Posts Tagged ‘opinion’

songs of revolution

January 29, 2011

Following the events that have been unfolding in Tunisia and across the Arab world, I can’t help but comment on something that at least in most major media, has gone unnoticed. That is, to draw attention to a new phenomenon – a force at play in the popular uprisings in Northern Africa – Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, and elsewhere as well – to say nothing of Jordan and perhaps Lebanon as well.

But there was a crucial event at the start of it all – when popular unrest began on a massive scale in Tunisia – that was smoothly if quickly glossed over by most U.S. media. I’m referring to the hip-hop video above, of course.

After what we’ve seen over the past few weeks, it’s become impossible to deny that Hip-hop is truly a global phenomenon now, with potentially significant political implications.

And some of the most exciting events are centering on the Arab world, where a diverse mix of insurrectionists are swiftly disproving the oft-repeated lies and stereotypes about Islamic politics and divisive sectarianism in the Arab world.

While Internet-based strategies of resistance and activism seem to bear frequent mention in the media, hip-hop activism receives only passing mention (as for example when the song “Mr. President Your People Are Dead” landed a 22-year old Tunisian rapper in jail and stoked the fires of popular rage against Ben-Ali’s government).

To my mind, the omission masks a fear of hip-hop and the political possibilities it offers for transforming and redefining public space.

I’ll offer my argument for this claim after posting some more hip-hop videos:

Check out, for example, this video of the Narcicyst featuring Shadia Mansour:  Narcicyst is originally from Basra, Iraq, is super-original, and you can buy his album on iTunes. I’d recommend it.

And here is a track from Behrang Miri called Ramallah (I have Sameh Zakout a.k.a. Saz to thank for this link). This track – and video – are awesome. (In the case of this track I suppose it’s the eponymous subject rather than the MC that’s Arabic per se. I hope I wasn’t using the word “eponymously” incorrectly – I think I wasn’t, but let me know via the comment box if you think I was): 

You should also check out Saz, a rapper and beatboxer (and producer I believe) from Ramle. There is actually a documentary film about him directed by Gil Karni. You can check out some clips here, on Gil Karni’s site.

Now for good measure here is a video from DAM, a Palestinian hip-hop group from Lyd / Lod:

WHY IS HIP-HOP POLITICALLY SIGNIFICANT?

Hip-hop is more than its core “elements” (b-boy/girl, graff, DJ, MC); it’s a way of life. And as such, hip-hop is about a lot more than the vagaries of materiality and insignificance. It’s not just “ho’s, bankrolls, and clothes,” as Nas once eloquently put it – what hip-hop really is about (to my mind) is the intersection between life and culture, between environment and individual identity. It’s about rebellion and reconstruction.

Hip-hop was created by young people growing up in the shattered ruins of an urban war that humanity lost. If hip-hop politics is a politics of urban renewal, of individual expression triumphing over bland conformity and mindless consumerism, then its absolute antithesis would be the politics of “benign neglect.” Hip-hop’s not just another dance style or musical genre. Notwithstanding its own emphasis on originality, style, method, and individuality, I’d argue that hip-hop is fundamentally more intrinsically social (and more political) than any of these, because it was about people (mostly young people) deciding they were fed up with the violence, abandonment, and neglect in their community and creating a style of communally-based expression to counter these phenomena. A distinctly urban style of expression born out of realism – the realism of universalized oppression and shattered communities.

Hip-hop can be recognized as both familiar, recognizable, and yet at the same time a culturally distinct style of expression. Whether you witness it in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Bogota, Ramallah, or Cairo, you’ll still know it as hip-hop…but I’ll bet you’ll discover hip-hop to be local in character, diverse in its forms of expression, and often idiosyncratic in the way it relates to the distinctive character of the cities or territories out of which it operates. This is because, I would argue, hip-hop poses a distinct challenge to the conventional categories of group-forming and the attendant processes of identity formation. That’s because hip-hop is a way of life.

It’s time to acknowledge the truth: “Hip-hop” doesn’t just mean rap –  and perhaps it also doesn’t just mean the “four elements” of breakin’, DJin’, MCin’, and graffiti. In other words, maybe hip-hop is not just another form of “cultural expression,” a “subculture.” In fact, I would argue that history is now demonstrating more clearly than ever that if anything, hip-hop is perhaps something akin to what we might call a “trans-cultural” mode of expression. Or, if you will, a new way of addressing the difference between “culture” and “subculture” – maybe even a process of making the “sub-culture” transcultural.

A new political opposition has taken shape: hip-hop versus benign neglect.

Will governments continue to get away with not-so-benign neglect, as Ben-Ali, Mubarak, and many other dictatorial regimes have for so long? Or will hip-hop intervene, in forcing a confrontation with the world as it is, which really means a struggle to change it: to live in the world as it really is so that we can live the lives we want to live, rather than to ignore the implications of responsibility and try to hoard or plunder as many of its spoils as possible.

It shouldn’t be hard to see which of these political approaches is winning the day in many parts of the world today, particularly in the Arab world – or why.

What hip-hop might be saying to us – at its most radical – is to destroy or subvert the shattered remnants of an obsolete order, and to recreate a new and idiosyncratic style that’s grounded in the particularities of one’s daily existence.

I think it’s hard for Americans to think about hip-hop culture in a way that decentralizes it from its contiguity with American popular culture – given the subversiveness with which hip-hop has come to define many of the values and experiences associated with pop culture in the public sphere. But I’m beginning to see some of the exciting things happening with hip-hop right now in the Arab world and elsewhere, and to realize that hip-hop will never, ever be the same.

Hip-hop is more than (musical or visual) style; Hip-hop is a way of being. It’s a kind of lifestyle choice, which involves social and thus also political being. This is why real hip-hop is really more about communities and individuals, really. It’s not really about bling but about winning.

And this is why I’m not surprised that its role in popular uprisings in Tunisia and elsewhere is not being widely acknowledged. As El General’s video attests, it’s difficult to argue that hip-hop is giving rise to the voicing of discontent and affirmation of popular resistance in a more direct, unequivocal, and emphatic way.

So that’s why I wanted to write this post.

Now go check out some hip-hop you never heard before – and leave me some recommendations in the comment box, because I’ve barely just begun to stumble upon amazing Arabic hip-hop and I just know there is so much more dope shit out there.

And cheers to the Tunisian people for putting hip-hop on the map along the road to revolution, now to all my people it’s time to take action for change and start wrecking shit!

Gunned down on the streets of Arizona

January 8, 2011

I was appalled to read about Arizona Congresswomen Giffords being shot in the head on the street while meeting with her constituents (along with a number of other people, several of whom were killed). I suppose her desire to be available to any of the people she was representing made her vulnerable to attack by somebody who didn’t approve of her politics.

The only emotion I can express other than grief and dismay is disgust: wow, what patriotism! Gunning down a public official in the street? (To say nothing of all the other innocent people – including children – that were hurt or killed.) That sure showed a lot of respect for all our democratic principles, such as committing ourselves to a politics of transparency and openness in an (well, at least theoretically) equal-access public sphere. I can’t say I’m not a bit shocked (and infuriated) by this. (Though, surprised? Unfortunately I can’t say that I am.)

But although this is a terrible, terrible thing to happen, our response to it matters gravely. If in some afflicted person’s mind this act was an act of war, then we must indeed counter the message behind it – but we must do so non-violently. Does this make me furious? Yes, of course. Do I want to lay at least partial blame on the foulmouthed preachers of hate, or the prattlers of religious violence and intolerance pretending to be politicians (Sarah Palin, yes, I’m thinking of you) – or indeed, an entire political party that could barely mask an underlying hatred and the threat of political violence during an election season during which, for the first time in history, a Black man became a credible contender for President of the United States (and how much more infuriating to the rabid-right fringe that he actually won)?

Yes, we have to fight back. We need to fight against intolerance, hatred, and violence – but I’d say it is imperative that we do so non-violently. My way? Well-articulated opposition, massive sub-bass frequencies and underground resistance. G.O.P., you aren’t ready.

fresh music roundup/ personal update…

December 24, 2010

What’s up everyone?

Akiva here. I haven’t posted an entry in quite some time. The following represents an attempt at a brief summary of what I’ve been up to, and also a recap (as always at least as much for my own benefit as for my readership) of some of the great music I’ve been hearing lately.

Here goes…

Well, firstly, I fulfilled a long-standing goal earlier this month when I bought the Apogee Duet and Logic Studio – two powerful audio tools that will go a long way toward helping me begin to establish a small home-based audio production studio. How exciting! I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of Logic, but I do have some previous experience with audio software so I don’t feel like I’m totally starting from scratch.

This purchase, though, is undoubtedly a big part of why I’m so excited about music right now (and the improvement in audio quality after I got the Duet set up was noticeable). Here are some highlights for me as far as stuff I’ve heard that’s either come out recently or is forthcoming (warning: this list will be rather eclectic):

1. My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky: Swans (site). Let me be blunt: I was fucking ecstatic to hear that Michael Gira decided to reunite the Swans. This album does not disappoint. The first track, “No Words / No Thoughts,” which clocks in at 9:24, starts out ambient, and builds menacingly and forebodingly for minutes until it explodes into a repetitive riff that breaks down into the familiar Swans “wall of sound”…a sequence that refreshingly goes on and on, as though to make up for the years of silence since the Swans disbanded in the ’90s. It’s a wonderful album.

2. 2D33P is a new drum & bass project and label from Trace and Voyager, “focusing on the ’94 vibe and beyond.” All you really need to do is click that link (it leads to their soundcloud page), and listen to the tracks. Unless your soul is immune to sub-bass frequencies and breakbeats (in short unless you don’t like jungle and aren’t willing to be receptive to something new), you’ll see why I’m excited. I’ve also heard a couple clips of tracks forthcoming in 2011 on Trace’s legendary drum & bass label DSCI4.

Speaking of which (and I’m going to probably going to do an entirely distinct post just for this, because I don’t want the link to get lost in the mix), there is a link on the DSCI4 soundcloud page to a mix by Trace and Ed Rush from 1997 called the No U Turn Experience. If you have any interest in drum & bass history, `90s era techstep, and the legacy of underground institution that is No U Turn, don’t pass it up.

Looking at iTunes, I’m beginning to realize I probably only bought one or two releases this entire year. You know what? That’s not going to stop me. I’m going to tell an uber-brief story to illustrate why I think dope releases from 2009 and even (dare I say it?) 2008 are still worthy of mention…

Two days ago, I happily checked out a free track being given away by Blu Mar Ten for Christmas. It’s a total banger. Anyway, some asshole posts a comment, like, “Wow, this track is amazing – can’t believe it’s four years old!”

RIGHT – because it’s only in the last three years that technology has finally enabled us to make amazing music! Everything before then, while still noteworthy, is now going to be relegated to a bygone era. Because…now every producer can afford a DAW, and Ableton and Autotune and etc. etc. etc. Thank God that after millenia of primitive audio production techniques good music will finally be within our reach…OK, now that the rant is over, I’m simply going to say that there’s so much good music that’s always coming out, I’m obviously at least two or three years behind even on the stuff I like to follow most. . . like hip-hop and d & b.

3. Something that’s fresh right now…Duck Down Records!! These guys are KILLING it right now. I still need to catch up on the last five years of dope releases from them. My “to cop” list includes some of the Buckshot & 9th Wonder collabs, the Heltah Skeltah albums that have come out since they reunited a couple years ago…Sean Price’s solo stuff…Boot Camp Clik…oh my god, the shit is fresh. Brooklyn is definitely on the map right now.

4. I gotta mention my man Dash Speaks, a very talented MC, DJ, and producer that I went to high school with. What he does is fresh and original – I just downloaded his album Geography a couple months ago and really, really liked it. His lyrics and approach are unique; the production is an innovative hybrid between hip-hop simplicity and a sort of electronic dance music synth / beat aesthetic, making the album accessible without sacrificing its integrity (if you ask me).

As a matter of fact, you can too. Check a review and free download link here. Dash, Speak brother!

5. It came out last year, but Rakim’s Seventh Seal is fire. Go get it if you haven’t already.

6. While dubstep and dubstep influenced bass-heavy music has continued to become increasingly trendy, drum & bass producers and labels have been stepping up their game over the past year and many of them are killing it. A label that has consistently delivered in terms of quality and originality has been Critical. Without getting too sappy or gushing praise, I gotta say that Critical exemplifies what’s good and what’s always been good about drum & bass. The sounds are varied and diverse. The production quality is always high, and the tracks tend to be on the moodier and techier side, but other than that, the criteria seem to be whatever Kasra thinks fits the label, which is a good approach, and has really allowed Critical to hone and define its own sound. I love what they’ve been doing.

7. A label I’ve had my eye on for quite some time, but which has really put itself on the map and garnered some attention in 2010 is Shogun Audio. Friction has done a good job showcasing a diverse range of musical talent. I would have to say that it is labels like Shogun, Critical, Exit (D-Bridge’s label and one of my faves – killing it right now) that have done a great deal to release material that reshapes the templates for what we used to define as “techstep,” “liquid,” and so on. Rightfully, much of the new d & b straddles several of these arenas. I’m also really happy to see the stripped-down sound that D-Bridge, Instra:mental, and Spectrasoul are pushing to start to get more acceptance. When Shogun Audio first showed up on the scene, I expected Friction to release forward-thinking d & b with deep roots in techstep and the “neurofunk” tradition. Of course, he did; but over the past year he’s also been pushing the envelope with tracks that hardly fit that description. His podcast has featured guest appearances from the likes of Spectrasoul, Lenzman and Rockwell. Shogun is killing it, and doing its part to help shape the new sound of drum & bass for the 21st century. With new material from Alix Perez and Icicle, Friction seems to have done a good job balancing releases from established artists with stuff from more up-and-coming producer. Cheers to the Shogun Audio massive…assassinating the global scene right now.

8. Frankly (and this could just be a reflection of my musical tastes changing), although I’ve always respected them but never been a hugely dedicated fan, I’m kind of warming up to Hospital Records. Obviously they are a total institution by now, and with fresh and hugely popular new acts on their roster like Netsky, they hardly need my endorsement. But I still want to recognize this label for their contributions. Again, a few years ago it seemed like you could pretty much sort d & b tracks by category: liquid, neuro, roller, jump-up, wobble (remember “clownstep”?), hardstep, ragga, jungle…FUCK that! Listen to the new d & b and it’s liquid / neuro-funk / dancefloor / tech. jungle. THAT’s what I’m talking about. (A LITTLE more innovation with the breaks probably couldn’t hurt…but my point is simple: d & b is fresh now so fuck the haters! Frankly more dubstep illustrates the problems associated with d & b than d & b does these days. But feel free to make use of the comment form if you want to argue that point – this is swiftly turning into a rant.) Although in any case, I gotta say, the old school vibes are making a comeback. And that’s something that makes me happy.

9. I guess now that I’ve consulted my iTunes library, I realize that Nine Inch Nails’ free album the slip was actually released in 2008. But I only found about it and downloaded it a few weeks ago. Well, it’s good. Thanks for the free music Trent…and for keeping Nine Inch Nails alive. rock on! And while I’m on the topic of 2008…Portishead‘s Third is fucking awesome. Bleak and cynical and wonderful. It took me a few listens to get into it. Totally worth while. Here, watch the video for Magic Doors.

(I’ve got to grab some dinner…to be continued)

P.S. Bonus video link…O.G.C. – Hurricane Starang. With Heltah Skeltah. It’s a real banger, not to be missed.

Still to come…artists I’m just beginning to discover and still want to check out…labels to watch…producers to watch…forthcoming albums I’m excited about. The round-up will continue! Peace, love and enjoyment…hope everyone that’s reading this has enough reason to stay positive going into 2011. I’m out.

on the indeterminacy of identity and perpetual violence (a mini-review of The Sky Crawlers)

July 31, 2009

A few weeks ago I watched a fantastic film, the latest (if I am not mistaken) from famed anime director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell). Here are just a few reflections on the film… and a strong recommendation to watch it, because it’s fantastic! [THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. I HAVE REVEALED VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE PLOT, AND MADE EVERY ATTEMPT TO BE VAGUE AND AMBIGUOUS, SO FEEL FREE TO READ ON EVEN IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO WATCH THE FILM FOR THE FIRST TIME.]

The premise: perpetual war. Protracted regional conflict is fought by corporate proxies who solely employ children to carry out deadly aerial combat. It becomes clear later on that these children are not typical mercenaries, in that they essentially have no choice but to fight. It’s never clear what the motivating factors behind the war actually are for the parties in conflict (in a way it’s not clear who those parties are – the regional powers at war are scarcely identified, the corporations are obscured by their distance and lack of personal involvement in the conflict, and the children fighting are – well, children, with no discernable ideological stance toward the political situation), but the societal effects are clear: the war is essentially the never-ending subject of media attention, and the squadrons of pilots are like so many sports teams, with adoring fans spread out throughout the countries they ostensibly represent in the “theater” of war.

So why was this film so good? Well firstly, like Ghost in the Shell, Sky Crawler felt like a depiction of real space. Much of the time I felt like I was looking at real scenery, real locations – and having been made 12 years after Ghost in the Shell, the realistic quality of the art, while rendered in a somewhat stylized way, is extremely impressive. The art is incredible. Apparently Oshii believes strongly in going “on location” when he produces anime films (for Ghost in the Shell his crew scouted locations in Hong Kong), and in my view this admittedly somewhat unusual approach pays off. The setting of the film has a certain resonance; it’s fictional, but it’s a compelling fiction, one that invites you in, that feels weighty. The animation sequences are compelling, and whereas some reviews I’ve seen of it critiqued the film for being overly slow and at its most engaging during the aerial combat sequences (which admittedly are very well done), my assessment is quite the opposite. The entire pacing of the film is very well thought-out. It’s not an action film, and isn’t driven by combat scenes or technology-based sequences (these do play a part, although the technology in question here is primarily anachronistic-looking twin-engine aircraft). I would say, however, that it is a plot-driven film, and the story is really The Sky Crawlers’ greatest strength.

However, I was deeply impressed by the animation and sound design (and the sound design is extremely high-caliber, with absolutely incredible music), which are both very well integrated into the unfolding of an unusually complex and somewhat ambiguous storyline. This is a movie that after watching (assuming you like it), you will have to see again. It’s a complete story, but doesn’t render a feeling of “closure” at the end. I think there’s a sense of resolution fundamentally lacking throughout, despite the movie being exceptionally well crafted. I don’t think this is a drawback – in fact for me, it was part of what made the movie interesting – but I’m guessing it could be the reason some anime fans were put off by the film. Like Ghost in the Shell, The Sky Crawlers constructs a narrative through simple enough premises and developments, but there is feeling of openendedness throughout, leading to a sense of not knowing. As the viewer, I don’t understand the characters, I don’t understand who they are, I don’t understand their motivations – but not in the sense of being confused about what’s happening in the progression of the story, which in a sense is very straightforward. It’s more that ambiguity is sort of an integral part of the story, which ultimately starts to feel like a slightly subversive attempt to incite viewers to question their own social realities and the nature of identity.

And ultimately – perhaps what I found most striking about the film – as hidden, enigmatic aspects of the story are revealed, the stability of who the characters seem to be is undermined, and we are forced to rethink our entire relationship with the film’s premises, the characters and their experiences (and perhaps too with ourselves). And best of all (in my opinion), there is really no easy way to do this. The film invites us to imagine the world the characters inhabit, without really giving us any shortcuts for doing so, but at the same time reminds us that we too live in a world where war is fought not only for profit but for spectacle, where nationalism is dangerously close to rooting for the team you like and where all of us, in some sense, fight manufactured wars interminably without ever really thinking that there is any alternative whatsoever (and – Oshii seems to want to ask us – is there?).

What’s happening in Iran?

June 15, 2009

I want to weigh in briefly on this topic, since I am by no means what a newspaper like the New York Times would call “an expert in the field” (in fact, most of my information on the subject pretty much comes directly from the reporting of the New York Times). But I feel strongly that something is underway of massive significance in Iran – particularly Tehran and other large urban centers – that resists the hasty attempts at marginalization already offered within 24 hours of the election by some right-wing commentators and mainstream U.S. media outlets.

For example, one op-ed piece published by the New York Times (by Elliot Abrams, a “deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration”) contrasted the recent elections in Lebanon with those in Iran, suggested that the former, while not to be idealized, were fair (in effect, “legitimate” elections), while effectively dismissing the latter as meaningless: “a contrivance for settling certain policy disputes and personal rivalries within the ruling elite.” He rightly points out that Iran’s highest political office – that of the supreme leader, currently held by Ayatollah Khamanei, is not subject to elections. Yet Abrams’ viewpoint unjustifiably disregards the reality of the democratic process, the significance of that practice for Iranian individuals, and the power of the sentiment now being expressed by millions of Iranians, who feel cheated; in effect, the only sphere of public discourse in which personal choice is absolutely foundational has been exposed as a sham. Abrams is correct in his assessment of this fact, but wrong (or rather misguided) in his conclusions.

Democratic discourse, by its very nature, undermines the stasis of political structures and the mechanisms through which ruling bodies express and manifest authority. In short, it is correct to state that Iranians are not being bestowed with the choice to determine who should rule in the office of president, but it might be wrong to write off democracy in Iran quite as readily. Democracy, after all, literally means “rule by the people” – and the people in Iran are letting their voices be heard, despite the elaborate mechanisms of control, repression, and silence being put in place to stop them.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini, has now called for an investigation of the election by the Council of Guardians. One could interpret this as a tactical move calculated to gain time, to restore order. But the fact that the most powerful man in Iran is on the defensive should offer food for thought. Many Iranians are raising their voices in protest, despite the violence, repression, and reprisals with which they are being targeted, and many of those voices are being heard around the world.

Despite the very different society in which I live, I identify with the anger, the outrage, and the aspirations that I sense are being expressed now in Iran. What many of these voices are calling for is justice and freedom: freedom from the repression and retaliation with which they are faced when they voice dissent, and justice: that elections be real elections, that democracy be real democracy. These sentiments are not far removed from the sentiments that I think almost any human being might face after the horrible reality of a system that holds the freedom and humanity of individuals in contempt is unmasked. Indeed, shouldn’t those of us who have lived for the past ten years in the United States have a familiar feeling about all this? I’d challenge Elliot Abrams – and anyone else who think their point of view is well-informed and insightful enough that it is deserving of publication – not to be quite so hasty. In my view, one should hesitate a bit longer before dismissing the case of Iran and its questionable democracy…at least long enough to consider closely the evidence for election fraud in the 2000 and 2004 elections in the U.S..

In any case, this blog wasn’t intended as political analysis, but just a personal comment on something that is unfolding. Those of you who identify with the left in some sense will probably be far more likely to agree with me that what is unfolding now in Tehran and other Iranian cities – while it is very unlikely to lead to the dethroning of Ahmadinejad next week or next month – is nothing less than history in the making; it is almost certainly the beginning of a new-found respect emerging for the individual and for dissent within Iranian discourse, and it is extremely likely to permanently shift the fault lines of Iranian politics. The social media technologies being employed in the struggle are pointing out the degree to which communication between individuals inevitably evade the grasp of autocratic modes of control, and the increasingly decentralized form such (political) communication is taking, via the Internet, is proof positive of the changing ground of politics in the contemporary era.

And of course, all of this is definitely making the ruling elite in Iran very ill at ease.

And it is one more chapter in the history of individuals standing up to the impersonal mechanisms of power and raising their voices in dissent, even in the face of violence and death.

How ironic that the same Americans who spoke so loudly about spreading democracy around the world can now be silent? Is it possible they don’t recognize democracy when they see it?

why boulder sucks. (part 1)

June 7, 2009

“People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty.” – Chief Niwot

quick disclaimer before I get started: this list doesn’t purport to be exhaustive.

I mentally stumbled upon the best way to sum up my issue with Boulder quite recently. A few weeks back, I flew to NYC and spent a week there. On the way back toward my parents’ apartment from the grocery store I caught sight of a newsstand as I was passing by it (from a Boulder perspective, the very idea of a newsstand seems so anachronistic). There were probably newspapers in languages I couldn’t even recognize; we’re talking at least 25-30 different foreign-language newspapers. I mean, I can think of the names of at least two daily NYC newspapers in Spanish just off the top of my head, and I haven’t lived there much in the last six years (and those are just the ones I’ve noticed people reading on the subway). It finally dawned on me while I was in the city a couple weeks ago that 95%+ of the population of Boulder comes from one of two countries, both of which are in North America (and I’m not making that up. That’s actually fairly accurate)!

Some people, no doubt (though probably not those in my blog’s primary audience – thank you, good friends, for reading), would probably respond to this with incredulity: is the lack of diversity really the biggest thing wrong with Boulder?

Well, actually, yes. At least, it’s the most fundamental thing wrong with it, underlying most of the other issues. Boulder is actually sort of a gigantic self-contradiction in many ways. I think it probably has one of the strongest recycling programs in the country, and indeed, the culture here is at times almost neurotically oriented toward issues of environmental sustainability (not that that’s necessarily so bad in and of itself); and yet the same people fiercely advocating for every disposable cup, fork and knife to be made out of compostable corn product seems to love driving those oh-so-sustainable Jeeps and Range Rovers all over town.

It isn’t just that there’s so much wealth on display in Boulder (though the degree to which that is true is fairly shocking). It’s also striking that the Boulder “culture,” such as it is – and I will admit, Boulder does have some culture – seems to be geared toward encouraging maximally self-indulgent wallowing in all that money. Worse, the unrepentantly hedonistic consumer culture is inextricably intertwined with concerns that seem much more benevolent, as in the recycling example mentioned earlier. So for example, the city of Boulder (or maybe it’s the county), protects natural areas outlying the city and other suburban growth areas by allocating them as Open Space and Mountain Parks and restricting development on those areas. Yet it is precisely the abundance of natural vistas that attracts the hordes of wealthy white Californians looking for a nice place to build their McMansions and raise their kids (to turn a phrase I might, at the risk of offending some, term this phenomenon “white blight”). Sadly, most of these folks are probably so busy trying to make the capitalism work that they have little if any time to actually enjoy the natural beauty that probably attracted them to Boulder in the first place (because almost none of them came from here).

These are the people who spend their time fretting over their overpriced lattes while talking into a Bluetooth headset, checking stock quotes or sending e-mail on their mobile devices, and likely nearly inflicting death or serious injury while doing it because all the while they are driving, disregarding that whole “stay in the lane” idea or worse, cluelessly trying to navigate their Audi through a rotary (either the simplicity of how to drive through a rotary is lost on many members of the Boulder upper class, or else they simply think the traffic laws don’t apply if the car cost more than $40K).

Some of you might think I’m being harsh: “Come on, Akiva – you can’t blame people for having enough money for being able to afford nice cars or nice houses. It’s not exactly their fault. If you had a trust-fund, would you want to be judged for it?”

I probably am being a bit harsh, and I’m certainly being judgmental. But look, things don’t happen in a vacuum. I’m not necessarily faulting Boulder’s trust-fund class for being in the top tax-bracket, but I am alleging that the effects of its demographic make-up have a terrible impact on the quality of life in this city / town / whatever-it-is (for the rest of us, that is). Firstly, the racial divide that accompanies the economic disparity is too painfully obvious to be ignored. I would like to compare the homeownership rate of the white vs. Mexican populations of the city of Boulder. I’ll do some research, and get back to you i part 2.

When it comes to culture, Boulder is really hurting. This town has no gay bar (as telling a marker of the quality of urban life as I can think of). It has no night life to speak of (no offense to those that are actually trying). It has one movie theater (I mean theaters that play movies every day), and it’s a pre-fab Cinemark joint. There are good bookstores, but not one independently owned record shop. It’s got an excellent state university (although, according to a recent column I read by Stanley Fish of the Times, only a tiny portion of CU’s funding is actually from public sources – I think around 5%, and at any rate, certainly less than 10%. Look it up if you don’t believe me) and a (in my experience, at least) very good small, private Buddhist-inspired university in Naropa. It’s also got a lot of bicycles.

All of this brings me in the direction of perhaps one of Boulder’s most prominent characteristics which I’ve hardly even touched on. But I have to cut this short, because I’m getting tired, so until part 2, feel free to weigh in with your own point of view. Probably one of the first topics that comes to mind for many people as soon as Boulder is mentioned will be the starting topic of part 2: NEW AGE SPIRITUALITY. boy oh boy…