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History’s Greatest Monster

[ 0 ] May 22, 2007 |

Hmm, I think I could almost forgive Duke Cunningham sitting around naked in a hot tub filled with polluted water. (Admittedly, this is easier from a distance.) But this is far beyond the pale of human decency:

One of these parties started at the Capital Grille with Cunningham ordering his usual filet mignon — very well done — with iceberg lettuce salad and White Oak. Wilkes used the dinner to update Cunningham on the appropriations he wanted. Cunningham then took the whole group back to the boat where they drank more wine, sitting on white leather sofas while Cunningham told more war stories. Cunningham then took his clothes off and invited all to join him in the polluted hot tub that was hidden from the neighbors by a white tarp. There were no takers.

Filet mignon well done? Hopefully this was brought up at the sentencing hearings; I believe federal guidelines require an extra three years for that.

Great minds think alike. Well, this joke will still be original to the three readers of this site who don’t also read Atrios…

JFK: Really, Let It Go

[ 0 ] May 22, 2007 |

Hmm, I didn’t know that Salon founder David Talbot was a JFK conspiracy crank. According to Brinkley, his approach seems to be that JFK–like, er, every other president–had factions who did not benefit from his administration, one of them was probably responsible, but he doesn’t endorse any one theory because this would make it more easy to falsify. What I find especially annoying, however, are conspiracy theories that assume that a cautious, centrist president of unimpressive accomplishment was killed because he was some kind of dangerous radical, and this was a national tragedy because he found “some measure of greatness.” (Apparently the measure isn’t, say, consequential legislation passed under his tenure, idiotic wars not started, etc.) Really, can we please stop the Camelot mythologizing? Granting that he benefited from a halo effect, LBJ was also a more progressive and vastly more effective president. If the conspiracy that nobody can find evidence for killed JFK because he had “had made bitter enemies of conservative Southerners because of his embrace of the civil rights movement,” boy did they ever screw up.

Death to Sally Forth

[ 0 ] May 21, 2007 |

Beverly Haywood of Juneau doesn’t approve:

It’s time to wrap up the comic strip “Sally Forth” and put her in the recycle bin.

I was appalled at Wednesday’s comic making light of Ted stealing a computer from his office. When the next comic didn’t go anywhere toward explaining that he didn’t mean it or that he was getting his comeuppance, that finished any interest I had in the strip. The comeuppance may show up in a few days, but with our short memories and occasional neglect of the comics page, it will be too little too late to do any good.

I haven’t liked “Sally Forth” for some time; it’s tiresome that she always, always gets the last word. When this feminist comic star first appeared in print, it was a delightful change. But that was then. It’s gone on too long and is too one-sided.

Please get rid of it and bring back “Arlo and Janice.” They have a very intelligent cat.

God, I love letters to the editor.


Paging William Saletan

[ 0 ] May 21, 2007 |

Shockingly enough, the “pro-life case for contraception” continues to fail dismally among actual pro-lifers, as the Missouri legislature (with the strong support of Missouri pro-life, natch) voted down restoring funding for contraception because “it would have amounted to an endorsement of promiscuous lifestyles.” Which will mean more unwanted pregnancies and–as a comparison of abortion rates in the United States with countries that permit both access to abortion and birth control will demonstrate–more abortions. But what matters is that somebody will be able send a message about how evil the banal sexual behavior of consenting adults that one doesn’t approve of is!

I often talk about the flagrant inconsistency of American “pro-life” groups. But, in fairness, they are perfectly consistent about one thing: if they have a choice between reducing abortion rates and regulating female sexuality, they’ll take the latter, as reliably as Carrot Top is unfunny. And to state the obvious, obstructing certain classes of women from obtaining abortions as part of a general campaign to say that single people having sex is icky is completely indefensible.

Crisco John

[ 0 ] May 21, 2007 |

You know that we’re really living in bizarre times when a guy as foul as John Ashcroft becomes a pillar of virtue and ethics in government.

Its a travesty that impeachment preceedings on Gonzalez were not started the day after Comey’s testimony. One can only hope that McConnell is not successful in blocking the no confidence vote on the AG this week. Either way, I doubt he’s leaving until he gets thrown out on his ass.

And for those who feel that Bush or Cheney have not committed a specific crime that could be used and proven in an impeachment hearing, its painfully obvious that a felony was directly and deliberately committed by violating the FISA law. As Bush says, “we’re talking about a law that was made in 1978…its 2006!” Whether this is a politically viable option for Democrats later this year is up for debate, but its certainly a bad precedent to set for future generations where a President can deliberately violate the law and get away with it without a scratch.

At least the no blow job rule will be carried on…

(cross posted at BlueGrassRoots)

…in addition, the hypothetical impeachment drive would be increasingly difficult as Republicans pull out the “Democrats don’t want to spy on terrorists” card and frighten “moderate” Democrats. The MSM, i would assume, would fall right in line and repeat the talking point, as they did last year when this first became news.

To Sum Up

[ 0 ] May 21, 2007 |

In case he doesn’t expand this into a post, I think djw’s comment on the selling out thread deserves highlighting as similar to my final thoughts on the matter:

Jay B. wins the thread. It’s like this: capitalism does an awful lot of harm, and an awful lot of good. I’m going to lament those parts of capitalism that do real, serious harm to actual people. Helping artists make a living, while possibly harming a few of their sensitive middle class fan’s ability to aesthetically experience music on their own precise, demanding, and fairly incoherent terms, doesn’t really concern me in the slightest. My response to the line of reasoning Greg and others are pursuing here is akin to my response to those who complain bitterly about successful athletes drawing large salaries. I’m utterly baffled by it, and at a loss as to how to respond. In both cases it strikes me as a bizzare projection of purity (in it for the music/joy of the game) onto people you don’t know.

I think this is about right. The analogy with complaining about the salaries of athletes is in may ways apt, and indeed that the fact that so many people oppose players in labor disputes is indeed even more indefensible (context does alter the way we hear music, although I don’t understand the emphasis people place on its commercial use per se.) It’s not like the money paid to professional athletes would instead go to teachers or cancer researchers or sick kittens or something; the only question is whether the owners or the players keep it. People who romanticize the days in which players were paid at vastly below-market rates as a time when “things were a sport, not a business” or whatever are insane, and the sportswriters who reliably line up behind the owners in labor disputes are generally economic illiterates who fail to understand the basic underlying issues.

The Porkbusters Problem

[ 1 ] May 21, 2007 |

Jane Galt brings up a reasonable point with respect to the anti-”Porkbusters” position taken by a cross-ideological set of bloggers (including me) last week:

But seriously, while this is true on some level, isn’t porkbusters still a good idea? There are other reasons to want to cut pork, besides being worried about the budget deficit. Pork may well have a big dragging effect on the economy by the distortions it introduces. And more than that, it’s morally distasteful that senators and congressmen spend so much time–time we pay them for–trying to grab fistfuls of cash out of the public trough before the other pigs can get at it. The people pushing porkbusters may not succeed in paying for the Iraq war, but surely they’re still doing God’s work?

I would have a few points in response. First, I don’t think that Galt really adequately addresses Ramseh Ponnuru’s core point that it uses “enormous amount of political energy in the service of trivial goals.” Given the kind of amounts involved here, even if we grant Galt’s highly contestable libertarian premises about government spending the economic distortions involved here are negligible given the economy, particularly since some targeted funding is, for better or worse, an inevitable part of getting legislation passed in a Madisonian system. (If we’re getting rid on distortions to the market, I say we work to get rid of the capital gains tax cut first.) Second, I’m not convinced that the term “pork” is a terribly useful one. It’s not, exactly, that I’m “pro” pork–the term is ultimately a tautology–but what gets defined as pork is not self-evident. I would guess that Galt would consider, say, funding to help cities with mass transit expenses would qualify, while in my mind these are an extremely valuable investment of public resources. And, third, I insist that you have to consider the context–we are discussing not merely opposition to unwise spending per se but a specific set of arguments. To the extent that the “Porkbusters” project is designed to distort the very real financial and opportunity costs of the Iraq War, it’s pernicious rather than merely useless. And while this isn’t necessarily true of everybody who’s part of it, such distortions certainly are the type of argument embraced by its founder. But individual motivations are irrelevant; what matters is the effect of prioritizing this item as opposed to something else. And arguments that are designed to avoid the fact that we can’t keep both Bush’s upper class tax cuts and middle class entitlements favored by most Americans are part of the problem even if they might accomplish some (trivial) good on the side.


[ 0 ] May 21, 2007 |

Saith Thers:

I teach at a community college. At commencement I get to watch students walk across the platform and pick up diplomas who have gone through some pretty tremendous shit. Working class people who have been told all their lives they’re stupid, only to find out they aren’t. Guys who got laid off from a manufacturing gig who learned how to program a computer. Divorced housewives who can write like nightingales sing but who were never encouraged to reach out for their intellectual potential, because our society is still burdened with idiotic sexism. Kids who were bright enough not to totally hock their futures for the debt you need for a 4 year degree and a chance at a decent life, wisely cutting their future debt burden almost in half.

Yeah, lots of people who go out for CCs don’t make it, for a lot of reasons. And if they just can’t cut it, I’ll fail them. But most of them are just thirsty as hell for something more than the crap they’re usually watered with. Amazing people. They want to learn so goddamn bad.

Agreed. My school is a four-year liberal arts university that used to be a community college. It still retains much of that identity, something that’s evident each spring when a couple hundred students earn their bachelor’s or associate’s degrees and walk across the stage to the applause of friends and family members who knew how long and hard many of them worked to get there. It’s the only part of commencement that I ever enjoy. The rest of it — the stupid anthems, the silly hats, the mediocre speakers and their fountains of banality — I could do without. But few professional experiences have been as gratifying as seeing my friend Cate graduate summa after patching together a degree for two decades as a Coast Guard spouse.

Widget Jingles

[ 0 ] May 20, 2007 |

Well, for someone whose blog gets about 50 hits a day, this whole “sell out” thing is quite the scene. Since even the Great Light-Blue Satan has devoted several posts to the subject today, I figure I’ll throw my response out there.

First of all, for all of those that are able to continue enjoying these songs after they’ve been in a Taco Bell commercial, I envy you. Really. Whenever I hear ‘New Slang’, the image of a bloodstained Ronald McDonald pumping BGH into a sedated cow pops into my head, and I assure you its completely involuntary. (Though Natalie Portman, mercifully, pops in there sometimes)

“Selling out” is certainly subjective. For some it is signing to a big label, to some it’s making videos, to others it’s charging more than $10 for your show. I tend to reject each of those arguments. I even don’t mind letting your song be used in a film, because it is at least being used in another art form (though if it’s some shitty Brockenheimer film/matching video synergy thing, that’s very questionable).

I happen to draw the line at allowing your song to be used to sell widgets. The commercialization of every aspect of our culture is something that really sickens me. You might be one of those people that watches the Super Bowl to see all the new wacky commercials, but I think that phenomenon is a sad commentary on our society. I don’t find being manipulated to give my money to Wal-Mart amusing. And if I hear someone at my work gush about how cute the talking duck/frog/lizard/dog/anus is on the Ex-Lax commercial, I’m gonna fucking snap.

If you’re only making music to get rich, live in a mansion or get laid, go ahead and sell your song. Your music is likely crap anyway. But for those with genuine talent such as the Shins or Modest Mouse who present themselves as serious musicians to sell your song for a Nike commercial, I think this says something about how seriously you value the music you make. Which is entirely up to you, not me. But if you don’t object to your music being used in this manner, don’t expect me to take your music seriously either. I’m sure you’ll get lots of new fans, so that’s no loss to you.

Its also fair to judge bands differently based on what “level” they’re at. For Bob Dylan to sell ‘The Times They Are A Changin’ to the Bank of Montreal for a TV ad….there’s just no excuse for that. He’s been an embarrassment for the last 30 years, so this and the Victoria’s Secret and Ipod commercials merely cement this fact in my snobby book. And Elvis Costello pitching luxury automobiles for rich white guys makes me vomit in my mouth a little. Ditto White Stripes and Coke.

For unsigned bands struggling to get by, it’s certainly a different story. But again, I think it says something about how seriously you’re taking your music. Bands like the Shins and Modest Mouse don’t fit in this category though. Modest Mouse was already well known and could sell out any place they wanted to. There was no reason to allow the minivan commercial other than wanting more money, or being “bigger”. Which again, is their right to do, and some might not care at all, but it really rubs me the wrong way.

Amanda says in the comments that selling your song to a commercial could allow more of your music to flow freely through the internet and allow the band to lower their prices to $20 a show. Ideally, this might be true, but I don’t think it will work out this way. Modest Mouse shows are $30+ through Ticketmaster (at least) despite the minivan money. And the Shins, post-McDonalds, rarely tour and I’d be surprised if their tickets prices aren’t similar. Considering how unimpressive their new album is (IMO), its also possible that commercial money will make bands rest on their laurels, touring less and feeling less pressure to put out the best music possible. It’s certainly selfish on my part, but I think that bands touring to make a living gives the fans more access and also pushes a band to improve their music. Bands inevitably get older, or richer, have kids, grow apart, get burnt out, lose the creative ability and drive they once had. The commercial money might exacerbate this process (not the age…yes).

I take politics and music very seriously (in that order). It may be silly, but I get just as upset when a band whose integrity or music I respect sells their song to a commercial as I get when a politician who I respect makes a terrible vote. So when Obama refused to campaign for Lamont and rid us of the dreadful Lieberfucker, I had a similar reaction to seeing the Elvis Costello Lexus commercial. And if Sonic Youth sold ‘Teenage Riot’ to The Gap, or R.E.M. sold ‘These Days’ or ‘Begin the Begin’ to Ford….my head would explode.

(cross posted at BlueGrassRoots)

…I’ll add that Carlos Zambrano’s 5.61 ERA is also deeply upsetting.

Art and Commerce

[ 2 ] May 20, 2007 |

Like many commenters, I have to offer a dissent from my colleague’s arguments here. I don’t really care about artists selling their music to advertisers, for a couple of reasons. First of all is my general agreement with the late Christopher Moltisanti’s dictum that unless they’re paying your nut nobody has the right to tell anyone how to earn a living. Professional musicians are, er, professionals, and I don’t see how this particular way of making money is worse than any other. I don’t think most Shins fans will associate them with McDonald’s, and those that do would otherwise not know their music at all. (And if Modest Mouse used the money to hire that mercenary old fart Johnny Marr, great–the artistic results were terrific.) The second is my well-known belief that “authenticity”–and I think most arguments about selling out are about this at bottom–is useless as a criterion of value. Art is what it is; the motives behind producing it are essentially beside the point. As I’ve said before, plenty of terrific music has been produced highly interested in using music to get rich, get famous, and get laid (not necessarily in any order) and lots of dreary music has been made by artists with pure motives for little money on tiny indie labels. Great songs used in ads are still great songs (you might get sick of hearing them, but that overexposure can happen in a lot of ways.) Lenny Kravitz songs suck on your IPod, the suck on the radio, and they suck as car commercials. Fugazi are a very fine band, but I don’t care about their concept of “artistic purity” any more than I care about the other parts of their unappealing “straight-edge” asceticism, except insofar as it lead motivated good music. Which would remain no better and no worse if MacKaye sells “Give Me The Cure” to Viagra.

The middle position staked out in comments seems to be that it might be OK for struggling bands who otherwise wouldn’t be able to earn a living, but bad for artists who don’t really “need” the money. My take is that Bob Dylan has accomplished more and certainly given me much more pleasure than most really rich people; if he wants to get paid in a capitalist society fine with me. (I note that his decision to start selling his music happened to coincide with a shocking artistic revival.) If this encourages people to focus on his music rather than on ultimately irrelevant “voice of a generation” bullshit, all the better.

…As part of the great conversation that Media Czech generated, Ina Iansiti says that “I bought into the whole ‘don’t sell out’ dogma as a kid. But the boundaries between high and low art, which have been blurring at least since the 19th century, are now indistinguishable.” I think a lot of this is about drawing lines between “good” non-commercial art and “bad” commercial art. This both a distinction that should be seen as odd within a discussion of popular music most of us think will live as art and also I think attributes a purity of motive to “high” artists that was never there, even among great artists that weren’t commercially successful. It’s not as if Melville didn’t want to be read or didn’t want to earn a living from his writing.

…of course, had I checked Pandagon first I pretty much could have skipped writing this.

Matt makes a good point here. I can see the argument that, all things being equal, a high level of artistic autonomy is better than a lower level. Let’s stipulate that this is true. Nonetheless, I think it’s true that 1)there are too many exceptions for this to be reliable (Matt may be appalled, but I think that not only In Utero and Nevermind but the gimmicky MTV unplugged thing are better records than Bleach, say) and 2)what matters in the end is the music, not the motivation. I see little reason to judge the a priori motivation when one can judge the finished work.

Instant Insomnia

[ 0 ] May 20, 2007 |

Holy crap.

It’s only 15 minutes long, but it might be the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. (And no, it’s not a Atlas Shrugs vlog.)

Selling Out

[ 0 ] May 19, 2007 |

Well, as I watch Elvis Costello hawk Lexuses (Lexi?) on TV, I wave goodbye to one of the last holdouts from the pre-80′s era. Its now assumed that if you were a rock star with any integrity from this era, you now have no problem using your song about “social revolution” to sell jeans, trucks and Carnival cruises. The Who, Dylan, The Clash, Iggy Pop, Mellancamp, Sting…the list is long and depressing. The only holdouts remain Neil Young and Bruuuce, who turned down $12 million to use Born in the USA for Chevy.

And then there’s the wave of new bands that are ready and willing to have their art help in the sale of widgets. The Shins shill for McDonald’s, Modest Mouse for minivans, White Stripes for Coke, Iron & Wine for M&M’s, Postal Service for UPS, The Go! Team for Honda, Of Montreal for Outback Fucking Steakhouse, and Moby for….well, everything.

What’s odd is that the great bands of the mid-80′s to mid-90′s avoided such tactics like the plague, and they continue to today. In the 80′s, bands like Fugazi, Sonic Youth, the Pixies and R.E.M. set a clear precedent that such behavior was taboo and cheapened the value of your music. R.E.M. continued this into the 90′s, turning down millions to use ‘Its the End of the World as We Know It’ for Windows 95, saying “our music is not for sale”.

The aforementioned bands served as mentors/role models for those that followed them into the 90′s, such as Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pavement, Pearl Jam and Radiohead. You never saw your favorite song from these guys pop up selling Big Macs, and you (hopefully) never will. (The notable exception being Nirvana, whose ‘Breed’ was used in a video game commercial this year, thanks to Courtney, I’d imagine). Its fair to say that Eddie Vedder or Thom Yorke would rather slit their own throat than give their songs to Burger King.

So why are these bands unique when it comes to avoiding “selling out”? As far as the old folks go I’d say its mostly due to feeling marginalized and lacking importance anymore. Unable to make the music they once could, they’re relegated to whoring themselves out to companies in order to stay in the limelight.

For the new bands, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t accept the argument that its tougher for bands to get exposure, so they have to resort to commercials these days. Sure, corporate radio sucks, but its sucked for the last 30 years, thats nothing new. And with the Internet, MySpace and YouTube, there’s a whole new way to get your music out there.

And the #1 way to get your band off the ground remains the same: work your ass off and tour the country relentlessly. R.E.M. didn’t hit it big by selling ‘Radio Free Europe’ to BMW, they did it by touring in a rickety old van all over the country, playing in every dive imaginable, until they built a loyal fan base and grew as a band to the point where they were badass.

And there are new bands that still do this, of course. But its a shame that really talented bands like the Shins are known as “that band from the McDonald’s commercial”. And at least Elvis didn’t let them use ‘Radio, Radio’.

[Update by SL: I offer a somewhat different view here.)

(cross posted at BlueGrassRoots)

(Steve Gimbel has my back over at Philosopher’s Playground)

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