Monthly Archives: September 2009

the butcher cover

9/14/09

Today I’m handing over the reins to one of the smartest folks I know: the effervescent and effortlessly au courant Ehren Gresehover. After hearing him articulate a major frustration I’ve had with digital music, I asked him to wax analog. With less ado:

***

No doubt Ian and I would’ve become friends even if we’d tried not to. I’m a proud Tarheel, a staunch lefty, based in Brooklyn and Facebook friends with his mom. But I’d like to think that even had I been a Dookie, our twin obsessions with A) pop music and B) throwing a toddler tantrum whenever somebody tried to shove a piece of conventional wisdom down our throats would’ve found us ranting over a dram of single malt anyway.

And what he’s asked me to talk about today is probably exactly the sort of thing we might have been talking about over good scotch, namely my refusal to feel sorry for the current plight of the music industry. The music executives have so far been pretty successful at controlling the narrative of the abysmal state of their business. Sales of CDs and cassettes have seen double-digit declines in sales year after year for most of the last decade. Digital sales have increased, but are nowhere close to filling the gap.

And the villain, of course, is a legion of evil teenagers, using increasingly sophisticated pieces of software to rip, burn, mash, post, pirate and steal the valuable product put on store shelves by dedicated music industry professionals.

As a music writer and a social media consultant, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the music business. And while I’ve got my problems with copyright law in the 21st Century, let’s keep it simple: The music industry would have you believe that every downloaded song — even those pilfered in giga-chunks on the torrents or boosted en masse off of your ex-boyfriend’s ipod — is a missed sale, an idea I find preposterous. But undoubtedly people do get some things for free that they would otherwise have bought, so let’s just take that as a given.

But as I contemplated both the purchase of a Wii (to play Beatles Rock Band, natch) and the DVD of recent genre mash-up masterpiece DOOMSDAY, it seemed to me that something else might be going on. The Ehren of 1998 spent zero dollars on his “home video library” and didn’t have much use for video games. Not because I didn’t like movies or video games, but just because I didn’t really see the value in owning movies or playing the sort of video games that were available.

But these days, buying a movie on DVD is a much better experience, with lots of nifty bonus features, higher fidelity and no need for a separate rewinder shaped like a Corvette. And video games are approaching the sort of immersive real-life experience that Tron (the movie) promised but Tron (the video game) fell far short of delivering. Is it possible the reason people are buying less music because they’re buying more movies and video games? It seemed like an interesting question.

A quick Googling of the relevant info gave me enough to paint an interesting picture. I decided to use data from two years:

1999: Napster’s summer launch and the beginning of widespread fired sharing, the beginning of the DVD player as a must-have add-on for high-end home theater systems, and just before the video game console wars that saw Playstation 2, Nintendo’s Game Cube and the XBox try to blast each other apart… and

2005-2006: when all of these things had all matured to more or less the point we’re at now. I took the figures from a variety of sources, and while they’re not rigorous enough for publishing in The Economist, I think they’re good enough to show an interesting trend.

1999

music sales $14.2 Billion

dvd/vhs sales+rental $12.8 Billion (dvd sales only $0.8 billion of this total)

Console video games + units $9.6 Billion

2005/2006

music $10 Billion

dvd/vhs $24.3 Billion

console games + units $17.1 Billion

So while the music industry lost $4 Billion, or something like a third of its business in that time frame (and has lost more since), the total amount of money people spent on take-home entertainment has almost doubled, from $32.6 billion to $55.6 billion. Interesting, huh?

So there’s no question that the music product has been devalued as a result of file-sharing. And I think the same thing will happen more and more with movies and video games as time goes on. But imagine – if you will – that the music, movie and video game industries are actually just three giant companies competing for the home entertainment market, in the same way that the big car companies compete for the personal transportation market.

When you look at it that way, “Music Inc.” just looks like a dinosaur that can’t keep up with two hungry innovators with fancy new products to sell, and a flagging demand for their own. Not unlike GM in the mid-80’s, with gas prices and maintenance issues opening up the market for more nimble companies from Japan.

So I’ll toss down my cash to relive Beatles’ early gigs at the Cavern Club, and I’ll probably buy 13TH WARRIOR on DVD to have swordfights to watch while I toss down a slice of pizza before going out, but until the music industry finds a way to sell me a higher-value product, I’ll probably continue to download most of my music from the blogs — for free.

***

IanEhrenJart08(bl).jpg

Ehren explains it while we’ve both been drinking, May ’08

act III, things get interesting

9/13/09

RichCaroleFamWatchT(bl).jpg

clockwise from bottom: Jon, Lucy, Tessa, Michelle, Grandpa Richard and Gammy Carole watch the US Open

A few words are in order for my family residing in Northern California: first off, my dad turned 70 this last week, which is a damn fine milestone. Despite some hereditary vestibular ataxia that afflicts him and his brother (my Uncle Chuck), he can still hit a deep backhand groundstroke that will make you regret having wandered into no-man’s-land.

And now my sister Michelle has resigned as head of the Napa Valley Arts Council because she has been offered a job of Executive Director at the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County, a huge leap forward into one of the biggest arts organizations in the country with a million-dollar budget. So she’s moving to Santa Cruz, which as most of you know, is one of those places you drive through and think “jesus, I could live here, y’know…”

And not to be outdone, my old roommate and one of my bestest friends goin’ on 25 years now asked Michelle to marry ‘im, so he will now be our brother-in-law. I would have been over the moon for Michelle to find love, and likewise for Jon to find happiness, but with one another? Simply too much to ask for, don’t you think?

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zut alors

9/10/09

Okay, point of parliamentary procedure: why am I getting so much shit for using foul language these days? Has the zeigeist of the weltanschauung concerning my gesamtkunstwerk changed? In some way, I guess it’s nice that words still have the ability to make people feel something, but in other ways, it seems like an unwelcome New Ninnyism.

So what’s the deal? Am I getting emails from a subset of particularly offendable Preciouspantses, or are my tasteless outbursts of spicy language actually making people cringe? Will I be the last vulgarian left?

And why is “spicy” language considered “tasteless”, anyway?

the kinfolk said move away from there

9/8/09

Since my dime-store political observations are like fish and can only be kept three days in a row, I’ll briefly answer craighill’s question, namely, “are you really saying that i’m a racist if i don’t agree with obama’s ‘spread the wealth’ doctrine?” The answer is slightly more complicated, but I’ll just try and calls it like I sees it.

Obviously, it’s a wicked goddamn world, and we need money to survive in it. I would fully expect craighill – and anybody else for that matter – to take issue with somebody “spreading their wealth around”. What I find abhorrent and racist… is vilifying the concept of “spreading THE wealth around” in general. The two are very different things, even if those on the conservative side consider them synonymous.

None of you need me to offer up a lesson on the plight of the disenfranchised minorities in this country, especially considering I’m one of the whitest guys in America and I went to an awesome college. But it seems patently self-evident that the American Dream is only really achievable by those who have been teed up to win. Obviously there are exceptions – and our President is one of them – but those examples are sickeningly rare, even now.

Sorry if that’s boring. I’m sure it’s boring to an urban black kid in East St. Louis too. But that’s the great thing about living in America: we have certain structures, like a progressive tax system and special consideration for minority students, to try and make things a little bit more fair.

When John McCain ghoulishly and gleefully mocked Obama wanting to “share the wealth around”, I’m amazed a crowd of recently-fired single moms didn’t quake with rage, swarm his motorcade and kick his ass. To recap the numbers: The top one percent of Americans own 34.7% of the total wealth. The top TEN percent own 69.8% of the wealth.

Anyone complaining about this “wealth spreading” is likely niggling over 2-3 percentage points on their tax returns, which – BE HONEST – makes absolutely NO DIFFERENCE to their overall ability to pursue happiness in this great country, and yet that tiny amount can save entire swaths of fellow Americans.

You don’t want to spread your wealth around? Fine with me. But you don’t want to spread the wealth around? Well, you’re either racist, classist, or just really, really mean.

grrr, spew, rend, arf!, spittle

9/7/09

Zel M, a commenter I disagree with as much as I enjoy, asked why we connected the rancor directed at Obama with racism, and I agree it needs to be better-stated. If you’re using such charged recriminations, you’d better be ready to back them up, and I’m not sure that’s ever going to be easy.

The first problem is this: when describing right-wingers, birthers, Republicans, or whatever term you like, you’re forced to use terms correctly and back them up with facts. This is not a courtesy they will extend to you, however, which puts you at a disadvantage before you begin. In other words, if your ideological opponent is happy to call you a Nazi, a Socialist, a Communist or a Fascist without any regard to what those words actually mean, it makes you wonder why you’re explaining yourself to a bunch of frothing idiots.

A second problem is the tenor of the debate, which the right-wingers began at “shrieking madness” levels and only escalated from there. The noisest and meanest side in a debate almost always gains its power from reptilian notions, leading someone like Neva to comment “[it’s] like they are saying ‘he’s not my President'”, which I would effortlessly extend to mean “This goddamn black guy is not my President.”

Prove-able? Certainly not. Pass the smell test? Absolutely.

The third problem is the demographics, which can be subjective, even if the overall picture seems obvious. The primary Obama-haters are 99% white, but moreover, they’re overwhelmingly over 50. Let’s face facts: people over 50 inhabited a time of institutionalized racism, sexism and homophobia, and most of them never got over it. Many did, to be sure, but show me an average 68-year-old white guy, and I’ll show you a racist who makes jokes about fags.

Yes, I know your parents are enlightened. Yes, I know you can provide anecdotal evidence of hundreds of people in their 70s who fought the good fight in the 1960s. That’s awesome. It’s also not indicative of the vast majority of post-middle-aged white folks in America.

The fourth problem with proving that Obama-haters are racist is simply this: mostly, it’s a combination of smaller things that don’t mean much by themselves, but become more and more obvious when taken as a whole. One can smell racism the same way my wife can spot addicts and I can identify ex-Mormons.

Like now. We’ve got these white, 50+year-old wingnuts hurling themselves towards statements like “Obama is a Kenyan nationalist” and “I won’t have my kids polluted by his fascist agenda”… I’m sorry, but that positively screams of someone who subconsciously fucking HATES the fact that this “Other” got elected, and has been looking for a safe way to release their bile. As soon as someone broke the “Nazi” barrier, or uttered the word “fascist”, these bitter idiots realized such epithets could do all the work of the n-word without actually having to say it.

Not to mention that there has been an overtone – both spoken and unspoken – that says “I don’t want universal health care because I DON’T WANT TO PAY FOR THESE POOR MOTHERFUCKERS WHO DON’T HAVE A JOB.” You get the feeling that you could get one of these town-hall nutjobs drunk, and they would continue with “I DON’T WANT TO PAY FOR THESE FAT, BLACK WELFARE MOMS, AND I SURE AS HELL DON’T WANT TO PAY FOR THESE MEXICANS SNEAKING OVER THE BORDER, HAVING TEENAGE SEX AND SPEWING OUT MORE BROWN BABIES…”

It’s all part of a culture that says “I got mine, go fuck yourself.” They would argue it’s a culture that says “I got mine because I earned it, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” but of course, to paraphrase the old cliché, most of them were born on third base and thought they’d hit a triple. Even if they came from nothing, they still share the three benchmarks of modern conservatism: rage at possible money loss, disgust for the less fortunate, and resistance towards facts.

Because I’m Lefty McProgressivePants, I posit that anyone who is offended by “sharing the wealth around” and views empathy as dangerous, is a fucking racist, simple and plain. It’s a testament to how low the discourse has sunk. To separate the Republicans/birthers/right-wingers from their innate problems with race is like separating the ingredients from a soufflé that has already been baked.

Are any of my theories watertight and beyond reproach? No, and if I turned this blog into a term paper, I’d get an F, and rightly so. But the behavior on the other side of the political divide has been so inexcusably insane that any rational explanation beggars belief. At this stage of the game, I’d say the onus is not on me to prove the right wing is racist, it’s incumbent on them to prove they’re not.

o canada

9/3/09

I know I’m on semi-illiterate break here until after Labor Day, but this made me so mad I wanted to throw a pot of capellini through our fucking plate-glass window: school districts in six states are refusing to show President Obama’s back-to-school address next week, and in other parts of the country, a rash of knuckle-dragging nimrod parents are keeping their kids home from school so he can’t “indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda.” I realize there are plenty more things to be angry about, especially when it comes to the ethically bankrupt and profanely rotten right-wing faction in this country, but this time, I can’t control my rage.

Look, you addled, acid-blooded Republican yak fucks: the rest of us sat through your miserable excuse for a President for eight cruel and unusual years, putting up with his Parkinsonian smirk and wholesale butchering of the English language. We endured his torture panels, his wars, his fearmongering, his vindictive Christianity, his self-righteous denial of science and his prescription-drug-fueled inability to fathom the suffering of others. The last time YOUR guy addressed schoolchildren, he was trying to follow the plot to “My Pet Goat” while New York was on fire.

I’m a guttersnipe, fine, but you people have no decency, no honor, and have no goddamned idea what America is supposed to represent. Your entire lives have been given over to stopping Obama from accomplishing anything, by any means necessary, even when he’s trying to inspire kids to better themselves through education. You are fucking deranged. You think you’re “taking a stand”, but like all dim bulbs who latch onto the first theory that allows unlimited bitterness, you’re simply drunk on racism and your own bullshit.

Philosophically, you’re no more evolved than baby ducks who imprint themselves on the first thing they see – except your Mama Duck is the venal triumvirate of Coulter/Malkin/Limbaugh, and you carry guns. It sickens me that you are part of the national conversation in any way. It’s an abominable taxation of the First Amendment that your voice is heard at all, but hear it we must, I guess.

I have an idea: if you don’t like President Obama so much, and you hate the Federal Government with such a passion, why don’t you actually, you know, move somewhere else? God knows us progressives contemplated it every day under your regime. You should move somewhere that has a similar view of the rottenness of humanity, somewhere where the guy with the biggest gun makes the rules, where you actually get to kill people who aren’t in your tribe, and where you won’t be trifled with faggy liberals and their faggy ideas… how about Somalia?

Because I can take the shrill lunacy of your message, I can occasionally fathom the blind conviction of your terrible ideas, and sometimes I can even endure your crazy rationalizations for being racist, but I simply can’t stomach the overriding fact that you are all so motherfucking rude.

this had better be good

9/2/09

Countdown to Labor Day and End of Summer Blog Randomness™ rocks your world

Traveling today – will the early bird pose a fascinating and revealing question? Don’t worry, there’s only about 7K people reading. No pressure. But make it fantastic.

there are no stupid questions

9/1/09

Countdown to Labor Day and End of Summer Blog Randomness™ continues…

a) You are driving across the state of New Mexico on I-10, and the speed limit is marked as 75. How fast would you set your cruise control?

b) You are at a convenience store in desperate need of toothpaste, and there are three options: Pepsodent, Sensodyne and Aquafresh. Which do you choose?

c) While standing up and relaxed, you are given a slight shove [from behind -ed.]. Which foot do you instinctively put out for balance?

d) You must buy a house. The silver house was built two years ago and is an ultramodern, angular home with lots of windows and an immense, lofty den and entertainment space. New kitchen with stainless steel Viking stove and appliances. There are only two real bedrooms, but they’re huge, and guests can sleep in makeshift nooks.

The blue house was built in 1823 and is old hardwood, with two woodstoves, a library and six (albeit small) bedrooms. It has a wrap-around porch, an old kitchen, and a large dining room – there is old chiseled details on each mahogany door.

Both houses have the same view of a mountain range in the distance and are equal in every other way (school district, bills, etc.) Which do you choose?