatever you want with, including doom the fate of your everliving soul to an eternity of suffering. You're welcome! What kind of all-loving and all-forgiving god would give humans the utilities to defy him and thereby lock themselves into this miserable fate? Why would a parent give their child a hand grenade which could kill them at any moment? Plain and simple, they wouldn't, and neither would the Christian god.

Secondly, I didn't actually need to pen any of that because free will cannot, and does not, exist (of course I believe that humans have the faculties to determine their own courses of action, but here I'm speaking of "free will" as a construct of Christian theology). You offer the "train track" analogy, a classic of Christian apologetics, as a method to reconcile two mutually-exclusive yet commonly-accepted theological concepts, free will and god's infinite knowledge of everything, including events in the future. Before you choose the "train track"course of your life, god knows which one you're going to pick. He knows millennia ahead of time which specific tracks you're going to be presented with. And, as for changing train tracks later in life, please understand that this isn't altering your chosen train track - chosen for you by god, not by you at the beginning of your decision-making life, - it is instead merely continuing your train track over which you have no control. If you reform your life after decades of drug dealing, you're not changing god's expectations for your life, you're meeting them. God knew those changes would come, because such events were predetermined by god's all-knowledge of the future. In short, you can either have an all-loving god who "gifts" humans free will, or you can have an all-knowing one who can determine your future life for you. You cannot have both.
Good point, but I have to ask; if everything has just existed forever, how did it get here? Yes, I know about the Big Bang, but who says that God’s hand couldn’t have pushed that along? Also if the Big Bang has put everything we know into place, what created what was before the Big Bang took place? I guess I’m just confused because I can’t see how something can just pop into existence without some greater being creating it. I can look at the computer that I’m typing this and know for a fact that what I’m using didn’t just come into existence, it was made, which brings up the next point that you made.
As for your first sentence, you answer your own question: it didn't "get there," it's always existed. If you take issue with some perceived logical inconsistency in that explanation, I'd point out that I could pose your selfsame question about god. Nothing "pop[ped] into existence" without a god, matter and energy have always existed. The Big Bang eventually leads to an inevitable Big Crunch, when the dark energy forcing the universe to expand either runs out or dissipates significantly and the matter of the entire universe collapses back in on itself over billions of years back to a hyper-dense ball of matter and potential energy about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. This tiny mass, comprised of all the matter and energy in existence, will eventually become unstable and again explode into another universe in another Big Bang, a universe whose physical laws and properties might be completely different or similar to our own in inconceivable ways. It is unknowable how many times this cycle has happened before or how many times it will happen again after our current universe ends.
Going back to what I was saying before, I can look at my computer, my TV, a building, and know that it didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. I don’t need to see my computer being made to know that it was I don’t need to meet the maker of my computer to know that someone made it. God gives us signs through miracles big and small; you don’t have to physically see him to know he’s there. God isn’t going to email you, he won’t call you on the phone, and he’s not going to stop by to chat over a cup of coffee. And really, the fact that God doesn’t care if you discover him goes back to free will. I also don’t understand why you would go to say that he is an “omnipotent trickster”. He has made something (life) that no one can seem to grasp the meaning to. People have been trying to figure out the meaning of life for a very long time. I don’t understand quantum physics but am I going to just say that it’s far too complicated for most people to understand and that Einstein was just some “omnipotent trickster” looking to fool us all?
Yes, you can observe manmade physical objects and understand that they were either crafted or manufactured by humans. You can observe a painting and guess at a painter, et cetera - another favorite argument of Christian theologians for centuries. I would argue that you can guess that each painting has a painter and each sentence an author because such relationships are part of your experience and frame of reference. As for the universe, there are no other known or observable universes you can compare ours to - there is no frame of reference. Therefore, it could very well be that the universe is wholly unlike any painting in that it required no creator and has always existed.

As for god stopping by for a cup of coffee, I understand this pretty well. My only point with that particular argument in my original post was that it's unreasonable for him to expect people like myself, whom he himself is responsible for creating and whom he knows everything about, to accept his existence on faith rather than evidence. I don't accept anything on faith, why would I make an exception for god? Additionally, your ignorance regarding quantum physics is completely irrelevant to the argument you're trying to make, since quantum physics is possible to be understood in human terms and god is not. A better example would be that you are unable to understand magic but you don't think J.K. Rowling an "omnipotent trickster," since both magic and god are outside the realm of human comprehension - and I would argue that this is because neither exists.
The only thing that truly bothered me was your ignorance to capitalize the word “god”. While I don’t believe in the god Zeus, I still capitalize his name “Zeus,” I don’t capitalize god in that sense because that isn’t his name. I know for a fact that you know this and it is offensive to see you ignore it.
Yes, I understand that "god" is considered the proper name of the Christian god, but - as you've doubtless noticed over the course of this post, - I refuse to capitalize it. "God" is not a name, it is a classification, and to blur its definition as such is to force a belief down my throat. This decision is not intended to be offensive, and I apologize if I've frustrated you again, but it's instead a failure to subscribe to the subversive syntax Christian hegemony have forced upon the English language. In naming their chosen deity simply "god," the traditional neutral term for a supernatural being, they have forced those discussing Christian theology to accept their god as the only, or at least best, deity around. If I called Masoni Raves About "Blog," and forced everyone else to capitalize it as such, I would be forcing a form of respect out of people who have no respect for my blog whatsoever, which is hegemonic and unfair. Furthermore, the actual name for the Christian deity is "Yahweh," which is actually a proper name. I mean no disrespect to Christians who decide to capitalize his name and all his modifiers (His, Him, et cetera), but rather have personally decided not to submit myself to a Christianization of language.

I look forward to your thoughts. M.

Walt Whitman and the American Identity

Poetry is transformative, although usually intended on merely an individual level, altering each reader’s personally-held perspectives and world-view. Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” featured in his oft-recast anthology of poems Leaves of Grass, was aimed not at any singular reader but rather at American society and culture as a whole, hoping to reconcile the countless disagreements then dividing the nation and thereby prevent or curb the inevitable onset of the American Civil War. Such high aspirations for one’s work are traditionally not uncommon amongst poets, especially poets of Whitman’s stature, but I would argue that none before or since were quite as successful or memorable as “Song of Myself.” While its value may not have been fully appreciated at the time of its first publication, “Song of Myself” represents a turning point in both the collective and personal American identities, inspiring a new and expansive era of individualism which, to this day, differentiates the United States and its constituent cultures from every other society in the world.

Whitman’s is a song involving a transcendentalist glorification of self, a spiritual sentiment tied intrinsically to his undying fascination with the subtleties of the natural world. While, for many modern Americans, this proto-environmentalism might seem something of a polarizing issue, the transcendental themes in Whitman’s work might be relatable to those same particular readers, as spirituality, too, has long been an important element in qualifying the American identity. The United States is among the most Christian country on the planet - by percentages and numbers, - and this somewhat-cursory note of an emphasis on spirituality infused with an individualist work ethic is only the beginning of the shared focuses of Whitman’s poetry and the American psyche.

At first glance, the poem’s self-centeredness and exuberant self-praise might seem somewhat conceited, as readers would be unaccustomed to reading epic poems glorifying exclusively the merits, imagined or actual, of their respective author. First, it should be understood that Whitman throughout “Song of Myself” adopts a literary persona which encapsulates the spirits of not only himself but also those of the collective American people, thereby making the narrator’s self-referential claims adaptable to any reader and to no readers in particular. In a poem aimed at reevaluating American values and restructuring the American identity, this decision was indeed a wise one. And yet, these lines can still be interpreted as directly referring to Walt Whitman himself without losing any of their intrinsic meaning. Whitman could be prototypical of the American populace, representing them and yet considering himself entirely separate from them. In this instance and interpretation of the poem, Whitman as both subject and narrator remains entirely relatable to readers, seeing as he would still be intended to represent the average American thinking man.

How appropriate is this approximation of the quintessential American identity as one obsessed with self? One could argue that self-centeredness - here not necessarily implying selfishness - is a foundational element in not only our democratic system of governance but also in our traditionally-capitalistic economic arrangement, each of these focusing almost entirely on personal influence and individual glory. Does the executive branch not glorify a single person? Is every vote not said to count? In our multinational free-market capitalism, are not both the chief executives and the low-level manufacturing laborers honored for the respective individual efforts? Our country is, and always has been, one focused exclusively upon individual successes and glory, creating something like a dog-eat-dog arena in nearly every aspect of American daily life and culture.

“I am an acme of things accomplish'd, and I an encloser of things to be,” claims Whitman in line 1148 of his work. In very much the same vein, the exaggerated achievements of the particularly driven individuals are always more fixated upon by the imaginations of typical modern Americans than the triumphs of a dedicated team of researchers: the unrivaled media attention devoted to antics of the super-rich and famous, the reverence and respect accorded to businessmen who do well for themselves and personally save a failing mega-corporation (Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, Inc., springs to mind), and our candidate-centric political system are all testament to this universally-held and uniquely American sentiment. Consider, for a moment, sport: are not American sports focused on individual statistics and achievements, like a football team’s star wide receiver making a winning touchdown catch, while the rest of the world’s games are occupied with concerted team efforts and cooperation? While these elements are doubtless essential components of American football, baseball, basketball, and others, this would be difficult to glean from the highlight segments on sports network television. We Americans subscribe to a society famous for being psychologically individualist when compared to the more collectivist cultures of Europe and Asia, and that cultural meme is doubtless an integral part of Whitman’s poem.

“Song of Myself” represents the poetic summation of everything that subscription to our uniquely American culture, which can be simply understood through the lens of individualism. This ongoing trend, predicted - if not inspired - by Whitman’s historically and culturally significant poem, is reflected in nearly every aspect of our contemporary society, from our chosen system of governance to our capitalistic schemas and propensity to glorify - or, perhaps more apt a label, worship - wealth and success. One can only hope that a reemergence of the themes from Whitman’s poem, so timely and appropriate in the years leading up to the American Civil War, would have better luck assuaging the political disagreements which currently divide us.

This is the 300th post in the history of Masoni Raves About. For the celebratory entry, follow this link and scroll down to the near bottom. Thanks for your continued readership and support.