Reason why Eminem is cooler than you #2,401: he dangles a fake baby over a hotel balcony in Scotland. Then he tosses it in the air. Especially funny because, like Jacko, there was a crowd of slavishly devoted fans waiting below.
Not as cool as Kurt coming out in a wheelchair, I think, but still pretty cool. (And nowhere near as cool as Jarvis interrupting Jacko's performance at the Brit awards by dancing with the wee children, but that's an impossibly high standard.) posted by Mike B. at 12:33 PM
- Placement/promo is based on their preference; they claim to have refused all payola (and to continue to do so). So they'll do special artist "spotlights" or push certain tracks, but mainly for the benefit of Apple (i.e. they like it or think it'll drive traffic), not the labels.
- Indies get the same deal as the majors.
- Indies get listed right by everyone else.
- Sales are reported to Soundscan! As single songs, though, never as albums.
- 45% of songs purchased on iTunes have been in the context of full-album downloads, which is encouraging, and they're trying to drive the per-album price down, which I'd imagine would be helped by letting the indies in the door.
- Self-released artist won't be listed (which is understandable, honestly, since the payment scheme would be way more hassle than it would be worth) but the author of the article, who runs CDBaby, says since he's an "iTunes partner" he'll try and get self-released stuff up there through the CDBaby connection.
Of course, there's still the DRM issue, but we all knew that when widespread online sales came for music, DRM was just plain ol' gonna be a requirement. Apple's, by all accounts, is not too stringent. But hey guys, when you givin' us a Windows version, eh? posted by Mike B. at 11:37 AM
Thursday, June 26, 2003
The really incredible thing about this story of a man getting beaten and stabbed because his assailants thought he was Muslim (he's Hindu, not that it really matters) is the whole idea of robbing a pizza delivery guy and then getting morally outraged because you think he has some vague connection to Iraq. And then tying him up and beating him.
It is a good metaphor for the FOX News approach, though. posted by Mike B. at 5:17 PM
in memorium Today is an auspicious day: the phrase "homosexual agenda" has been uttered in all seriousness in the Supreme Court. By a judge, no less! In re: the court's decision to strike down the Texas anti-gay sodomy law:
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
"The court has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda," Scalia wrote for the three. He took the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench.
"The court has taken sides in the culture war," Scalia said, adding that he has "nothing against homosexuals."
It's so weird that he would say this, and make a point to say this, since there are legitimate (albeit wrong, in my opinion) legal arguments in favor of the Texas law--state's rights and so forth. Why did Scalia feel it necessary to utter that laughable bit of right-wing paranoia?
I'm guessing it's something to do with his cold, black heart, although maybe that's unfair.
In an interview, Tom DeLay bitches about the growing Westar scandal:
It never ceases to amaze me that in this town people are so cynical that they want to attach money to issues, money to a bill, money to amendments. They hardly ever write that money is given to support people who think the same way. Westar supported people who were doing the things they believed in and wanted to see done.
First off, Tom, the charge of vote-buying comes from a report the company itself prepared, so saying the criticism comes from "this town" is making a straw man argument, and is not only invalid, but grossly dishonest. Just because y'all got people to hate politicians doesn't mean you can just whip out that prejudice whenever the mood suits you.
Secondly, I fail to see how carving out an exemption for one specific company can fit into anyone's ideology beyond pure greed. Was Westar making a cure for cancer or supporting the arts or feeding the poor, or were they participating in the free market?
Finally, weren't you guys supposed to be the moral clarity party? Let's be clear about this: I don't give a shit if a Democratic representative who's taking money from big biz himself is criticizing this. I'm criticizing the action, and I am a voter, and that's what I get to goddamn do. I'd hope other people would as well.
Thomas Friedman makes the astute point that the left's focus on "gotcha"-ing Bush on the WMD void is distracting it from making legitimate critiques about the sorry state of postwar Iraq. C'mon now, folks... posted by Mike B. at 1:10 PM
I guess my favorite thing about SCOTUS' affirmative action decision is Thomas' dissent, which gets around eventually to arguing that the majority is wrong to uphold diversity because it made him, personally, feel bad when he was in college.
At the heart of Justice Thomas's dissenting opinion was a highly personal critique of affirmative action, which he called the "cruel farce of racial discrimination."
"The law school tantalizes unprepared students with the promise of a University of Michigan degree and all of the opportunities that it offers," he said, adding, "These overmatched students take the bait, only to find that they cannot succeed in the cauldron of competition."
Justice Thomas, himself a beneficiary of affirmative action at Yale Law School, compiled a respectable record at what is arguably the country's most elite law school. So his opinion reflected not objective failure so much as a lifelong struggle with the ambiguous position in which beneficiaries of affirmative action — "test subjects," as he put it — often found themselves as elite institutions felt their way, sometimes clumsily, toward a more inclusive identity in the cauldron of the early 1970's.
Asking, "Who can differentiate between those who belong and those who do not?" he continued: "The majority of blacks are admitted to the law school because of discrimination, and because of this policy all are tarred as undeserving. This problem of stigma does not depend on determinacy as to whether those stigmatized are actually the `beneficiaries' of racial discrimination. When blacks take positions in the highest places of government, industry or academia, it is an open question today whether their skin color played a part in their advancement."
So, basically, he felt bad because he thought that affirmative action implied that blacks weren't, actually, just as worthy of jobs as whites. Then again, it doesn't necessarily have to imply that, as I'll explain in a second, and if there are options as to the interpretation, one has to ask: from where does this implication of lessened worth come from? Well, gee, looks like conservatives to me. So the same group of people who keep insisting that the reason racism still exists is because we keep talking about race, and that if we stopped talking about it it would go away, also keep talking about how affirmative action lessens the worth of blacks. Now, following their logic, the way to make that stigma go away would seem to be to stop talking about it; and if that argument's not valid, well, maybe the argument about racism magically going away isn't so valid either.
That said, let's consider this question of perceived worth. Now, the folks on the right seem to keep insisting that this case exists separate from any historical or societal context, and that giving extra points to black people is no different from giving extra points to white people, so let me play on their terms a bit and do a thought experiment about groups X and Y, and see how Thomas' supposition plays out.
It is demonstrated that, on average, group Y receives a worse education than group X--their schools have less money, their teachers are less qualified, etc. Although there is no difference in average intelligence between group X and Y, secondary educational achievement for group X is markedly above group Y (group Y even gets placed in special ed classes at a higher rate), and so members of group X tend to get into certain colleges (let's call them the Z group) at a higher rate than group Y; there is a clear separation going on, although of course the relative worth of colleges is up for debate, and they may very well be equal.
Still, some people see this as a problem. The clear solution is to improve (i.e. equalize and normalize) the secondary educational system, but since this is easier said than done, it is suggested that a different way be found in the meantime, and members of group Z (those "special" colleges) voluntarily decide to start looking beyond secondary achievement measures and admitting that members of group Y might be equally as smart as members of group X, but might have simply had the bad luck to be placed in a bad school, as seems to disproportionately happen to members of group Y.
But no, says Judge Q: this is unfair, and will cause members of group Y to continually doubt their achievement, even if they are, in fact, just as qualified as members of group X. So the solution is struck down.
What happens? Well, members of group X continue to go to group Z in disproportionate numbers, and find members of group Y absent from same, and there is a clear separation between the two groups.
In other words, you've set up what Thomas disavows: a separate-but-equal system.
Now, of course, there are a few objections you can make to this. One is that while you can replace "group X" with "whites" and "group Y" with "minorities," you can also replace them with "affluent people" and "poor people." And I'm all for preferential admission for low-income students, but the problem there is that once you let admissions officers look at a student's income, that also effects the college's decision to admit based on the amount of financial aid they would have to give; income-biased admissions could easily result in a drop in the number of low-income students. However, using an organic approach (as the court favors) where admissions officers can de facto tell what kind of background a kid came from based on their name or school allows these kind of preferences to helpfully sneak in, and I think that's all right.
Another objection would be based in our historical situation, i.e. that, well, there are a lot of affluent blacks now, and they seem to be doing just fine, so there will be lots of minorities at elite colleges even if we drop affirmative action. The problem with this is twofold. First is the way it mirrors the President's argument that since our water is the cleanest it's been since 1960, it proves that we don't need environmental protection. Well, of course that's ridiculous, since the reason it's so clean is because of the environmental protection we've had, and the same applies here: if we force our colleges to become "race-blind" now, this won't assure a continued rise in black enrollment at elite institutions, but will instead cause that statistic to essentially freeze. If you think we've got just enough racial equality right now, then I guess that's not a problem, but personally, I disagree. And while we're talking about historical context, let me mention that the widespread belief that we don't have to worry about race anymore because it'll just take care of itself, man, is way more PC than anything I've said in the last 5 years.
Of course, all of this overlooks a few important facts, such as the one that, Thomas' feelings aside, affirmative action beneficiaries rarely (i.e. 1%) feel that it has had a negative effect on them, that "few studies show that student learning outcomes, such as success in postgraduate employment, correlate positively with initial quantitative test scores or grade point averages," and that affirmative action "babies" go on to greater success than those who have not benefited from the program (no link, sorry, but it's around somewhere) because, unsurprisingly, they appreciate the opportunity more. Not to mention that if affirmative action students are failing out of college because of their poor training, the problem seems to be less with the admissions process and more with the college's first-year curriculum and/or the climate they cultivate on campus (that whole "diversity" thing Thomas disdains), but I am a bleeding-heart, after all.
Were I an armchair psychiatrist, I might say something about how Thomas' feelings of worthlessness might stem from his allegiance with a party his race has traditionally not been allied with, but that would be unfair and, of course, highly unacademic. posted by Mike B. at 12:18 PM
- "The saddest possible conclusion to what began as one of the most promising careers of the 1990s..."
Why does everyone think this is the end of her career? Do they think she's going to stop making music? Does it really stand to reason that no indie label would have her if, worst-case scenario, sales for this one were horrible and she got dropped? (And, since she is tied to a major-label contract, maybe this is a way of getting out of it? Hmmm...) I think there will be more Liz Phair after this, whether or not it sells well, and I suspect someone's going to keep listening.
- "The result: one of the worst records ever made!" / "0.0"
Well, of course, she's in good company with this 0.0: the only other album I can remember with this rating is Sonic Youth's NYC Ghosts and Flowers, for which the rating was similarly ridiculous: surely the beautiful title track deserves a few points, right? As for "worst records ever made," is "Liz Phair" really down there with, say, Michael Bolton albums and collections of dogs barking Xmas carols? (Or Bonnie Tyler?) Of course not; context is king here, as it always is for Pitchfork, and had this been made by someone else it wouldn't have gone below the 5.0 mark, especially with a song as amazing as "Rock Me" on it. Speaking of which:
- "Phair sings exuberantly about the benefits of an affair with a younger guy including-- I shit you not-- "[playing] X-Box on [his] floor." In between choruses of "Baby baby baby if it's alright/ Want you to rock me all night," Phair declares, "I'm starting to think that young guys rule!" without a trace of self-doubt or reflection."
As for the latter: as I've noted before, it seems like the indie crits didn't actually listen to this song, as the "young guys rule" line is immediately preceded by "You think I'm a genius, think I'm cool." So there's your self-doubt, if you want it: Liz is feeling like a lame single mom, and she thinks it's sweet that this guy naively thinks she's cool, since of course she isn't, nor is she a genius. The main complaint here seems to be that she's not bitter and angsty, which seems, how to put it, a bit unfair. ("Why aren't you torrrrrtured like Cat Power???") And the chorus--man, the chorus! As I say in the comments below, the great thing about this chorus is how it totally nails the pop-song thing I look for, i.e. a kind of anonymous thing that draws you into the song, and then you notice the verse lyrics, and then you're glad you got drawn in. It's a hook, and it's very well done. Speaking of pop:
- "In recent interviews, Phair has been upfront about her hopes of mainstream success, and claims full awareness that Liz Phair is likely to alienate many of her original fans."
Well, good for her! This makes me want to shake the woman's hand (although I would be disappointed, albeit impressed, if this just turned out to be a ploy to get out of her major-label deal). I admire an artist who's totally upfront about this, especially one who came from the conservative, moralistic indie community. And good for her for not pussying out; once she chooses this path, she goes at it full fuckin' force, playing the conventions of the still-ongoing teen-pop genre like she was a garage-rocker (or neo-no-waver, or electroclasher) referencing the touchpoints of some retro sound, while still working in those great Lizzy lyrics we all swear by.
So good for her. If this alienates her "true" fans, well, fuck it, she won my ass over.
Gygax clearly had some sort of ooze fixation. He populated his little world with a goobery panapoly of spores, molds, and fungi, at least one variety of which has psychic powers. Huh. At any rate, closely edging out green slime for "Best Performance by a Nickelodeon Game Show Prop" is the gelatinous cube, a transparent, hallway-shaped, flesh-dissolving, uh. Cube. The sheer ridiculousness of it is impressive. Here we have yet another monster with no reason to exist in a dungeon-free ecosystem. It's genetically adapted to graph paper, for God's sake! Plus it conveniently fails to either digest or excrete metal, giving an adventurers a reason to kill it and scoop coins from its corpse. It's like some sort of living, deadly, mall fountain. A posted by Mike B. at 3:17 PM
Daily Kos posts more info on the Westar thing (to the effect that the VP of the company ran Ashcroft's campaigns for quite a few years, thus perhaps hinting why the AG is not investigating the company all that aggressively) and no one seems to care because--what--either it's too complicated or because it's not strictly speaking illegal; I assume it's not the latter since Bush's pre-war hype wasn't strictly speaking lying either, but we're going after that with big blunt sticks labeled "Amerikka." But fuck, man, read the signs (and read the report (PDF) - relevant info on 349-357, or what Adobe thinks is pages 341-349), this is unabashed vote-buying. Whether it strictly speaking violates campaign finance laws is ultimately irrelevant for the political gains to be had; if you're a Democratic representative and you can't get effectively worked up about a failed Enron-model corporation openly buying legislative exemptions because you can't hide your own indiscretions, I don't want you as my representative. Real politicians know how to fuckin' hide their graft, and when someone doesn't, you bite 'em on the ass as hard as you can. Ashcroft is an easy target anyway--go to it, folks. posted by Mike B. at 3:11 PM
During an American attack Wednesday on a convoy suspected of carrying fugitive Iraqi officials near the Syrian border, United States Special Operations forces engaged in a firefight with several Syrian guards, wounding five of them, Defense Department officials said today.
At least one of the Iraqi vehicles destroyed in the attack was hit by American attack helicopters on the Syrian side of the border, the officials said. They said three of the five Syrian border guards, who exchanged gunfire with American ground forces, remained in American custody for medical treatment.
OK--fair enough--fugitive Iraqis and hostile activity and all like that. But this is starting to sound a bit like the beginning of the Mexican-American War, isn't it? So it goes, I guess, in a country where we're not supposed to go to war unless we're attacked.
(It also sounds a bit like Cambodia, but I won't bring that up because Vietnam comparisons are hackneyed, and I'd like to see more Mexican-American War alarmism on the left.) posted by Mike B. at 10:14 AM
Monday, June 23, 2003
Good but complicated post at Kos about the way a company named Westar wanted an exemption from regulation, and got a specific price tag and beneficiary list from Republicans.
Good for them for exercising their free speech rights! I'd hate to see campaign finance laws restrict that. posted by Mike B. at 5:55 PM
On June 20 came the story that Saddam Hussein is probably still alive. I can understand why officials would be reluctant to say this, since it would give opposition groups in Iraq even more ammunition on that front.
The timing of this just feels weird, and kind of off. Did they just discover that he was alive, and just kill him? Is this just the NYT's fault for getting the "Hussein-is-alive" story late? Maybe this war has made me a bit paranoid, but I can't help but wonder. Unfortunately, I can't put my finger on why it doesn't feel right. Hmm. posted by Mike B. at 4:22 PM
Great article in the Guardian about why there might be such anti-NGO rhetoric flying around these days. It's by Naomi Klein, if that helps you avoid reading it, but me, I think it makes some pretty smart points.
A very good post at Reason giving us a good, concrete example why that whole "classify anyone we want as enemy combatants" thing might be problematic:
The administration's defenders say we shouldn't worry, because this power has been used only a couple of times (that we know of). But the case of Iyman Faris, the would-be Brooklyn Bridge saboteur, suggests how this end run around the justice system can have an effect far beyond the people who are officially labeled enemy combatants.
According to The New York Times, "Prosecutors discussed the idea of declaring Mr. Faris an enemy combatant...and that may have influenced his decision to admit guilt to avoid the prospect of indefinite detention." I have no reason to doubt that Faris, who pleaded guilty and faces a 20-year prison sentence, really did discuss the Brooklyn Bridge's vulnerability to blowtorches with members of Al Qaeda. But it's not hard to see how someone who was mistakenly accused of terrorism might choose a finite prison sentence over "enemy combatant" limbo.
Which begs the question: what else is the FBI going to have jurisdiction over? Library fines? Take-a-penny trays? The "lentil fund" we have in our apartment? posted by Mike B. at 2:57 PM
Very good post on Eschaton connecting the new DHS / BATF regulation of fireworks displays (because, uh, they could be terrorism) with this:
[Rumsfeld's] staffers have been phoning city officials, including some in Orange County, and strongly urging them to structure Fourth of July celebrations around the war in Iraq.
"I got the impression that they had a list of every city in the nation that had applied for a pyrotechnics permit, and were calling them to persuade them to be part of the program," said one OC city official.
Alexandria's mother, Carol DeMuria, remembers an episode in which Samantha (always Samantha) has sex in a firehouse. "This is not how I want my daughter to live," says Ms. DeMuria, a 45-year-old mother of four. "This is not how I want her to think people in Manhattan live." Although Ms. DeMuria likes the show, and its positive portrayals of gay men, she says the thin, well-heeled heroines don't match her own memories of being single in what can be a tough and bruising city. But more important, she finds the women's gonzo sexcapades and the show's hallmark sexual frankness — discussions of topics like S&M, anal sex and erotic urination — unsuitable for her daughter. "When I was a kid, married people slept in double beds in all the TV shows," says Ms. DeMuria. "Let's be honest, people are having sex and having kids out of wedlock. But what do you tell a 14-year-old, that it's O.K.?"
What's the income of this family, do you think?
Opposition to sex out of wedlock as a concept just seems so outdated. (Opposition to sex out of wedlock as a reality, i.e. hearing your daughter having sex upstairs, is far more understandable.) posted by Mike B. at 1:47 PM
So in case you haven't noticed, reviews of the new Liz Phair album have been awful. I've even had a few friends, who listened to the album, tell me as much, and certainly it's confusing as to why a pretty respected indie artist would chase teen-pop at this particular moment in time. I'll admit I consequently wrote it off, not that I was ever that much of a Liz Phair fan.
But Fluxblog today posts a song from the album, Rock Me, and fuck, it's just great--a very Phair-ish bit about fucking younger men whose "record collection don't exist," but it sounds like, well, an Avril Lavigne song production-wise, which is no surprise, since it's one of the songs on Liz's album written / produced by The Matrix. It's a lot rougher than Avril's stuff, but all the weird little digital starts-and-stops, the big chorus dropins, the telephone voices, etc., are there.
And I love it! It's weird to read interviews that say that the Matrix's style "is not exactly in the business of making a singer sound more like herself," since this song totally sound like what I would expect if someone told me to look for Exile in Guyville with teen-pop production. I don't know why the lyrics are being slagged off--maybe something about the sequencing of the full album makes critics numb to the charms by this point--but I think they're excellent and fully in character. Of course, when the worst insult you can find for an album is "banality wins the day," you know I'm gonna love it (banality being, of course, at the heart of rock 'n' roll), especially when there's a song whose initials stand for "Hot White Cum" and posits ejaculate as a fountain of youth. Wahoo! OK, it's no "Divorce Song," but let's be honest in saying that this is an unfairly high standard to live up to. Liz seems to be successfully fucking with everyone, and I like it. Good for her. And beyond that, the song just sounds great to these ears.
This raises an interesting question for me, though: maybe more of our indie icons with pop leanings should grab some major-label dollars and make a fucking radio-friendly pop album with the Neptunes or the Matrix or someone like that. I mean, isn't that what we love about Beck's party albums? They're impeccably produced and very well-written, teaming as they do a great songwriter with great pop producers. The only thing separating Midnite Vultures and Liz Phair in my mind is that the songwriting is better on the former (by all accounts) and the latter is trying to actively participate in popular culture. I know not everyone agrees with me about stuff like Avril or Britney being great production-wise, but I think it would be awesome if you took that kind of style and gave it the kind of great lyrics and hooks that some of our underground luminaries can crank out. Think of, say, one of these folks doing that: Isaac Brock, Dan Bejar, Cat Power...the list goes on.
Anyway, the point is that I like the song, and that an album with 3 great songs on it and a bunch of crap is a firm convention of the teen-pop genre that Phair is trying to participate in. posted by Mike B. at 1:12 PM
Our San Francisco correspondant, Aaron Brown (no, not that Aaron Brown), on attending a Lou Reed show:
So Lou was fantastic. He played a really chill set. I was also reassured
that Lou is still cool, which makes me happy. But to top it all off,
fucking Tai Chi Master Ren took it all to a new level. I guess he tours
with Lou now. See, Lou can sing "Perfect Day" by himself, and it's good,
but when you throw in Tai Chi Master Ren in a red silk outfit doing
interpretive Tai Chi, it changes everything. Tai Chi Master Ren is the man. posted by Mike B. at 12:11 PM