Archive for the ‘Misc.’ Category

The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am


Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.


The World’s Team

In Futbol, International politics, Landon Donovan, Misc., National Pride, Soccer, Sport, US Soccer, World Cup on June 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Sitting at my desk, listening to an incessant Spanish announcer, I wondered what to do next.  It was around the 40th minute, half time to come soon, plenty to do this fine workday, but I needed to get out so I could scream a bit.  The US Soccer/Futbol team had been knocking on the door of the Algerian goal for the whole half and even had a seemingly legit goal taken away just as in the Slovenia match a few days before.  I was off that game day, thank god, and was able to enjoy a beer at 10am like any other soccer fan in the world.  This time, though, it would be an “early lunch” of coke and water and frustration as I watched my team fight to stay in the World Cup.

As a hyperactive child, I found a great deal of joy and love in the game early on.  Mostly, I ran circles around the field, but the feel of the ball on your feet, the sound it makes when you hit a great strike and the satisfaction of a perfectly-timed slide tackle, those were the things that kept me playing for a good portion of my life.  A life that grew as the game did, facing many of the same hurdles.

I remember in high school, a lot of kids would give me shit for not playing a REAL sport.  Soccer is the largest participation sport in the country, but generally not after kids reach a certain age – “Soccer Moms” – and there was little in the way of professional opportunity at the time even if you managed to be a stellar player in college.  People piss and moan about games, they’re so slow and low scoring.  Yet our national past time, Baseball, takes upwards of 3 hours to finish to a 1-0 score, and with plenty of ass-scratching and spitting taking up airtime.  Somehow, the US got the World Cup in Atlanta in 1998 and it sparked an interest – however small – in forming our own league.  Major League Soccer.

Being from Virginia, it was a real treat to see a local team – DC United – come away with the first two championships, and seeing the teams coach, Bruce Arena, helm the National squad for the world cup in 2002 and 2006.  There was still little interest in the game at that time here, so not many noticed when the team made it into the Quarter finals in ’02 and got knocked out in Group play in ’06.  We were rarely taken seriously on the world stage either, which only compounded the fans’ pain – it made sense that our fellow Americans perpetuated a stigma about our team, but even worse that foreigners who know the game continually deride our players and our league.

The big news came when the formerly great striker/brand, David Bekham, signed a deal with Major League Soccer to play for the LA Galaxy, one of the most highly attended franchises in the league.  Many say he was a has been by that time and that he came here to go Hollywood – both fair points – but he also somewhat legitimized the league.  Yes, he was being paid an exorbitant amount of money, but he was known as one of the greats of the modern game and some of the players felt his efforts genuine as they coalesced as a team.  One that initially believed otherwise, though, was Landon Donovan.

Donovan’s story ran parallel to US Soccer.  He was a naturally gifted youngster scoring 7 goals his in his first game at the age of 6 and went on to become a member of the inaugural class of the US Soccer program.  He was named best player in the FIFA Under 17 Tournament of 1999 and went to Germany to play for Beyer Leverkusen.  After a frustrating year, he came back to play for the San Jose Earthquakes, earning  2 championships and a host of other awards before moving on to the LA Galaxy and being named to the All-Time Best XI in 2005.  He gave up his armband to Bekham, though, and became somewhat critical of his teammate – famously in the pages of Sports Illustrated – but eventually reconciled with the Englisman and won MVP and Goal of the Year for the 2009 season.  We are both 28, both started playing young and both loved the game enough to continue.

And so I found it fitting to be sitting in bar at 11:30 am, jersey in full display, watching Landon streak accross the field in an attempt to keep his team going, to give us all something to watch during the World Cup and most importantly, to make a statement to the world that this team is not going home.  Everyone has probably seen the goal, and it was incredible.  But even more so, the journey it took to get there.

It takes a certain reckless determination to be able to score in the 91st minute of a must-win game, but much more to pursue a hobby, a sport and a career that many in your country find stupid and invaluable.  And yet, Landon not only played, he thrived, and has rightfully earned the status of other great American athletes – Jordan, Jeter, Gretzky, Woods, Elway – as the best in their game.

In his ascension lies ours.  Though I don’t see many other jerseys on game day, I see more than I used to.  Though I’m still reading plenty of Facebook status updates bemoaning this misunderstood sport, I’m also seeing a lot of virtual support and shop talk throughout.  New York is expected to have a following for Soccer, but having seen this video recently, I am heartened to see that finally, after years of feeling otherwise, I am not alone as a true fan of this game and a fan of this team.  Whatever happens in this next game against Ghana is irrelevent compared to the realizations we can come to through a simple game.

Most importantly, though, I hope the world recognizes that though we bastardized the name, we can still field an impressive cast, one that belongs on this stage as much as Italy or France – both of whom will be watching the ensuing rounds from their couches.  This country, after all, is home to all countries.  No matter what nation is playing, there is a good chance that they have a community within the United States.  These seemingly disparate pockets of humanity find a context for collaboration and cooperation in this country more so than others.  Everyone can appreciate the injustice dealt to us against Slovenia, and now everyone can share in the sheer perseverance in winning not only the game against Algeria, but also – for the first time since the Great Depression – our Group.  It seems funny, but perhaps – at least when it comes to Futbol – we Americans are at our best when faced with adversity.  For all the qualities exemplified in teams throughout the world, it is this one that is inherently rare and valuable.  This team, The World’s Team, has reaffirmed my faith in The World’s Game.

Regultion, Deregulation, and the real issue at hand

In Misc. on September 17, 2008 at 2:11 am

The dems are silly. Deregulation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Its regulations IN FAVOR of big business, policies that aren’t measured for the long term, and a legislative system open to special interest lobbying and prone to fiscal irresponsibility (and opportunism) that have destroyed our economy specifically, and our society in general.

Deregulation in itself isn’t bad, and regulation isn’t inherently good. Its a system of regulations designed by corrupt leaders that have damaged our economy and our society. Regulation should be used wisely, not haphazardly. The goal should be deregulation in all cases except where regulation is practical, and necessary for the good of society. That balances freedom with the fastidiousness of healthy choices.

Obviously, pollution and co2 emissions should be regulated.  That is clearly for the greater good. So should campaign finance and special interest access to legislators. But regulation should not simply be a knee-jerk reaction to every circumstance that gets out of hand. If our society is unhealthy, it is not because each sector is insufficiently regulated, but because Washington, the brain that runs society, is corrupted. Correct that pathology, and all other poor regulation (or deregulation) decisions will begin to correct themselves. I learned that watching House M.D.  One explanation for all the symptoms of an ailing human (or, by analogy, social) body or is always simpler, and therefore more likely, than two.  A society whose brain works for the best interest of its body is a society that will begin to correct itself.  For the last 8 years and more, it has had other interests in mind.  Thus, the greatest task of any reformer must be to realign the interests of politicians with the interests of the people – the social body.  Then America’s social, political, and economic development will get back on track.  What better way to do that than to start by impeaching and expelling corrupt legislators?

If this analysis holds any weight, then perhaps the current social and economic collapse in our country began on the day when the 2000 election was decided by the florida supreme court (judicial appointees with close ties to politics), instead the Florida electorate.  Reform elections, and you will reform the whole system.

McCain has advocated lobbying and election reform as much as Obama has. The question is: who is really serious about throwing out the trash? I fear the answer is neither, and I suspect that those I am most often surrounded by assume the answer is Obama, when it is just as likely that it would be McCain. Not that I agree with McCain on everything, but I have had glimmers of hope when he has spoken about vetoing every pork barrel bill that comes accross his desk (see the clip at 0:55).

In my mind, there’s no way to call this election beforehand. They are both politicians with reformist instincts. McCain has chosen a terrifying and ignorant running mate, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see the reformer in him if/when he takes office, even if he has been irresponsible in his choice of a successor. Meanwhile, Obama has made many concessions and sold off some key values and tried to spin it as a heroic act. It might be naive of us to think that he will hit the ground running with tough campaign reform when he declined public funding for his own campaign in this election (and the restrictions that go along with it, which are meant, although imperfectly, to level the playing field) after pledging that he would accept it. It seemed winning was more important than upholding commitments and ideals in this case. How do we know there won’t be something else more important once he’s in office?

New Politics

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on March 26, 2008 at 12:32 pm

People usually can’t tell what I am by looking at me. My skin is white, like my mom’s, but some tints of my dad’s Filipino heritage peek through, making me look equally Cuban, Puerto Rican, Italian, anything but Asian. I’m lucky enough to have never really had any allegiance to a certain race or identified with any specific notions of it. I often joke with my friends about these things, usually bringing up all kinds of offensive, inappropriate comments about certain groups to get a cheap laugh, most probably because it’s more complicated for me to get the same treatment. But being a man without a team – a free-lance race(er), if you will – I have few preconceived notions about them myself, allowing me to find a lot of humor and joy in the differences we have and how they effect our interactions and shape our perceptions. I kid because I love. I love diversity, I love that my children will have roots on 3 different continents and I love this country for giving me, my family and countless others like them a place in the sun. Obama’s speech last Tuesday was given from this perspective, which is probably why it inspired and impressed me more than anything I’ve seen in politics. That something has finally spoken to me in this way has also engendered quite a bit of resentment towards the reaction to it.

He is a politician, one trying to contain a damaging scandal that speaks to the very heart of his campaign, a scandal so grievous that it caused Hillary Clinton to overtake him in national polling for the first time in months. He is a candidate who often gets by on looks and charm, his silver tongue paving the way through a rather charmed candidacy. The allegiance to Wright and Trinity were undeniably instrumental in Obama’s acceptance in the black community of Chicago and subsequently by the national black community – a voting block that has been crucial in many of his primary victories over a white woman. These are all things we knew before he stepped to that podium and it was impossible to forget while listening to his words. Perhaps it is because I support him, because I am a racial mutt same as he, because I have been seduced by that aforementioned silver tongue, but I didn’t care about any of it.

If my Catholic upbringing has taught me anything, it’s that if you look hard enough at anyone, you will see faults, you will see sin – they even make you apologize for it first thing Sunday morning. All any of us can do is mitigate these as best we can through good works and faith in eachother, neither of which come easy or without failure. Barack didn’t hide behind his press secretary or some other surrogate, he didn’t throw out some half-baked sound-byte of appeasement in hopes things would blow over by the next news cycle, he stood there for 30 minutes and talked to us like adults. He told us things we all know, but never hear. He made no accusations, but rather placed responsibility equally among all of us, himself included. He asked us to stop raising our voices and start listening to eachother. If you don’t believe me, watch the speech or read the transcript in its entirety. The motivations behind these words are unimportant to me. Sure, he could’ve been trying to divert our attention to save his own ass, but I don’t care. I don’t care why he said what he said, just that someone finally did so.

A black man running for President put his campaign on the line, stepped up to the plate and spoke about race in a way no other politician has ever done, but you would have never guessed by reading about it. A great deal of reaction and coverage was spent haggling over details. He didn’t go far enough to denounce a man who baptized his children, he didn’t explain how many times he heard these statements or the ways in which he tried to stop a preacher from preaching, he made us feel guilty for slavery and that was mean. It is as if we are at a beautiful restaurant in front of a gourmet meal but no one is eating because they don’t like the fold of the napkins. Obama’s mistake wasn’t that he stood by his preacher, it was that he assumed people would actually pay attention.

Politics is a dangerous game, not just for the candidate but for those who support them. We pin our hopes and dreams on certain people every couple of years and when they fall by the wayside, so does our resolve. We allow these candidates to paint themselves as the magic bullet, as the only answer to our problems; and so in their defeat lies ours. The one thing that really made me jump into this campaign was that Obama asked us, the people, to work for what we wanted, to help him reach our goals. Part of this is obviously tactical. You can’t fight the Clintons with the establishment, they are the establishment. The most powerful political machine cannot be undone from within, so he was forced to look elsewhere for his support. His relative inexperience and lack of accomplishments give him less to run on by himself, so he needs more help and faith from the outside. He has no record, so he forgoes specific policy items in favor of meta-themes. It is also, though, an undeniable return to history.

In his incredible book, The Argument, Matt Bai put much of the focus on the Democrat’s search for a post-Clinton identity. But he also provided amazing insight into political movements at large:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

Barack has often been chastised for a lack of clarity, rhetoric instead of results. But perhaps this is because his movement, his base, has not yet codified their beliefs or their goals. Regardless of why, Obama has caused a progressive awakening in a generation that faces monumental challenges, my generation. One who has grown to see the prosperity of the 90’s – our formative years – become destroyed by forces outside our control: fanatical terrorism, global warming, economic instability. Those in power attempting to fix these problems are not the ones who live with the consequences. It is my friends who are getting laid off, who go to the emergency room for physicals, who are sent off to fight in the desert. We are the most diverse, best educated and technologically advanced generation this nation has ever seen and we must begin to take ownership of it. We can’t afford to be distracted by the horse race, but rather be enlightened by the message. Say what you want about Barack, but you cannot deny that his calls for a recognition of shared responsibility speaks to the best in us, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. If it takes inflammatory remarks by a preacher for us to take stock of our treatment of one another, so be it. If an opportunistic, ambitious politician can dupe us all into working for eachother instead of against, we are the better for it.

But we cannot expect one man to do it all. Elections are not the realization of change, they are the beginning of it. If he loses the nomination, if he loses the general election, we cannot retreat into the background in defeat. If he becomes our President, it is our responsibility to hold him accountable and help to fulfill the promises of his potential and our own. Obama has outed us. The success of his platform and the goals he has set will only be met through the efforts we make. The themes he has brought to bear since his introduction of Senator Kerry in 2004 cannot be ignored, especially as we descend into an ever bloodier campaign season. Hillary – an impressive public servant in her own right – has undoubtedly inspired many young women to pursue ambitious careers. John McCain has given credence to sacrifice and centrism in a party that has been known for anything but. Obama’s message challenges us to recognize the nobility in our foes, to respect differences and approach challenges with optimistic pragmatism instead of cynical ideology. His candidacy might fade, but these ideas must not.

Many have belittled the thinking man in these times, but the consequences of looking tough and acting stupid are keeping us from what we can become. Harsh crime legislation and unyielding drug policy have stopped neither and added non-violent, first time offenders to the ranks of the incarcerated, now accounting for 1 out of every 100 of our citizens. Elliot Spitzer’s demise at the hands of a call girl might have been cheered by the Wall Street firms he savaged as Attorney General, but considering the greed and deception they perpetuated to bring down our economy – with no jail time in sight – one wonders who really got off and who got screwed. If we could have seen the facts in Iraq for what they were, free from agenda, fear or spin, we would have $1.3 Trillion more in our pockets, we would be without 29,000 wounds and be able to hold over 4,000 of our sons and daughters that have been lost to ignorance. We are waging war against an ideology instead of a nation, so it must be considered that our ideas and culture can and must fight as effectively as our military. If we continue to distill these complex issues down to sound bytes and slogans, deny the due process of debate and discussion and pigeon-hole the myriad points of view into mere black and white we run the risk of turning into the same fanatics that seek to destroy us. If we cannot decide the proper course of action through argument, we must find a way to do so through conversation. Obama or Hillary, Democratic or Republican, we all share the same fate. If there is one thing I hope this Presidential race will teach us, it is that there are more important things than winning elections.

Impending Florida Mail-In: Let the Clusterfuck Begin

In Civil Liberties, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 13, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Ever the beacon of our fair, balanced and uncorrupted representative democracy, Florida is at it again. There are several reports hitting the wire that the state “government” is day or so away from annoucing their “plan” to administer a re-vote via mail-in ballots. Here is the plan as detailed by the States Democratic Party chair, Karen L. Thurman:

Under her timetable, fundraising and a public comment period would begin today and end April 12, about when ballots go to production. Overseas and military ballots would be sent out April 19. Fifty temporary election offices would be set up May 1 in poor areas to ensure access to voters with mail difficulties. On May 9, the bulk of the ballots would be shipped out, and the election would officially be on June 3, a day shared with Montana and South Dakota.

The counting will be done by an outside contractor using optical scanning devices and signature confirmation and other validation will be done by state and local election officials. Considering the extremely tight timetable, officials argue, this is the best way to get an accurate vote, thereby representing their electorate honestly.

What a bunch of horse shit. Firstly, the “fundraising” period will inevitably include a good chunk of soft money contributions that have been banned in federal elections, making this process suspect from day one. Secondly, there are no gaurantees with the USPS and even if they were iron clad in their delivery, people have moved, they might be out of town, any number of scenarios can interrupt people actually getting the damn things. Not only this, the opportunities for fraud are as plentiful as fanny packs at Islands of Adventure. The verification process happens only when the ballots are received by government officials, allowing for any number of incidents to occur along the way. Buying ballots, hoarding ballots, soaking mail, the possibilities are endless. And most importantly, IT’S FLORIDA. We’re talking about people who got absolutely confounded by hanging chads, who had to go to the damn Supreme Court to tell them how to count and now they think that they can pull this completely new system out of the bag with 3 moths to go? (Here’s a more professional critique)

I have nothing against Floridians on spec, and they absolutely deserve to have their voices heard like the rest of us. But these rules were established by the DNC MONTHS AGO, in full view of the public, and they went ahead and broke them anyway. Citizens could have told their party leaders not to risk a penalty and representatives should have known better, so they have no one to blame but themselves. I undertsand the frustration of having Iowa dictate terms to the rest of the party. Such a small, rural state having this much influence on a nation as complex as this is a little ridiculous, but you don’t change the guidelines by pretending they don’t exist. That the race is so close, so hotly contested and getting so many’s passions boiling is reason enough to try something drastic, which is exactly why this shouldn’t happen.

No matter the outcome, people have to believe that the process is fair above all else, they have to feel that the election happened by the book and that their choice wasn’t hijacked by someone more connected or a favorable circumstance benefitted one group at the expense of another. Every one of Florida’s House Democrats – whether supporting Hillary, Barack or neither – don’t want any part of this because it simply cannot be trusted. 318 delegates can’t be thrown around on spurious information, and if this goes through, there will be no end to the arguments, litigation or controversy, further deepening the democratic impasse and inflaming hostilities on both sides; regardless of the outcome, no one wins this thing. Floridians are complaining that they don’t want to be disenfranchised, but that ship has sailed. You already voted. You were told – in no uncertain terms – that it wouldn’t count and you went ahead and did it anyway. You were disenfranchised from the day you moved your primary, from the moment you broke the rules and that can’t and should not be changed at the 11th hour by some hair-brained scheme. Since you can’t bring yourselves to obey the law, you get to sit and wait for this thing to play out, the same way the rest of the country did in 2000. When the decision is made, you’re gonna have to eat it the same way the rest of us did in Bush v. Gore.

Maybe Dean can cut you a deal and seat your delegates at the convention 50/50 or some other formula determined after the rest of us are through. Maybe you can come to some reconciliation yourselves and relax at the beach until November. But one thing is for sure: you don’t get to decide this race if you don’t follow its rules. Florida wants their voices heard at the expense of the rest of country, and they shouldn’t get to screw us again.

Let’s Be Frank (furter)

In Election 2008, Food Justice, Misc., New York City, US Politics on March 4, 2008 at 10:35 am

I saw this in a NYtimes blog and just couldn’t pass it up.  Classic!

Thanks again, Dennis

In civil, Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Freedom of Information, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., Progressive Politics, Technology, US Politics on January 17, 2008 at 1:33 am

American politics is so dirty and that it is usually a downer, but every time Dennis Kucinich makes the news he gives us something to smile about. Not long ago, he introduced a proposal for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. More recently, he managed to see past himself enough to urge his supporters at the Iowa caucus to move to Obama’s corner if he didn’t make the 15% required to be counted in a dictrict. And a few days ago, he asked for a recount in New Hampshire. Now I’m not saying I think New Hampshire was miscalculated, stolen, etc. But in light of certain questionable electoral maneuvers over the past decade (i.e. 2000, florida and 2004, ohio), I have come to the conclusion that asking for a recount can only be a good thing, and that it should be done more often. Candidates have to pay a fee to have a recount done, and Kucinich has chosen to pay for it from his own pocket: beautiful. This, mind you, is a hand recount, meaning that even the votes taken by computerized voting machines will be counted by hand, from the vote printouts they produce.

From TheHill.com,

The lawmaker said he does not expect his own vote count to be significantly affected by such a recount but he added that it is “imperative that these questions be addressed in the interest of public confidence in the integrity of the election process and the election machinery.”

In his request for a recount, Kucinich alleges that there have been “unexplained disparities between hand-counted ballots and machine-counted ballots.” […]

“This is not about my candidacy or any other individual candidacy,” Kucinich said. “It is about the integrity of the election process.”

Let me just be one to say: Thanks again, Dennis!

Obama’s next Mistake

In Election 2008, Media Criticism, Misc., US Politics on January 9, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Quieting down the crowd that was cheering for him when he spoke after the primary in New Hampshire.

No other candidate has crowds react like that. The people were making a statement of their own, and he could have let them. The chanting O-BAM-A! might have itself become a contagious media event, picked up, circulated and discussed in the wake of the primary, to help give him some steam and offset an apparent loss to Clinton. The only way for the American public to see the excitement he stirs up in people is to let them make a statement of their own. Silencing a show of approval like that, from your own supporters, is passing up a powerful opportunity. It is “little” things like this that will win or lose an election.

Food Shortages, Ethanol and Mike Gravel

In civil, Consumerism, Direct action, Election 2008, Environment, Food Justice, International politics, Misc., Progressive Politics, US Politics on December 19, 2007 at 4:52 pm

A disturbing article in the International Herlad Tribune appeared a couple days ago, and has gotten little, if any traction in the domestic press. According to the UN, on top of everything else going to shit on this planet, our food supplies are running dangerously low.

In an “unforeseen and unprecedented” shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned Monday.

The changes created “a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food,” particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

There – of course – some seriously alarming numbers backing these claims:

The agency’s food price index rose by more than 40 percent this year, compared with 9 percent the year before – a rate that was already unacceptable, he said. New figures show that the total cost of foodstuffs imported by the neediest countries rose 25 percent, to $107 million, in the last year.

At the same time, reserves of cereals are severely depleted, FAO records show. World wheat stores declined 11 percent this year, to the lowest level since 1980. That corresponds to 12 weeks of the world’s total consumption – much less than the average of 18 weeks consumption in storage during the period 2000-2005. There are only 8 weeks of corn left, down from 11 weeks in the earlier period.

Prices of wheat and oilseeds are at record highs, Diouf said Monday. Wheat prices have risen by $130 per ton, or 52 percent, since a year ago. U.S. wheat futures broke $10 a bushel for the first time Monday, the agricultural equivalent of $100 a barrel oil


high oil prices have doubled shipping costs in the past year, putting enormous stress on poor nations that need to import food as well as the humanitarian agencies that provide it.

There are several reasons for all this:

On the supply side, these include the early effects of global warming, which has decreased crop yields in some crucial places, and a shift away from farming for human consumption toward crops for biofuels and cattle feed. Demand for grain is increasing with the world population, and more is diverted to feed cattle as the population of upwardly mobile meat-eaters grows.

Ironically, our own prosperity is driving our demise. Worse yet, our attempts at combating global warming may be deepening the problem.

In the lead story in last week’s Economist, The End of Cheap Food, the British authority pointed their fingers squarely at America:

But the rise in prices is also the self-inflicted result of America’s reckless ethanol subsidies. This year biofuels will take a third of America’s (record) maize harvest. That affects food markets directly: fill up an SUV‘s fuel tank with ethanol and you have used enough maize to feed a person for a year. And it affects them indirectly, as farmers switch to maize from other crops. The 30m tonnes of extra maize going to ethanol this year amounts to half the fall in the world’s overall grain stocks.

There is no doubt that many of the politicians – and subsequently businesses – pushing for ethanol have overlooked this fact in a nakedly political attempt to curry favor in Iowa while looking serious on climate change and American jobs. Sugar cane-based Ethanol produced in Brazil is cheaper and more efficient than our domestic flavor, especially considering the fact that the amount of energy needed to turn corn into fuel is so high that it offsets any environmental gain; but that won’t win you a caucus in Des Moines. It looks as though these concerns are actually being considered as there is an Energy Bill close to ratification that will expand funding and production quotas for non-corn Ethanol.

All this being said, we are still looking at a fundamental challenge to our way of life, something far more serious than terrorism or Iran getting the bomb. Who cares if we defeat the Jihadists if a loaf of bread ends up costing $500 and you can’t afford to feed your family? Emerging countries have been yearning for the protein-filled, doggy bag taking, dangerously obese lifestyle we’ve pioneered in America; and if the devastating droughts we’ve seen in Australia and our own South-East continue, it’ll be impossible to grow enough for everybody.

There will obviously be plenty of initiatives put forth by Governments, NGO’s, think tanks and the myriad brain trusts we have set up to find answers to problems like this. Nothing will be done, though, unless we as a people can control ourselves. People will always be hungry, but they don’t need to be fat. I’ll start with my own country. It is difficult to consume less in a culture and economy that is solely devoted to that very action, but if this crises deepens (which it likely will) eventually we’ll have to realize that resources are finite and the more we take, the less we leave for the rest of world. Steaks are dope, but not necessary every night of the week and gigantic meals are meant for celebrations, not necessarily lunch.

I’m not advocating a hunger strike or anything, and far be it from me to point fingers, but it seems ridiculous to expect progress without sacrifice. If we are concerned about these problems, we must not only be the first to act, but also be capable of accepting the consequences.  It is well and good to want to feed others, but to be willing to give part of your meal, that’s something else entirely.  The same goes for global warming.  It is fairly easy to rationalize that hybrid SUV, but why not demand better public transit and save $34,000?  Want to get rid of illegal immigration?, then go ahead and work in a strawberry field for $5 and hour and demand higher pay.  Do you support better health-care and education for all?, then pay more taxes.  These are somewhat extreme, but we must realize that we are not powerless to effect change.  The success we seek is only sustainable if we’re all willing to work for it.

Mike Gravel’s candidacy might not be remembered too far past January 3rd, but he had moment of brilliance during a recent debate on NPR. When asked to describe an issue he does not know the answer to, the former Senator from Alaska responded immediately:

“I wish I knew how to convince the American people that they are the answer to these problems, not the politicians. I wish I knew how to make that argument.”

Amen, sir.




The Music Wars: The RIAA Trial and Our First Casualty

In Consumerism, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Music, Technology on December 6, 2007 at 2:25 pm

Jaimee Thomas is the first person to refuse to a settlement in an RIAA lawsuit, the first defendant in a file-sharing trial, and the first to be found guilty of copyright infringement by a jury of her peers . For this distinction, the single mother of two will be forced to pay her accusers the amount of $220,000. At $9,250 each, here are the 24 songs she infringed upon (from Wired.com):

  • Guns N Roses “Welcome to the Jungle”; “November Rain”
  • Vanessa Williams “Save the Best for Last”
  • Janet Jackson “Let’s What Awhile”
  • Gloria Estefan “Here We Are”; “Coming Out of the Heart”; “Rhythm is Gonna Get You”
  • Goo Goo Dolls “Iris”
  • Journey “Faithfully”; “Don’t Stop Believing”
  • Sara McLachlan “Possession”; “Building a Mystery”
  • Aerosmith “Cryin'”
  • Linkin Park “One Step Closer”
  • Def Leppard “Pour Some Sugar on Me”
  • Reba McEntire “One Honest Heart”
  • Bryan Adams “Somebody”
  • No Doubt “Bathwater”; “Hella Good”; “Different People”
  • Sheryl Crow “Run Baby Run”
  • Richard Marx “Now and Forever”
  • Destiny’s Child “Bills, Bills, Bills”
  • Green Day “Basket Case”

How much would you be willing to sacrifice for the Goo Goo Dolls? Considering that the plaintiffs had claimed she had distributed in the neighborhood of 1,702 songs through her Kazaa account, one wonders how they came to this eclectic mix of guilty pleasures (no pun intended). Also, the jury could have awarded anywhere between $750 and $150,000 in damages per song, making the amount of $9,250 seem just as arbitrary. Either way, it’s a substantial sum of money on top of already pricey legal fees, something Ms. Thompson will face on her own (from the West Central Tribune of Duluth):

“It’s been very stressful,” she [Jaime Thompson] said. “I have multi-billion dollar corporations with their own economies of scale suing me so it’s been very stressful.’’

She said the lawsuit has also affected her children. “I no longer have any disposable income whatsoever,” she said. “My disposable income used to go for CDs, but obviously not anymore. I’ve had to make some changes regarding extras for my children. All the disposable income went toward this case. I didn’t do this and I refuse to be bullied.”

Her appeal on the grounds that this constitutes excessive punnishment was recently rejected by the Department of Justice, setting a disturbing precedent for the future. The DoJ’s reasoning, surprising similar to the RIAA’s, is that infringement by an individual creates exponential damage to the copyright holder by fact of this dangerous interweb. Acting Assistant AG Jefferey Bucholtz breaks it down for us (from CNET):

Although defendant claims that plaintiffs’ damages are 70 cents per infringing copy, it is unknown how many other users–“potentially millions”–committed subsequent acts of infringement with the illegal copies of works that the defendant infringed. Accordingly, it is impossible to calculate the damages caused by a single infringement, particularly for infringement that occurs over the Internet. Furthermore, plaintiffs contend that their witnesses “testified to the substantial harm caused by the massive distribution of their copyrighted sound recordings over the Internet, including lost revenues, layoffs, and a diminished capability to identify and promote new talent…”

Since it’s “impossible to calculate the damages”, is $9,250 per song really enough? Why not $11,782.63 each? How about $25,902.17? If you’re going to make this woman responsible for the entire downfall of the music industry, if you’re going to make her take out 3 more mortgages her house and jeopardize her family anyway, why not just take her first born or a pound of flesh?

So this is the new business model? The RIAA and the Majors are betting that they can make up they’re lost revenue through suing the pants off people. It doesn’t matter if the product sucks, if we don’t listen to it or if we don’t want it, they’ll be sure to make us pay for it somehow. Who needs marketing when you have threats? High priced lawyers are a better investment than musicians, right? Wired’s interview with Universal Music CEO Doug Morris highlights the struggles going on between the ears of a lot of these old school executives, none of whom really get whats going on while still trying to reconcile the fact their audience is somehow indifferent to paying for something they hold dear. They’re digging their own graves without even knowing it. Yes, music is worth something, but people need to be convinced and lobbied more than the government, lawsuits sure as hell won’t be doing the business any favors. Radiohead’s run online will be over in a couple days, with an actual CD to follow. Initial numbers are not too encouraging, maybe 38% of people who downloaded actually paid anything and hundreds of thousands of copies were pirated off peer-to-peer eventhough it was offered free directly from the artist. However little they might have gotten, though, it’s a blessing that neither the Majors nor their RIAA lapdogs can touch a dime.

Hostages Taken at Clinton HQ in dowtown New Hampshire

In Election 2008, Misc., Policing, US Politics on November 30, 2007 at 3:32 pm

There are early reports out of Rochester that around 1pm today a man in his 40’s walked into Hillary Clinton’s offices in New Hampshire, revealed he had a bomb strapped to his chest and has taken 2 volunteers hostage.

Live coverage here: http://www.wmur.com/video/14738085/index.html 

Dialogue and politics aside, this is some crazy shit, more to come, I’m sure.  Who knows what the reprocussions are going to be…

The Music Wars: Radiohead’s Rainbow Coalition

In Consumerism, Direct action, Freedom of Information, Media Criticism, Misc., Music, Technology on October 3, 2007 at 11:55 am

In yet another bold move against – or possibly for – the music industry, Radiohead, the hallmark of contemporary British Rock, has joined the likes of Prince and Nine Inch Nails in offering their next album – In Rainbows, their 7th – for “free”, and independent of their former record label, the languishing EMI. The entire album will be available for download directly from their website starting October 10, but unlike previous free releases, Radiohead, like always, is doing something a little different; they are allowing consumers to chose what they pay for the download. In addition to the mp3s, they are also offering a lavish “Disc Set” which will include 2 Vinyl records, 2 compact discs, and a hardcover book with lyrics and pictures, all at the low low price of 40 British pounds/$81.

Reaction is spreading far and wide, and most of it is positive, with many calling this the “future of the music industry”. Anyone who’s paid any kind of attention to the industry over the last couple of years has heard this phrase refer to any number of flash in the pan ideas, and I don’t think it’s completely accurate to depict this interesting move as any kind of bigger blueprint for a business that is as bankrupt on ideas as they are on revenue. There are few of my generation who have never heard the song “Creep” and this current innovation could never have been possible without their previous successes. For the album OK Computer, EMI was nice enough to provide the band a six-figure advance that allowed them to purchase a substantial amount of equipment and create arguably their finest presentation with complete artistic freedom. Bands like Radiohead and Prince can go ahead and burn the potential money they’d get from record sales because they already made have enough in the bank to sponsor their own African nation. The majority of musicians out there are hell and gone from this sort of lifestyle, and would still like to use their undersized profits to pay for things like food. A solution that solves only some people’s problems solves nothing.

What I hope comes from this, aside from another great album from one of my favorite bands, is that people remember that music not only costs something, but that its worth something. The British music rag, NME, has a posted comments of some fans who have gone through the pre-order process, and they are as interesting as they are encouraging, here’re some highlights:

Chris Rogers:
“I paid £10 for it. They deserve it. I’m just glad they’re back making music. It’s hard to put a price on it.”

Mike Wakelam, 27:
“For a normal CD the dealer price is around £9. The record company gets 25 percent, leaving £6.75. I’ve heard artists get 18 percent of that, which is £1.215. So I’ll pay £1.22.”

Jason, Sydney, Australia:
“What price do you put on happiness? For me, £7.99. Now let’s see how many cheapskates try and download it free.”

Lee, Bexhill-On-Sea:
“Anyone who thinkgs £2.50 is a fair price is taking the mickey. You have to pay for the water that comes into your home, you have to pay to watch TV, so why do people think they should be given music free?”

Radiohead is challenging us to do right by them, holding out the tip jar and putting the question of compensation out in the open, allowing others to scrutinize and be scrutinized by their choices. Napster and others made us think that free music is something to be expected, but they cost those who create it a great deal. I’ve been playing music for nearly 2 decades and I’ll tell you right now that things like rehearsal spaces, equipment, recording fees and CD duplication are not provided to us by nature of our craft, nor is rent, food or health insurance. And it’s not just the money we pay, it’s the sacrifices we make: pissing off your girlfriend to spend more time with your band, working shit jobs and forsaking better ones to have a flexible schedule and more time to play, spending 3 months in a van with 4 other guys who smell much worse than you do. Why do people think these things don’t matter when it comes down to the final product? The RIAA has led the charge against downloads and has hijacked the argument to ensure that their status quo of exploitation stays intact. But their excesses do not mean that artists aren’t deserving of something better.

The fact that these fans recognize this flies in the face of most business models over the last few years: endless parades of amateurs chasing a profitable way to give their product over for free. It’s not that people aren’t willing to pay for music, it’s that they don’t want to pay for crap. Mp3 quality for In Rainbows is also guaranteed since you’re getting the tunes straight from the source and they are also DRM free, so you can treat it just like anything else you buy: however the fuck you want. The disc set is also mad sexy, and makes me a little nostalgic for when albums where something you held in your hand and interacted with, not just something that you consumed. Countering the give-away mentality of mp3s with a fairly expensive – yet beautifully realized – physical product is something poetic in itself.

The big idea, to me at least, behind all of this is an affirmation that music belongs to the musicians. As a band and a business, Radiohead is in a place where they can afford to not be tied to the purse strings of a label in order to finance recording, manufacturing and distribution of their album, and as such have complete control of the process from start to finish. This is something we haven’t really seen since the Beatles, and by harnessing the warehouse-free Internet age, they are doing it cheaper, easier and faster than their predecessors. I stated before that most can’t do this, but perhaps we will see a decentralization of the business, allowing bands to be judged by their own standards instead of those provided by mega-stars. Smaller acts shouldn’t be expected to sell 500,000 units in a single quarter, they can now be the masters of their own destiny and find a place where they can be sustained with far less: targeted sales/tours to fans dedicated to their success instead of being rammed down the throat of an overwhelmed national audience. This allows bands to really connect with those they play for and grow organically as they make strides to increase their audience as they see fit. The sacrifice here is two-fold: their influence will never be as great, nor will they be able to fuck off and just play music. They will have to do the market research and fix their price-points; they will be the ones made to spearhead campaigns and generate profit and loss statements; they will be forced to do all the things they got into music to avoid, or at least know enough and be involved enough with those they pay to do so. Historically, the business swings back and forth between consolidation and the independent marketplace, but perhaps this time it will beget not only a creative revolution in musicians, but also an entrepreneurial one. The grunt work needed to support the business of an album won’t go away with the label, and if we want the independence, if we chose to forge out like Radiohead into a spectrum of possibilities, we must take the responsibility and do what is necessary to take care of ourselves and our fans.



Bill O’Reilly’s Blissfull Ignorance

In class warfare, Culture jamming, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Race, US Politics on September 26, 2007 at 12:33 pm

In one of the funnier stories of the last few months, the fair and balanced people at the Village Voice recently reported that after visiting the famous Harlem soul food eatery, Syliva’s, the pugnacious pundit, Bill O’Reilly, remarked at the amazing similarities between blacks and other people:

“I ‘couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patronship. It was the same,’ O’Reilly said on September 19 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program...

everybody was—it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn’t any kind of craziness at all.”

I mean, come ON. He’s almost making it too easy for us. I wonder, with the first mention of the word “Harlem”, what exactly popped into that tiny, narrow mind of his? Was he expecting watermelon hanging from every iced-out grill, people shooting their “gats” up in the air like they just don’t care, booming voices alternating chants of “black power” and profanity-laced rants against “crackah-ass whitey”?

Obviously, Bill has a long way to go to make it into this century, and he has a looooooong list of making an ass out of himself in regards to race in general, but if I may, I’d like to propose something that will probably get me crucified by all seven people who read this blog. Though this statement is obviously as offensive as it is hilarious, I can’t help but think it’s just a little inspiring. Listening to the full excerpt helped give some perspective.

Firstly, he went up to Sylvia’s to take Al Sharpton out to dinner – could you imagine seeing those two walk in, sit down, and share some corn bread? And in the man’s defense, it was probably the first time he’d ever come to Harlem and actually gotten out the car. I doubt he’s ever experienced regular black folk up close and personal, just sittin around having dinner instead of in some music video, BET, or battling with him on his show or some other forum. I bet all he knows about these Americans is what he heard/read/saw in the conservative media he helps create. It doesn’t make it right that he says shit like this, obviously, but in the absence of experience and knowledge, is it surprising that ignorant, cliched and racist assumptions have been allowed to fester? No.

Behind the “culture wars” and the media machine that perpetuates it exist communities of regular people and I’m glad Billy got to get himself some meatloaf, chill the fuck out for an hour and hear Al tell some James Brown stories. For him to come away feeling good about Harlem, to be able to relate Sylvia’s to his own experiences in his most-likely gated community, that is a powerful thing.  Granted, this won’t bring him to Abyssinian Baptist chruch or the NAACP anytime soon, but it’s a step in the right directin.  If you’re never exposed to other people, you’ll inevitably harbor misconceptions about them. They obviously won’t be as wacked-out and crazy as O’Reilly’s, but one look at how most America has been treating racial issues of late – profiling of Muslims/anyone who looks like Muslims, immigration, etc. – it’s pretty obvious that eating dinner together every once in a while can’t hurt. O’Reilly has definitely been an enormous jackass as long as I can remember, but I’ll cut him some slack on this one, eventhough I doubt he’d do the same for us.


In Children and Youth, Direct action, Misc., Music, Progressive Politics, US Politics on August 2, 2007 at 11:57 pm

I bought an advance pre-sale ticket almost 3 months beforehand, and at the cost of $105 dollars, I felt it a bargain (one of the few times Ticketmaster had ever given me this experience). The line-up for Rock the Bells – Pharohe Monch, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jedi Mind Tricks, Public Enemy, the Roots and Wu-Tang amongst others – was in itself an impressive menu, and they all put on great performances. However impressive their sets were, though, there was an undeniable feeling that the entire festival was little more than a 9-hour waiting game for the headliner, Rage Against the Machine. The mosh pits started opening up during Cypress Hill’s set, a good two hours before Zack and the rest were slated to come on. After the sun finally set and Wu-Tang left the stage, the chants for “Rage” began echoing throughout the crowd. Cheers rang out when the stage crew began hoisting the enormous red star back-drop behind the stage during sound check. It began to hit everyone then, I think, that this was real, and in a few minutes we’d be able to see them for the first time in seven years. The anticipation was palpable, everyone impatiently willing the lights to drop.

They opened with Testify and everything exploded. The crowd became a seething, incoherent mass of destruction; bodies careening into, around and through each other in a frenzy of insatiable angst. The next 15 or 20 minutes were spent simply fighting for my life as the band followed up with punishing renditions of Bulls On Parade and People of the Sun. I saw a few people who had gotten hurt, went to the first aid tent and came back to the floor – bandages and all – to continue throwing down. A few unfortunate crowd surfers tumbled off supportive hands and onto the concrete floor a few feet below, while others rolled and kicked their way across the horizon. There was hardly time to catch your breath between songs and the little air there was available felt like it had already been in someone else’s lungs, feeble relief against the sweltering heat. Leaning over with my hands on my knees, dripping sweat by the pound, I realized I had missed this almost as much as the music. Despite the hurtling chaos, there was still that pick-you-up-if-I-knock-you-down camaraderie that you can’t really find anywhere else.

Between the incessant shoving and jumping, though, I was able to catch glimpses of the band: the erratic jerking motions of Tom Morello, guitar strapped high against his chest; Brad Wilk striking the cymbals from 3 feet above; Tim Commoford’s completely inked out shoulders. And then there was Zack. His dreads had flared out into more of an afro since I’d last seen, but everything else was just as mesmerizing as I remembered. During the verses, he stalked like a tiger from one side of the stage to the other with that measured, rhythmic gait, spitting each lyric with eyes piercing the far reaches of the crowd. When time came to open the flood gates, he was out in front with that amazing energy. After spending the past few years in relative anonymity, it was good to see the man out and about, finally back where he belonged.

Once everyone calmed down, though, I could tell the sound was a little off. The mix on the enormous sound system was uneven at times, detracting a little from the experience and it felt like the signal they heard had problems, too. The band wasn’t as tight or together as I thought they’d be. I learned to play electric bass on many of their songs, and my inner nerd cried out at missed riffs and drum fills. Their tempo also seemed slow for a portion of the set, but still, it was well worth the money to hear them live again. Songs I hadn’t heard in far too long – Vietnow, Down Rodeo, Township Rebellion, Wake Up – all finding their legs in a new decade. The subterranean growl of Commoford’s bass and authoritative, aggressive drumming from Wilk formed the foundation for the samplified and other-worldly noises only Morello can conjure up; and many times his solos simultaneous slashed and soared over the crowd. Zack’s machine-gun lyrics cut as deep as ever, and his amazing scream hasn’t lost an inch of force. Like all good showmen, they saved some of their strongest efforts for the encore, a medley of Freeedom and Bullett in the Head that sounded just as fresh, and maybe more important, than it did when I first heard these songs. When all pistons were firing, the band was truly impressive.

The high point of the performance, for me at least, came during Guerilla Radio. After Morello’s solo, the band dropped out and along with Zack, the capacity crowd of 80,000 rose up and screamed “It has to start some place, it has to start some time. What better place than here, what better time than now?”. The people, it seems, are still hungry for something better. Whether angst or politics, they spoke to that part of us that yearned for change and autonomy by any means necessary. There hasn’t really been any another act that can move people with such a sense of urgency towards direct action, or at least one that supports and represents those who do, and that is something that has been sorely lacking over the past few years. The re-emergence of not only the music, but of this voice is what gave their reunion such importance.

But their ideology is also a source of great frustration for me as a dedicated fan. There wouldn’t be a Rage show without a diatribe from Zack, and this one even made it into the New York Times:

On Saturday night Mr. De La Rocha responded. He attacked the “fascist” Fox News pundits for “claiming that we said that the president should be assassinated.” As the crowd shouted its approval, he continued, “No: he should be brought to trial as a war criminal and hung and shot. That’s what we said.” Despite the insistence on due process, this still isn’t a position any mainstream politician would endorse. But that’s precisely the point: At a time when unimpeachable causes and pragmatic endorsements are the norm, it’s nice to be reminded that rock stars can get political without sounding like politicians.

Though it is great to finally hear these words being spoken with the blunt aggression that befits the band, the fact of the matter is that they come at a time when Bush’s approval ratings are in the 20s, he’s leaving office on his own in a little more than a year, and the Dixie Chicks said they were ashamed of the man back in 2003. It felt like Rage was a few years too late for the train. They spent their careers preaching against evils like jingoism, the military industrial complex, corporate greed, exploitation of immigrants and the poor, using every album, every show as a scathing indictment of our government and the capitalist system at large. But these were completely useless in the 90’s. A decade of peace, prosperity and inaction across all facets of our country, where the biggest scandal of our day was a blow-job, was not a climate where this kind of message can gain traction. As soon as they broke up in 2000, though, the shit hit the fan: Bush steals the election, 9/11, the War, Katrina the list can go on and on. And where the hell were they?


Zack was busy working on a solo album that will never see the light of day, it’s even rumored that a track he did with Trent Reznor was so bad that Trent wouldn’t allow it to be released. The rest of the band was tied up in the half-baked super group, Audioslave, forsaking any political leanings in order to support Chris Cornell’s tan and perfectly groomed facial hair. How, in the face of everything going on in this country and around the world, could they have stayed apart? Imagine if they had been at any of the anti-war protests leading up to the invasion, or in New York during the RNC convention in ‘04 like they were at the Democratic one in 2000. Granted, they might not have made a monumental impact, but they were meant for these times. They represented themselves as people who stand up and tell these opportunistic fascists to go fuck themselves, to demand justice and inspire others to action. But when the opportunity came to do so , they could not find a way to resolve their differences. I’ve played in plenty of bands and am no stranger to the personal issues that break them apart. I must ask, though, how does it take this long to respond in the face of such disastrous times?


Don’t get me wrong, I would pay another $1,000 to see them again without thinking twice and I’m not alone in hoping that this is the wake-up call we’ve been waiting for and the tour leads to a new album in 2008 (just in time for one of the most interesting elections in our history). But they do have to answer these questions if they decide to make another run, or at least grow enough artistically and politically to justify such an absence. Other bands can get back together, do tours, make shitty albums, a ton of cash and be forgiven by their fans. But goddamnit, Rage Against the Machine stands for something, for me at least, and I’m gonna hold them to a higher standard. Though their philosophies might be considered anarchist, radical and inflamatory by most, it is – at least – much more substance than most rock bands are able to present these days. They were revolutionary in thought and aesthetic when they went triple platinum with their first album and over the course of their career, they did huge tours and donated part of the profits to activist organizations. The thought of something like this happening at such a critical time, that they might influence another generation the same way they influenced me, it makes me want them back even more. But they must be careful to not ruin what they’ve already built. After 9/11, Clear Channel banned a great deal of songs from the radio that they deemed contained “questionable lyrics”, putting together a list that was forwarded to most stations around the county. Rage Against the Machine was the only band that had every song they released put on that list. How does anyone top that?

45,000 AIDS Patients Get the Shaft from Roche Pharma

In HIV/SIDA, International Public Health, Misc. on July 27, 2007 at 3:19 pm

With everything going on with our political crises at home and abroad, not to mention the countless other chaotic happenings that smack against our already overburdened eye-balls, it’s easy to see how potentially serious and disturbing naratives can stay off the front page and our collective consciousness at large. The NY Times reported that a large Swiss drug company, Roche Pharmaceuticals, performed a massive recall of an AIDS medicine called Viracept after detecting that some shipments were contaminated with a potnentially harmful subtance. The action spread accross several countries where the drug is a cornerstone in affordable treatments for indigent patients. According to their own press release, dated June 6, the re-call is nearly 6 weeks old. So what does the first name in news have to say about this extremely late-breaking story?:

The scope of Roche’s recall is extraordinary, if not unprecedented, in the battle against the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, global health officials say. Dr. Lembit Rago, an official at the World Health Organization, said tens of thousands of people take Viracept worldwide, many of them poor people with H.I.V. in developing countries. The recall has left those patients with the painful choice of discontinuing a lifesaving medicine, or using a drug that might contain a dangerous contaminant.

….The company made the recall worldwide “in order to avoid confusion,” she [Martina Rupp, a Roche spokeswoman] said. Roche estimates that about 45,000 patients were affected by the recall.

According to the drug’s own website, the consequences of stopping treatment are serious:

When used in combination with other medication, VIRACEPT reduces how much HIV is in your blood. VIRACEPT suppresses the virus. This stops the virus from making copies of itself. With less of the virus in your blood, you’re at lower risk for life-threatening infections.

But VIRACEPT can’t work if you don’t keep enough medicine active in your blood. When you have less medicine in your system, either because you missed a dose or stopped taking it, the virus starts to make copies of itself quickly. HIV can develop resistance to HIV medicines this way. That’s why it’s so important to take all of your VIRACEPT, exactly as prescribed.

Worst of all, there are very few substitutes available, and those that are are many times more expensive, effectively rendering it useless to the people who need it. The contaminent found in the drug, ethyl mesylate, is what is known as a genotoxic, a substance that can damage DNA. Though researchers are unsure as to the level required to become dangerous to humans, realtively high levels have been shown to cause cancer in lab animals, and since it attacks genes, children are especially at risk.

As troublesome as all this sounds, what might be more disturbing is what we don’t know:

Officials at the W.H.O. in Geneva and the European Medicines Agency in London said Roche had not provided information they consider essential for safeguarding public health: which countries the tainted medicine was shipped to, the concentration of the contaminant and what the company will do for its patients.

….Roche said the recall affected “Europe and some other world regions” but has not been more specific.

This is ridiculously irresponsible, especially when compared to other recalls we’ve seen. When Firestone tires were exploding off the rims of Ford Explorers or when some Renu contact lens solution was shown to cause infection, it was plastered over every news organization and local media outlet, even the federal government got involved with Firestone. These were consumer products used by healthy people. You would think that finding dirty medicine for people with already severely impaired immune systems would engender a similar reaction, but it seems we can afford to lose 45,000 patients who are going to die anyway. How does a pharmaceutical company, or any company for that matter, get away with this kind of behavior?

An article in the International Heral Tribune gives a couple insights:

Roche announced that first-half profit rose to 4.92 billion Swiss francs, or $4.1 billion, beating analysts’ estimates. Sales climbed 15 percent to 22.8 billion francs, led by a 17 percent gain at the pharmaceutical division.

…Shares of Roche rose 6.1 francs, or 2.85 percent, to close at 220.5 francs in Zurich. They had dropped 1.9 percent this year, compared with the 4.6 percent decline in the 13-member Bloomberg Europe Pharmaceutical Index.

“Roche is the company with the strongest growth profile” in the European drug industry right now, Andreas Theisen, an analyst at WestLB, said.

Not only is it an extremely powerful and profitable drug company, but it has a lock on a potential future monopoly:

The Swiss drug maker has one of only two drugs that show promise in helping battle a bird flu pandemic. Orders for Tamiflu, originally designed to treat seasonal influenza, reached 215 million treatment courses as governments and companies from 80 countries stockpile the product.

So it now seems that we’re willing to sweep these 45,000 patients under the rug for a lock on a Bird Flu vaccine. I’m not about to play one epidemic against another, and we should absolutely take both seriously and face each with the best modern medical science has to offer. But if Roche can’t make a clean drug for a 20-year-old virus, let alone clean up the mess they make with it, my faith is thin for their go at the next plague. What happens when we find a contiminent in the Bird Flu pill? Will we be as willing, or able, to hide the recall? What will the consequences be then?

Before the contamination, Roche was doing everything that a major drug company should have been doing. They had been spending and working diligently on treatments for arthritis and cancer, Viracept was sold at a cost of around 28 cents per dose providing governments and NGOs with tools vital to their fight against AIDS. Contaminations are a fact of life in the world of manufacturing, I don’t think anyone who has made anything has done so without error. But by doing the re-call so clandestinely, with more emphasis on public relations than public health, it shows a complete lack of concern for one’s customers, let alone a callous disregard for poor AIDS patients. And what does it say about us that they will continue to earn a profit after effectively killing the population of an average American city?

To be fair, AIDS treatment on the whole has vastly improved, from 240,000 to 1.3 million patients in the last 5 years, and spending has increased in similar leaps and bounds. But many recent studies – including one delivered by our own government’s advisor, have shown that the spread of the disease continues to outpace our efforts to combat it. This demonstrates that our current prevention policies that have been dictated by religious ideology – that recommends abstinence only education and denys access to condoms and needle exchange – are ineffective. Smarter, more aggressive prevention grounded in fact and empiracle evidence is needed to increase our effectiveness. It also shows that AIDS isn’t going anywhere and it will become an even greater threat to our culture and society in the coming years. If we are to address this issue with the dedication and determination it requires, then we must be able to hold ourselves accountable for our faults as much as our successes.



For Porn, Things Are Hard All Over

In Consumerism, Misc., Sexuality, Technology on June 12, 2007 at 12:27 pm

It looks as though the new online economy is claiming yet another casualty of the old guard. Though it initially led to a renaissance of the industry, the internet has caused the Porno business to fall on hard times:

After years of essentially steady increases, sales and rentals of pornographic videos were $3.62 billion in 2006, down from $4.28 billion in 2005, according to estimates by AVN, an industry trade publication. If the situation does not change, the overall $13 billion sex-related entertainment market may shrink this year, said Paul Fishbein, president of AVN Media Network, the magazine’s publisher. The industry’s online revenue is substantial but is not growing quickly enough to make up for the drop in video income.

Don’t worry, it happens to a lot of industries. It seems that smut is no more immune to changing tastes and increased competition than any other media. If anything, it may be signaling a sea change in consumer attitudes:

And unlike consumers looking for music and other media, viewers of pornography do not seem to mind giving up brand-name producers and performers for anonymous ones, or a well-lighted movie set for a ratty couch at an amateur videographer’s house.

Purveyors of the (not-so-fine) art form are also separating themselves from their mainstream counterparts in their responses to the changing zeitgiest with a renewed commitment to their content. Whereas music industry executives continue to churn out lackluster – if not outright mediocre – product from ever-shrinking stables of artists with little added value, those in the Adult Industry are taking it up a notch:

To counter the trend, Joseph says the company plans to start giving film buyers an extra promotional DVD with more scenes from its movies, which typically cost $20. He also plans to improve the packaging of his DVDs….

He said he was sticking to his plan to film his movies in exotic locations like Brazil or simulating them with elaborate sets. For one movie, Nectar built an elaborate set that included a waterfall in a warehouse in Canoga Park, California. It is not your everyday backdrop for hard-core sex, Logan noted: “It looks like ‘Lord of the Rings.’ “

This, though, is missing the point. There are few people who watch porn to take in the elaborate production value, and even less who give a damn about packaging. There’re few guys who would be willing to display their copies of “Anal Invasion” if it had that new holographic cover – “It jumps off the page…” Granted, a cleaner look and more polished execution can make a scene more appealing, and one would think a better product would lead to better sales, but porn is obviously unlike any other product.

It is most likely consumed at a greater rate than any other product on the web, and even before this internet thing, young men all over got their first taste of sex-ed through their dad’s hidden stash. It used to be when these kids got older, they were forced into embarassing situations in order to begin their own stash – having to actually be seen around the stuff – but the internet has allowed for a completely new relationship with porn, and subsequently ourselves. The combination of a substantial increase in adult content with greater access and lower risk has allowed everyone to explore the myriad ways we get off and finding new ways to get off ourselves. This changed tastes by not only introducing everyone to unseen material, but also allowed the social stigmas of shame to fall by the wayside. Taking porn out of the peep shows and onto the PC has somewhat normalized the act of watching – and making – adult videos, and as such has created unforeseen consequences in the industry:

“People are making movies in their houses and dragging and dropping them” onto free Web sites, said Harvey Kaplan, a former maker of pornographic movies and now chief executive of GoGoBill.com, which processes payments for pornographic Web sites. “It’s killing the marketplace.”


“The barrier to get into the industry is so low: You need a video camera and a couple of people who will have sex,” Fishbein said.

This is nothing new, we’re all aware of the prevalence of user-generated content on the web – you’re lookin at it now – and it’s only natural that the trend continue and begin affecting our baser instincts. This is ultimately about pleasure, yes, but this also reflects a shift in consumer attitudes away from top-down, professionally slick presentations to something more authentic and believable. It seems more and more that the consumer has developed a tolerance for – if not outright immunity to mainstream products and ad campaigns; eBay, MySpace, YouTube, they all show that the only purveyors we really trust are ourselves. No matter how good the lighting or the airbrushing, we still see the wrinkles. Despite the earnestness of their panting, the deep, guttural moans and animalistic screams of assumed ecstasy, we know they’re faking.

Though the picture is a little grainy and out of focus, and the couple isn’t making Maxim’s Hot 100 anytime soon, we know that there is no crew, no contract, no paycheck, no profit-sharing; this is a genuine, raw, unadulterated, just the way we like it. We see in them ourselves, in the sharing comes our pleasure and we bite our bottom lip.

Dime Bags of Viagra: Follow Up, Pt. 2 – Oxycontin-tale

In Consumerism, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Culture of Corruption, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Misc., The War On Drugs on May 10, 2007 at 2:56 pm

A few months ago, I wrote a post on the increasing rate of prescription drug abuse in this country and around the world. The New York Times this morning reported that Purdue Pharma, the manufaturer of the strong painkiller Oxycontin, will pay a settlement of $600 Million as part of a plea deal for misleading the public on the risks of addiction associated with the drug.

Purdue Pharma heavily promoted OxyContin to doctors like general practitioners, who had often had little training in the treatment of serious pain or in recognizing signs of drug abuse in patients.

…Purdue Pharma acknowledged in the court proceeding today that “with the intent to defraud or mislead,” it marketed and promoted OxyContin as a drug that was less addictive, less subject to abuse and less likely to cause other narcotic side effects than other pain medications.

For instance, when the painkiller was first approved, F.D.A. officials allowed Purdue Pharma to state that the time-release of a narcotic like OxyContin “is believed to reduce” its potential to be abused.

But according to federal officials, Purdue sales representatives falsely told doctors that the statement, rather than simply being a theory, meant that OxyContin had a lower potential for addiction or abuse than drugs like Percocet. Among other things, company sales officials were allowed to draw their own fake scientific charts, which they then distributed to doctors, to support that misleading abuse-related claim, federal officials said.

The crime they pleaded guilty to is termed “misbranding”, basically putting a misleading label on a box of pills or allowing it to be prescribed for uses other than the one it was intended. What happens when you push an extremely powerful drug to unsuspecting doctors and patients without the correct safegaurds?

…both experienced drug abusers and novices, including teenagers, soon discovered that chewing an OxyContin tablet or crushing one and then snorting the powder or injecting it with a needle produced a high as powerful as heroin. By 2000, parts of the United States, particularly rural areas, began to see skyrocketing rates of addiction and crime related to use of the drug.

…Between 1995 and 2001, OxyContin brought in $2.8 billion in revenue for Purdue Pharma, a closely held company based in Stamford, Conn. At one point, the drug accounted for 90 percent of the company’s sales.

Just to recap, here, a major drug company was allowed to issue false documents and information to both government regulators and the public in order to make a large fortune by pushing a dangerous narcotic that resulted in an epidemic of abuse and crime; and all they have to do is pay out a mere 20% of their earnings to escape prosecution. This is not a case of “misbranding”. On the contrary, it is a blatant attempt to sell hazardous narcotics for profit, or, how do you say?…..ah yes…..DRUG DEALING.

Let’s say Purdue wasn’t a corporatoin, but rather a successful street-level drug dealer, or “private entrepreneur” as we classify them. Purdue obviously moved some serious weight in New York state, so he would be subject to the Rockefeller Drug laws, some of the harshest legislation passed against any crime, let alone the War on Drugs. Since, as the Times stated, Oxy is as powerful as Heroin, let’s say our man Purdue was pushin Heroin. What would be his sentence if he was arrested, tried, and convicted?:

Under the Rockefeller drug laws, the penalty for selling two ounces (approximately 56 grams) or more of heroin, morphine, “raw or prepared opium,” cocaine, or cannabis, including marijuana (these latter two being included in the statute even though they are not “narcotics” from a chemical standpoint), or possessing four ounces (approximately 128 grams) or more of the same substances, was made the same as that for second-degree murder: A minimum of 15 years to life in prison, and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.

This is just for selling the shit, mind you. Purdue was a big time, national cat, so he also committed several other crimes in order to commit this one (trafficking, conspiracy, etc.) so at this point he’s looking at a few decades in Rikers. We prosecute drug dealers because they distribute harmful narcotics to our children and commit crimes in order to facilitate their business. If a pharmaceutical company is found guilty of the same actions on a larger scale, but given a fraction of the punishment, how is that possibly justice? If Purdue the dealer got off like Purdue the corporation, there would be community leaders and politicians falling over themselves to denounce our justice system, government, and godless society for perpetuating such an intolerable failure. What you wanna bet we hear anything close to this on Purdue Pharma?

The most disturbing fact of all of this is that the F.D.A., by standing idly by for 6 years, is more or less complicit in all of this. It’s true, they were provided with misleading information and all the rest, but you honestly mean to tell me that they can find a fatal chemical in Chinese pet food and be unaware as to the risks of a prescription pain medication? Glad to see our government is looking out for us a little less than our domestic animals.

Welcome to the NEW (york)

In Land rights, Misc., New York City, Urban Planning / Space on May 10, 2007 at 11:32 am

It has been a while since I have been able to post, and though there has been a great deal happening throughout the world, I wanted to ease back into the game with something closer to home. A recent article in New York Magazine touted the history, progress and virtues of the soon-to-be realized Highline – a brand new park being built atop an abondoned elevated railway that will turn these ruins into an oasis floating a couple stories above the fray, snaking it’s way through 20 or so blocks of Manhattan’s westside. It’s an amazing concept, a first in public spaces, and something everyone is looking forward to next summer. More importantly, like everything involving land/real estate in this town, it will change the character of the neighborhood. The existing tracks, though, are too decrpit to be built on, so they will have to be removed and replaced with new material. A passage describing the consequences got my wheels turning:

What you’ll get, in other words, is a thoughtfully conceived, beautifully designed simulation of the former High Line—and what more, really, do we ask for in our city right now? Isn’t that what we want: that each new bistro that opens should give us the feeling of a cozy neighborhood joint, right down to the expertly battered wooden tables and exquisitely selected faucet knobs? And that each new clothing boutique that opens in the space where the dry cleaner’s used to be—you know, the one driven out by rising rents—should retain that charming dry cleaner’s signage, so you can be reconnected to the city’s hardscrabble past even as you shop for a $300 blouse? And that each dazzling, glass-skinned condo tower, with the up-to-date amenities and Hudson views and en suite freaking parking, should be nestled in a charming, grit-chic neighborhood, full of old warehouses and reclaimed gallery spaces and retroactively trendy chunks of rusted urban blight? Isn’t that exactly what we ask New York to be right now?

There were 2 great places I used to go to all the time, and they were both the kind of lovable shit-holes that drew me here in the first place. One of them was called Smalls. It was a tiny, basement Jazz club in the West Village that had sets running from about 6pm to 6am. The only people I knew who “worked” there were the 2 guys who took your cover charge – $10 for as long as you felt like stayin – the bands that set up their own equipment and sound before each set, the owner who cruised around chatting up the crowd and the musicians, and his white dog named Snow who was usually relaxing by the stairs. All the mix-n-match furniture was most likley drug in off the street, but was worth it’s weight in gold on the weekends when lines regularly wrapped around the block to get in – the place was the size of a closet, and people crammed into every crevase of the place, so to keep distractions to a minimum they only allowed people in before or after each set. Best of all, they didn’t have a liqour license so it was all BYOB. Most of the bands who came and played their sets were exceptional, but the real shit came during the jam session between the hours of 2-6am, when everyone was runnin off of alcohol and balls. The crowd, too, was something special. Jazz-holes are typically arrogant, pretentious fucks, but most regulars at Smalls were inviting and intellectual, but God help you if you decided to carry a loud, drunken conversation or make some other type of noise during one the sets. I often thought this is what it must’ve been like when the jazz greats of old roamed the streets, ducking in and out a smoke-filled stages, pushing their craft to the break of dawn in front of attentive and demanding crowds.

The other was a dive on 7th Street called “Bar 81”, but the real name was “Verchrovnia”, and it was one of the many Ukranian places in that part of the East Village. Walkin by it on the street, it looked just like anywhere else, only dirtier. I ventured in one night because the bar adjacent, Blue & Gold, was full of annoying fucks – including the bartender – and I felt like a change of pace. This new bartender was excellent and attentive, giving buy-backs every 4th drink and doin the whole small-talk thing they’re so good at. The crowd was all locals and their friends, some lived in the building upstairs, but most on the block or the surrounding ones. Like Blue & Gold, they had a pool table with questionable flatness, except here it was respected in a way that every bar table in the city should’ve been. No one put a drink near the thing, no matter how drunk; the crowd waited for the shot before walking in front of/behind the shooter, and they always gave enough room to make a comfortable shot regardless of the crowds in the rest of the bar; and most importantly, the sign-up list was law. Playing a game of pocket billiards in any other bar usually involves heated, tedious, and ultimately futile discussions on who is next to play with everyone getting pissed and no one getting to play, but not here. You sign your name, the whole place knows and anyone trying to jump in gets the treatment. At midnight on Mondays they locked the door, took buy-ins and played a long, tournament-style money game called Killer that went until god knows when, and anyone who got knocked out got a free drink. All the regulars were exceptional players, even the semi-crazy guy D-Mon, and I took great pride the one time I beat the reigning master, Al, at a game of 8 ball. The money you saved with the cheap drinks was always swallowed up by the juke-box which had one of the finest selections I’ve ever seen anywhere, and no matter how crazy it got, you could somehow always hear the music.

Bar 81 took it on the chin a few years ago when their rent doubled. The last time I walked by, the place was something of a posh bistro, though Blue & Gold – and it’s asshole bartender – have stayed strong. Smalls had a much more complicated couple of years. They got shut down just before the smoking ban for “underage drinking” and the jazz moved down a couple blocks to pool hall/venue/ping-pong joint the owner had called Fat Cat. It reopened about a year or so later, but got cleaned up, charged $20 at the door, $6 a drink at the shiny new bar, and they cut their early mornin jams. Just a few months ago, Fat Cat was forced to close, I guess theres only so much room for jazz in this town these days.

I am obviously romanticizing the shit outta these memories, and there are places like these in cities all over, I’m sure. But the fact remains that reliable, affordable, and experimental live music is in decline, and East Village dives are turning into lounges and clubs, destination hot spots with velvet ropes and bouncers with attitudes. As an NYU alumn, I can’t help but blame myself for some of this. I helped feed the insatiable monster that is NYU’s board of directors – the majority of whom are, you guessed it, real estate developers. They’ve been driving up rents and building over history for years, and have, without question, changed the character of the neighborhood by letting stupid kids from the suburbs like myself run around with their parents’ money. But now they are being joined by fleets of cranes erecting gleaming glass and steel condos on every corner. Bowery is a sight to see these days, and it’s merciful that CBGBs got out of there. Could you imagine if that place stayed? 3 years from now it’d probably be wedged between a Whole Foods and a Jamba Juice.

And yes, I wasn’tborn here, so I really have no right to speak on what is and what isn’t New York. When I go back home to Virginia, I’m regularly refered to as “The New Yorker” despite my many objections. Firstly, one has to live here 10 years to get that moniker – I’m going on 7 at the moment – and even then, I don’t think it’s something any transplant can really earn, no matter how long you live here. “New Yorkers” to me are the one’s who were born, raised, and continue to live in the 5 boros, any transplant can attest that city kids are different and locals have something about them that can’t be gotten in any other fashion. That being said, I have been here for a long enough to develop attachments and loyalties, deep ones at that, and have grown old enough to begin shitting on the coming generations.

I went to places like Small’s and 81 because they were authentic places, dedicated to the services they provided, and were bereft of attitude, judgement and – for lack of a better word – bullshit. I find it quite confusing when these places are driven from our neighborhoods to make way for some newer, more expensive joint trying to imitate their personalities and become what they used to be. I feel no desire to trudge out to the latest over-crowded IT lounge that has been christened by the Hipster scene becuase Hillary Duff threw up there, nor do I want to spend $15 to hear another band trying to channel the rebellious and pissed off soul of NYC’s grand old punk scene with their $150 haircuts and impeccibly pre-stressed, nut-hugging jeans. “Isn’t that exactly what we ask New York to be right now?” No. No matter how good the impression is, no matter how hard they try to replicate what New York was, it’ll never be that again, and that sucks.

The city – like the country it represents – has an amoebic identity that shifts with the tides of prosperity and immigration, and I guess we’re seeing the water drift further toward the horizon. Progress – read: gentrification – is unstoppable to some extent, look at Williamsburg for God’s sake, things inevitably must change with the passage of time. But with each step towards a new and better future, we run the risk of turning our surroudings into simulacrum, a theme park based on a dead fantasy, a copy with no original. My home town in Virginia is going through a similar transition now. With the promise of more jobs and better pay, more and more people flood into an area unpreppared for the consequences of its own success. People came for the trees and the solitude only to find strip malls and townhouses, stacked one atop another like some never-ending lego land. We sit in a sea of traffic and breath the exhaust. Some people are drawn to New York by the myth of the artistic, bohemian lifestyle that engenders individuality and creativity beyond all else. But it’s difficult to hone your craft and make your share of a $2500 a month rent and even harder to fight the tide of homogeonization that it comes with. The city has always been drenched in exorbidant prices, and it would be a shame if Manhattan – after such a storied and singular history – ends up in the hands of a single class of people. New York has become safer and cleaner than ever, standard of living is exceptional, public services are effecient(ish), and it is still one of the greates, most diverse places on the face of this Earth. More than anything, I hope that last part never changes. The Highline will be a beautiful, beautiful park. One wonders, though, what kind of a city it will be overlooking.

The Music Wars: Damning the Streams in the New Frontier

In Blogs we like, Civil Liberties, Consumerism, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Media Criticism, Misc., Music, Technology on April 20, 2007 at 12:34 pm

The accomplished Talking Heads frontman and activist, David Byrne, recently posted a blog about the insidious new licensing rates and policies being propogated by the Copyright Royalty Control Board, a government panel of appointees tasked with regulating ever more influential copyright issues. At the root of the new policies is a substantial increase in royalty rates – fees a broadcaster pays to the copyright owner for each time their composition is played – that will greatly impact the way business is done for thousands of independent webcasters. Not only are the rates retroactive, but they also happen to be in line with a proposal submitted by SoundExchange, basically the “non-profit” face of RIAA advocacy. You can read their press release here.

Considering that the RIAA’s lawyers have litigated the pants off those downloading free Mp3s and the services making them available, it seems only natural that they now turn their attention to purveyors of webstreams and podcasts. Instead of going head to head in court, though, they’re trying to circumvent the system and pre-emptivelty install legislation that works in their favor by increasing their revenue. Byrne breaks it down for us:

With the proposed changes the royalties [for Webcasting] can no longer be based on a percentage of revenue, but on a fee for each listening hour — how many folks are listening and for how long — and there will be a minimum fee per radio “channel”. Also, above a certain aggregate listening hour amount, non-profits have to pay the same per-listening hour rates as commercial broadcasters. So now there will be no distinction between a large-scale non-profit station (like KCRW or WXPN) and Z100.

These changes are estimated to increase average costs about 20% accross the board, taking money directly out of the pockets of webcasters and into the hands of the 4 remaining major labels. And as I said before, since the law is retroactive starting from 2006, there will be a ton of money “owed” to these multinationals in addition to their increased projections:

For NPR stations it is a different story as they have wider listenership than I and would pay the same royalty rates as commercial broadcasters. KCRW estimates roughly that as this ruling is retroactive they would owe $130,000 in additional fees for 2006 and $237,000 for 2007. WXPN in Philly estimates $1,000,000. In some worlds this is not a big deal but as one can imagine many of these stations barely eek by as it is, so this could very likely shut down the webcasting side of many of them. That would be a shame, as these stations are the only source of, well, good music, alternative sounds and innovative and informative programming in the U.S. It would be a loss for, well, democracy, as democracy depends on availability of many points of view untainted by commercial concerns and pressures. A truly informed populace, in other words. It points to another victory for the oligarchs — the big 5 record companies and the media companies that own them. Count one more for the big guys. The reasoning that it’s for the benefit of the artists rings a little hollow as most artists heard this argument re: cracking down on file sharing, and most never see money from their record companies anyway — so the line about “we’re doing it for you” is pretty suspect.

They don’t charge these kinds of rates to terrestrial broadcast radio, either. They can’t. Despite the homogeonzing effect Clear Channel has had on playlists through it’s absorption of radio stations, it is still nearly impossible for anyone to determine if an audience is listening. ASCAP and other performing rights organizations determine royalty payments via Billboard rankings, applying some assinine, archaic formula to determine who gets paid what in a given week. Internet radio is different in the fact that servers and ISPs keep exceptional records of everything associated with any web-based service, allowing for more accurate tracking of audiences, effectively allowing these companies to see exactly how much money they’re “losing” to internet radio.

This argument is – for lack of a better word – bullshit. Every major label record deal removes about 10%-15% of an artist’s sales revenue for what are called “Free” or “Promotional” materials; this includes T-shirts, posters and, of course, CDs given away to press, radio and other media outlets to promote the act. A considerable amount of money also goes to “marketing consultants” who basically bribe stations with fabulous cash and prizes to gaurantee radio play – termed “Payola”. So, I ask, what the hell’s the problem with factoring internet radio into this equation? Anyone with any kind of business acumen can see this makes a shit ton of sense. Not only are you reaching more consumers in new and fashionable ways, but you don’t have to produce any additional product or incur any further cost to do so. You can email MP3s to scores of stations for free, track the feedback far easier and more accurately than broadcast radio, and hone in that much more effectively on your key demographics, thereby streamlining your promotional schemes for similar artists in the future. The shit actually SAVES you money in the long run.

This is not about money, though, and don’t let the RIAA tell you different. Every case of piracy and royalty infringement in the past, and the future, is about access and control. The real power in the current music business structure does not come from producing content, but rather by regulating how that content is distributed and consumed. Radio, concerts and CDs are the conveyance of their property, and Labels charge tolls – be they concert tickets or retail prices – to access them. The internet represents a new frontier that is no longer controlled by the establishment, it is controlled by the people. There are no more dams or gates restricting the flow on content, and the only true regulation is quality – talented bands who work and tour to develop their own following are able reap the benefits of their work with the help of organic, grassroots support structures. True, this creates a far more decentralized business model that is harder to predict and difficult to conquer. But it also encourages smaller, more agile businesses – like local radio – who understand their niche audience and are genuinely engaged in satisfying their specific tastes, putting these lumbering multinational corporations at a marked disadvantage against their independent counterparts. Litigation for copyright infringement and the tripling of licensing rates represent the last ditch efforts by these majors to exert their only real advantage: money. Increase costs of starting and running an independent outlet, and more and more will go outta business forcing fans back into the mediocre mainstream. With access denied to their audiences, bands will have to fight even harder for increasingly rare and exploitative record contracts. The possibilities we should be given by this new age will be denied to us, but at least Universal’s stock can move up a couple of percentage points. For everyone out there who loves music, variety and choice, please get involved with the links below.

Future of Music Coalition

Save Net Radio

The Way Forward

In Afghanistan, Election 2006, Election 2008, Global War On Terror, Iraq War, Misc., Progressive Politics, Terrorism on April 5, 2007 at 5:27 pm

I’ve been trying to avoid writing about the War since I started contributing to this blog a few months ago, but comment on a recent post has forced my hand. Much talk has been made on the fact that America must stay in Iraq until is has “acheived victory”, and that “surrender”, “cut and run”, or any option otherwise is paramount to failure. This argument, though, always makes me laugh, while at the same time noding my head, reflecting the intrinsic duality of our mission and our goals in this shattered country.

In many ways, “victory” is no longer America’s to acheive, it’s Iraq’s. When the occupation began in 2002, we dissolved – entirely – any semblance of statehood and public works the country had in a vain hope that we could re-shape it into something more palatable to the West and Iraqis at large. However bad they were, though, the Baathists could at least keep the lights on and the water running. But since we dismissed all public employees and replaced state offices with private contractors, maintaining necessary services became a little tough. The police and army – well-armed, well-trained personnel – were also given their walking papers, making idle hands truly the devil’s plaything. These mistakes, made by acting Pro-Consul L. Paul Bremer, and the administrations desire to deploy half the troops needed to secure a country of this size, helped speed Iraq towards disaster.

We created an immense power vaccum in Iraq which forced it’s people to revert to the only kind of law and order they had left – tribal councils and ethnic divisions – which lead us to the country’s current state of chaos. Though the Maliki government – elected with all of those inked fingers so long ago – has been unable to quell the seething violence throughout it’s country, there is no gaurantee our troops have or will be any more sucessful. If anything, our presence undercuts any authority the government has and intrinsically calls into question its autonomy. High rates of unemployment also fuel both the insurgency and the sense of hopelessness in Iraq. Take away the hundreds of over-fed American corporations “rebuilding” towns and business, give potential insurgents a steady job and a proper wage and see how many are willing to put down their guns for a shovel. We have taken so much from these people, it is time that their home be put back into their own hands. In this way, our vision of Iraq as a stable, legitimately soverign nation will never come to fruition until we leave.

But yet, the omnipresent issue of security surrounds every choice being made, and rightfully so. The fact of the matter is that our men and women sit in the midst of a growing civil war that has the potential to engulf the rest of the region in bloody ethnic cleansing; and the Maliki government is both unable and unwilling to bring the violence to an end at the cost of compromise with their former oppressors. As more and more countries from our “coalition” pack up and leave, the greater our responsibility is to protect Iraqi’s from themselves. It is clear that without our presence, the bloodshed will possibly escalate to ugly proportions, making us neither liberators, nor occupiers, but rather enablers: the country that turned it’s back on the mess it made and allowed it to fester into a horrific genocide. With all these circumstances, though, it is difficult to promote a continuation of a war that has brought to view the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, unprecidented financial misappropriation, the formation of a private mercenary army of over 25,000 that operates outside any jurisdiction and enough tortue and human rights abuses to take the Hague’s present staff into retirement.

One of the most interesting plan I’ve read on constructive disengagement from Iraq came from former Senator and ’72 Presidential candidate George McGovern. In a lenghty, detailed, and amazingly level-headed piece in Harpers magazine last year, George presents a multi-faceted, responsible alternative to a “troop surge”. Though removal of our forces is a key element to this plan, he proposes to replace them with services that would probably prove to be much more effective than our previous efforts. A multi-national security force will be put in place of our military and will include personnel from muslim nations who – unlike us – speak fluent Arabic. Instead of pouring money into Haliburton, we will give our billions directly to established Iraqi government funds for reconstruction, reparations, and the continuing development of State and local government at large, all while being monitored by third party auditors to ensure transparent and responsible spending by both sides. In addition, McGovern encourages the establishment professional training programs for doctors, lawyers, social workers, and more, filling the desperate needs of a country that has experienced a drain of mental capacity along with everything else.

Though my paraphrasing is not doing his plan justice, McGovern’s concept is far more important. Since taking power in the House and Senate, the Democrats have been fervently seeking to withdrawl our troops and finally challenge the administration in an attempt to execute the percieved will of the people. All the while, Republicans have continued to counter their time tables and budget points with shouts of treason and failure. Both parties are desperately trying to make up for their past mistakes and making bold statements to try to carry political favor – Democrats with immediate ends, Republicans with redoubled efforts. Neither, though, is the responsible course of action. The myriad consequences from the abhorrent mishandling of the war cannot be undone by a temporary influx of over-worked troops. And though the sight of these troops coming home is an invaluable photo-op for any Dem who signed their tickets, it must be done in a responsible, methodical, and well planned manner. A quick-fix deadline motivated by political ambition is reminiscent of our “Mission Accomplished” carrier jamboree (case in point, Afghanistan). The point of this horribly long rant is that the issues and consequences involved with Iraq are far more complex than we have been led to believe, and there is no single solution to the war. “Victory” will require compromise between our own warring houses, and will most likely look much different than we have been led to believe. We have been pushed towards dangerous extremism over the last few years, so much so that we have begun to see everything in absolutes. The question before us should not be merely fight or flee, there is a middle ground that must be occupied in order for the country to survive. We must stay in some capacity in order to keep some semblance of security, but we can’t continue such invasive combat operations as the only ones walking the beat. Troops and weoponry must not be the only reflection of America’s presence in the region, either. The surge proposed by the Republicans can have a tinge of bleeding-heart Liberalism if we send an enlarged contingent of benign civilian and financial aid to help heal what we’ve destroyed. For too long, we have represented a single-minded absolutist nation. The way forward must utilize all aspects of American foreign policy, not just the ones that go boom.