Recycled Genius

RecycleI just updated my two articles based on Peter Lamont's book The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick. The first one, Indian Rope Trick Part I, is mostly about the history of the trick and how it started in a made-up newspaper article. The second one, Indian Rope Trick Part II, is about an actual thing, which I call the "Indian Chain Trick." I discuss it and how I'm pretty sure it was done.

I wrote both of those articles just a few months after starting this blog. That was in the days when I took my time. Yet I managed to name both of the articles "Indian Rope Trip [sic]." And it wasn't just that. Some of the text was unclear. It just goes to show, expertise helps. When you have less skill, even working very hard will only take you so far. My dashed off work now, six years later, is better. But these are interesting articles — well worth reading.


Filed under Computer/Meta

Odds and Ends Vol 22

Odds and EndsEven though I don't get nearly enough time to read normal stuff, I find things are piling up without my having the time to write articles about them. So it is time for another edition of "Odds and Ends." And in this case it is indeed a varied collection of things from cat gun safety to productivity to the Gymkhana Girl, so I guess we ought to get to it.

The Only Thing that Stops a Cat With a Gun...

Elizabeth sent me this article, Cat Shoots Owner With 9mm Handgun. This happened all the way back in 2005, but apparently, Joseph Stanton of Michigan was cooking with his loaded gun sitting on the counter. One of his cats jumped up on the counter, knocking the gun off, causing it to discharge, shooting Stanton in the lower torso. He seems to have survived and no cats were harmed.

What I find interesting about these kinds of cases is that they show how one-sided people are about looking at benefits and risk. I'm sure that Mr Stanton, like most gun owners, felt that he was safer for having that loaded gun around. I suspect he had visions of some intruder coming to attack him. But the truth is that the odds of some accident (like your cat jumping on the counter) are far more likely. This is why I don't have a gun; I play the odds.

Night Owls Are Diseased

Over at Vox, Brian Resnick reported, Late Sleepers Are Tired of Being Discriminated Against. And Science Has Their Back. It turns out that chronobiology shows that we all have our own internal clocks, and some people are getting tired (!) of being expected to live according to other people's idea of the proper time to be active.

I've never thought about any of this in terms of when I wake up. Growing up in a family inclined toward late nights, I've always seen it in terms of when I was awake. But I've lived a charmed life in that I've gotten away with going my own way. At most places I've worked, I've been important enough that management was willing to put up with my eccentricities. But even if that were not the case, it's kind of hard to get too upset. There are a million ways that the majority oppresses the minority; just look at the world from the perspective of left-handed people. What's more, I don't find this chronobiology all that interesting because I'll always felt my sleep patterns were biological.

Now, of course, I have no problem. I go to sleep late and wake up early. It's because I'm old and apparently my brain doesn't need as much time to process information. That's probably helped by the fact that I rarely leave this room.

Spying Makes Us Timid

Glenn Greenwald reported, New Study Shows Mass Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear, and Self-Censorship. It's not a shock. If people know that they might be under surveillance (We all know that we might be now, right?) it tends to makes us more conformist. And you have to wonder if that isn't the main point. Would the world be notably less safe if the NSA wasn't recording and storing every conversation we were having?

This reminds me of something that internet titan Eric Schmidt was asked back in 2009, "People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?" He replied, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." Oh yes! That's the way to run a democracy! It's an especially chilling statement when you consider how cozy Silicon Valley has been with the government and how the government's greatest spying accomplishments have been to disrupt anti-war groups.

Gymkhana Girl

In the first episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look, there were three skits about the crime fighting duo Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit. It makes fun of lopsided superhero combinations. I keep returning to Marvel's the Avengers, where you have a god teamed up with a guy who is apparently really good with a bow and arrow. I've discussed it before, but I learned something new:

At the end, after the BMX Bandit is killed, the announcer tells us to tune in next week for the adventures of "Angel Summoner and..." But I couldn't make it out. It sounded like "Jim Conner Girl." The woman reminded me of the women on the old British television series The Avengers. I got the joke: they were teaming up Angel Summoner with yet another inappropriate character. But it still bugged me that I didn't know what a "Jim Conner Girl" was.

Finally, I looked it up. The word is not "Jim Conner" but gymkhana. And that is "competitive games on horseback." In other words, they switched from someone who was good at riding a bike to someone who was good at riding a horse. And that, well, is hilarious.

Cheap Labor Leads to Low Productivity

Dean Baker wrote a really good article last week, Reason #4 for Weak Productivity Growth: Labor Is Cheap. Like most economics in the public sphere, it ain't complicated. Productivity has been low for a long time. And a big reason for that is that businesses have little reason to invest in automation because they can get labor so cheap. If you want to increase productivity, make the political environment more conducive to unionization.

It's funny that most people (Most Democrats too!) like to blame inequality on automation. But if that were the case, per capita productivity would be high. As I've written about a lot, if the rich were smart and farsighted, they would want more economic equality because it is better for everyone. But they aren't smart and farsighted; they are just greedy.

Land of the Lost

I was given a bag of DVDs — most of them television shows of my youth. Of particular interest was the first two seasons of Sid & Marty Krofft's Land of the Lost. I liked that show when I was a kid, so I sat down and watched the first seven episodes. It's curious. The stop-motion animation is really good. But it's so disjointed, going from filmed animation to videotaped segments on tiny sound stages. I could go on and on about things that are wrong with it. But it does have a certain charm, even after all these years.

Well, that's all for now. I'm glad to get some tabs down, although I could easily add five more entries here.


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Morning Music: Just a Girl by No Doubt

Just a Girl - No DoubtRomy and Michele's High School Reunion starts with a song that is not from the 1980s, because it is supposed to reflect their lives now. It's a good song, "Just a Girl" by the band No Doubt. It isn't great, like Trapped in a Box, but still.

What's interesting about "Just a Girl" is that it is the perfect song for the film. Although it sounds light and pleasant, it is a highly political song. Slow it down and perform it with an acoustic guitar and you have a Natalie Merchant song. Although "Just a girl" is repeated more often, technically the refrain is, "I've had it up to here!" And that is, ultimately, what Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is all about.

"Just a Girl" starts with what was always a curious lyric to me, "Take this pink ribbon off my eyes." Now it seems ridiculously obvious what that's all about. The trappings of femininity are used to blind women from their subjugation. And the line is followed by a far more disturbing line, "I'm exposed and it's no big surprise." I see "exposed" as a synonym for "naked." The song makes many references to the objectification of women. But it also indicates that regardless of the pink ribbons, women still know their situation on a more fundamental level.

Of course, "Just a Girl" is also exactly the kind of music that Romy and Michele would have been dancing to in the mid-1990s.


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Anniversary Post: Folies Bergère

Folies BergèreOn this day back in 1869, the Folies Bergère opened in Paris, France. Of course, at that time, it was known as the Folies Trévise. It's always been a little sexy, but it has never been the kind of coarse entertainment venue that most Americans imagine. It certainly isn't anything that I couldn't take any of my wives or girlfriends to — although that probably says more about my wives and girlfriends than it does the Folies Bergère.

A better way to look at it is like the club in Cabaret. And based upon that, we can say of the performers, "Each and every one: a virgin!" According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Folies Bergère was a standard nightclub in its early days, featuring "musical comedies and revues, operettas, vaudeville sketches, playlets, ballets, eccentric dancers, acrobats, jugglers, tightrope walkers, and magicians." It followed other clubs into nudity, but apparently with much gusto.

Today, of course, the Folies Bergère is an institution in Paris. It sound like a lot less fun to me than it would have been in the early 1870s:

Each of its shows requires about 10 months of planning and preparation, 40 different sets, and 1,000 to 1,200 individually designed costumes.

Happy anniversary Folies Bergère!

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Body Snatchers and The Faculty

Invasion of the Body SnatchersThe 1950s were a strange time. Last night, I watched the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I hadn't seen it since I was a kid. It is a really good film. I'd have to say that it is better than the excellent 1978 remake. But it could have just been my mood. The action sequences work so well, and the music is dynamite. But while I watched it, all I could think was, "This is an allegory for communist infiltration into America."

Now I know: everyone wants to say that it is about McCarthyism. And the filmmakers didn't think they were making any kind of political statement at all. But it was in the air, just as fluoride is in the water to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. What's more, McCarthyism wasn't about losing our identity in the public mind. In fact McCarthyism was not all that popular. But the belief that the Soviet Union turned people into automatons was so universal that people didn't even think about it.

Body Snatchers Is About Communism

At the beginning of Body Snatchers, Miles (Kevin McCarthy) and his nurse come upon a boy running away from his mother. The family owns a produce stand that is now shut down. The mother (who has been taken over) says, "We gave the stand up. Too much work!" Miles thinks it is odd and reflects on the "littered, closed-up" stand that had recently been the "cleanest and busiest stand on the road." The word "cleanest" is telling, because of America's long obsession with physical and spiritual purity.

The FacultyBut the more concrete aspect of it is that everyone gives up their passion for work. They give up their passion for each other too. They are simply part of the collective and that is all that matters. Now I would say that this reflects on McCarthyism in the sense that reactionary movements are almost always mirror images of what they are against. I've marveled since I was a boy at how conservatives believe in certain rights as long as those rights are never used. So you have the "right" to denounce the NSA right up to the point where you do denounce the NSA. Lucky for us, the conservatives have not gotten their way on this issue (at least not directly).

Another "red scare" aspect of the film is the way that the pod people lack passion for anything except making more pod people. This was a common contradiction of the fear of communism: it turned everyone into brain-dead zombies, yet it was super clever when it came to disseminating propaganda and turning good Americans into fellow zombies.

The Faculty Is About Nothing

So watching Body Snatchers was a mixed bag. It is unquestionably a great film, but the politics of it bother me. So I followed it up with The Faculty. Now much of what I said about Body Snatchers can be said about The Faculty. For that matter, what is Body Snatchers other than a science fiction take on Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros? But the original Body Snatchers was made during the Red Scare, while McCarthyism was still going on. Even the remake was made while the Cold War was going strong. The Faculty was made in 1998 and it is post-ideological.

The Faculty is just silly fun. The film is just the good weirdos against the bad alien. It's discussion of conformity is not political but cinematic. The monster is creating a collective because that's what happened in Body Snatchers. It's all just an excuse to entertain people who loved Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the remake of The Thing. But, as Aliya Whiteley noted at Den of Geek, it also has "a spoonful of The Breakfast Club." I only disagree in that it would have to be an enormous spoon.

Body Snatchers is a great film. The Faculty isn't; but it is the perfect film to to watch after Invasion of the Body Snatchers.


Filed under Film, TV & Theater, Politics

Morning Music: Time After Time

Romy and Michele's High School ReunionSince I really can't think of anything else to do, I figured I would do a week of music from Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. That is: we will take a disturbing trip into 1980s pop. It was a time of twice destroyed music. First punk became "new wave" and then it just became pop. But it's not always so bad. We start with the Cyndi Lauper tune "Time After Time."

Interestingly, the song was not on the soundtrack for the film. But it is the most important song in the film. It is featured when Romy is stood up by Billy Christensen, and then it is played again when Romy, Michele, and Sandy perform their their interpretive dance number before flying away in a helicopter.

When the song was playing on the radio, I liked it quite a lot. Now it sounds dated. I can't make out a single acoustic instrument despite the fact that it really doesn't need any electronics at all. The song is solid, even with the cliche hook. But the drum samples and synth sounds are really not that offensive. I think that producer Rick Chertoff gets a lot of credit for creating an overall sound for the album that doesn't make my skin crawl.

The thing that I most dislike in "Time After Time" is something I was very fond of at the time: guitar flanging. But like anything that's interesting in pop music, it was used to death and then for a few decades more. Flanging quickly became the go-to guitar sound when a producer had no idea what to do. But it worked on this song at that time, as I recall.

But you can't make me sit through that any more than I already have, so here is a beautiful, almost acoustic version of the song live.


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Anniversary Post: Haymarket Affair

Haymarket AffairToday is International Workers' Day, or in many places, just Labor Day. It was originally chosen to commemorate the Haymarket affair. It's easy enough to get all of the history of labor organizing confused because it is all very repetitive. Workers try to get rights, businesses get the government to beat down the workers. It really is that simple. The primary purpose of the police and military is to keep the power elite in control by "controlling" the lower classes. If you see the police as being represented by the "Officer Friendly" nonsense, you've lived a charmed life -- most likely because you are rich.

It is hard not to relate the Haymarket affair to what has been going on all around the country. Things really haven't changed. Then as now, the media tended to ignore protests unless they got violent. Then as now, police and other kinds of brutality on behalf of the power elite were ignored. And, of course, the police were rarely held accountable. The day before Haymarket, the police began shooting into the striking workers -- killing a couple of them. This led to the Haymarket demonstration when a group of anarchist threw a bomb that led to the deaths of seven police officers and an unclear number of workers. Typical that the number of civilian deaths is uncertain.

The direct result of the Haymarket affair is that four anarchists -- none of them directly responsible, and probably not even indirectly -- were put to death. Let's be really clear here: they weren't put to death because of the bombing. They were put to death as a cultural symbol -- a message to uppity workers. The case against these men had nothing to do with the crime itself. The trial was all about what they had written in the past. Do we still believe free speech exists in the United States when it clashes with powerful interests? Sure, we allow Nazis to parade through Jewish neighborhoods. But businesses must be allowed to counter any union organizing with weeks of mandated propaganda. People's feelings don't matter. Businesses' profits do.

The short term result of Haymarket was a huge backlash against the labor movement. And, of course, a groundswell of support for our brave men in uniform. You know: the ones who the day before Haymarket had shot indiscriminately into a crowd on peaceful strikers. Oh, and what were these terrible workers fighting for? A little thing called the 8 hour work day. At that time, people at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company were working ten hours per day, six days per week. Do you get overtime if you work more than eight hours per day? Thank these workers and organizers, many of whom died in the fight.

Despite public opinion -- and all those truth-telling journalists who just so happened to find the truth by supporting the power elite -- the Haymarket affair stiffened the resolve of union supporters. It is all about solidarity. I have argued in the past that this is what capitalists most fear about unions. Any given benefit or workplace reform can later be destroyed -- as long as the capitalists can divide and conquer the workers. And they've largely succeeded. About the only people I know who are big supporters of unions are those who are in unions. And even inside of some unions, such as grocery workers, there is now a double standard: older workers are well paid and younger workers have more or less minimum wage jobs.

But the fight continues. Happy International Workers' Day!


Filed under Anniversaries, Politics

Poor Winners and the Progressive Fight

Paul Krugman - Poor WinnersPaul Krugman's Friday column comes out just after midnight my time on Thursday. I thought for a little while about live blogging the event. Now that even the most innumerate can see that Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic Party nomination, would Krugman move on to something besides another "Clinton rocks! Sanders sucks!" article. I thought the idea was very funny because I was almost certain that he would write something different. But I was wrong. Although his article, Wrath of the Conned, is nominally about the Republicans, it reads more like an attack on Sanders. Krugman is one of the great poor winners.

The article doesn't mention Sanders by name and certainly doesn't give him any credit in the campaign. You know, because Sanders sucks. The best we get is the truly ignorant claim that nonwhite voters supported Clinton because her "challenger" (Not Sanders!) "sometimes seemed to dismiss" the achievement of Obamacare. Yeah, it was all about Obamacare, Krugman. I'm a big Obamacare supporter, but it does far too much argumentative work for Krugman in his apologias for Obama.

Krugman also quoted the Crimson Hexagon study in the most facile way, saying that Clinton got the most negative coverage. That's true, but it's important to note that it wasn't that much more negative than the other candidates and that the same study found the media covered Clinton far more than it did Sanders.

I don't especially care, I suppose. But it is a good illustration of how people are often poor winners. Would it be so hard to say something nice about what the Sanders phenomenon has done? Clinton has turned left during this primary because Sanders was pounding her from the left. Imagine where we'd be now if Jim Webb had seen Sanders' level of support. We wouldn't be talking about the minimum wage; we'd be talking about who was going to drop more bombs on more countries.

Politicians do not exist in a vacuum. Clinton has shifted to the left on both trade deals and Social Security — because of the success of Bernie Sanders. Does he — Do we?! — get any credit for this? Or are the Krugman's the nation going to continue to stew about Sanders' unfortunate "Clinton isn't qualified to be president" comment (which he took back far more publicly than he stated it)?

Poor Winners Can Help Us!

Scott Lemieux wrote a really good article over at New Republic yesterday, Why Hillary Will Govern More Like Bernie Than People Think. This goes along with what I've been saying for some time to disappointed Sanders supporters, "He made Clinton, the Democratic Party, and America better." But now I find that I have to say it to Clinton supporters. Yes, Clinton is a politician, and like them all — including Bernie Sanders — she shifts with the political winds. And she would have been a far worse candidate if she had spent the last year having only to counter the insanity of the Republican Party.

Lemieux's article is mostly about Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and how he's turned out to be far more of a progressive than anyone would have thought given what a political hack he has always been. Lemieux noted:

Political context matters. If McAuliffe had been elected governor in the 1990s he likely would have been much more timorous and inclined to compromise with Republicans. But it ain't the '90s anymore, and McAuliffe has gotten the message.

And so too has Clinton, I believe. And it has happened in a big way. As Lemieux said, "Leaders often act as weathervanes, but this isn't a bad thing if the wind is blowing in the right direction." So maybe it's best that people like Krugman are determined to be poor winners. It can encourage the rest of us. We need to keep blowing — and hard.


Filed under Politics

Morning Music: The Greatest Taste Around

Dispepsi - The Greatest Taste AroundToday, we end this week of Negativland, in observance of the death of Richard Lyons. I'm going to jump ahead to their 1997 album, Dispepsi. I want to end with it because when I asked my boss if she knew the band, she said, "Pepsi?" She is the hippest person I've ever known. Of course, Negativland doesn't have a song called "Pepsi"; I'm sure she's referring to "The Greatest Taste Around," which is the song we are going to listen to today.

The funny thing about the album is that the band was apparently afraid of being sued by Pepsi. This was not unreasonable, because as a band that made heavy use of sampling, pushing the bounds of IP law was kind of the norm. So the album cover does not have the word "Dispepsi" on it. It does have all the letters on it in various combinations. The album's song list is done as a food nutrition label with the headline "Ideppiss Facts." But Pepsi, wisely I think, had no intention of suing. Such acts are usually self-defeating. So the band started calling it "Dispepsi."

Although "The Greatest Taste Around" is about Pepsi most prominently, the whole album is about Pepsi, Coke, the soda industry, and the idea of having to advertise products people wouldn't normally want. The song "Hyper Real" is about the selling of New Coke. "Aluminum Or Glass: The Memo" does seem to feature an actual advertising memo. The whole album is brilliant in this way. It sounds great, but it is also great political and social satire: and it is all on YouTube.

"The Greatest Taste Around" is such an upbeat song that it's easy enough to miss how scathing it is. "Tractors plowing down the hills: Pepsi! Ghastly stench of puppy mills: Pepsi!" All to a I-IV-V chord progression. Brilliant!

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Anniversary Post: Bugs Bunny

Bugs BunnyOn this day back in 1938 Bugs' Bunny was born. Note that apostrophe. It is in reference to the director of the first cartoon to feature the character, Ben Hardaway, whose nickname was Bugs. The cartoon was, Porky's Hare Hunt. But that bunny is not himself. For one thing, he sounds like Woody Woodpecker -- literally. In 1940, Mel Blanc moved the voice from one character to the other. Also, this early character doesn't have the intellectual sophistication that he will eventually develop. He's mostly just a spaz, like Daffy Duck in his early versions. (He was first introduced in the similarly titled, Porky's Duck Hunt.)

In addition to this, Bugs doesn't look the same. He's quite short -- again, like the early Daffy Duck. And he is all one color. But there is a continuity. It's kind of like the old philosophy riddle about replacing the handle and the head of an ax: is it the same ax? There isn't one answer to that; it is just a way of thinking about what is is. But in the case of Bugs Bunny, I think we can say that this little Woody Woodpecker laughing bunny is indeed a form of the iconic character.

Happy anniversary Bugs Bunny!


Filed under Anniversaries, Film, TV & Theater

Long Hours and Wasted Time

Long HoursBack in 2000, I worked long hours for a company named Equilibrium. They were known for a product that was very popular among professional graphic artists, DeBabelizer. It converted graphic files from one format to another. But I was hired when the company was on a big expansion, creating a product that they still sell, MediaRich. At the time, it was pretty cool, but now sounds almost trivial. It allows websites to change images on the fly. So if you are looking at a page selling shirts, you could see the model in all the different colors the shirt comes in. And it could do a whole lot more than that.

I liked that job. It paid well and I worked with some really great people. But I remember this one meeting. We had been working long hours because we were getting ready for some kind of product launch and one of the vice-presidents said, "We work hard and we play hard!" I thought it was a stupid thing to say because I had heard the exact same thing said at every corporate job I'd ever had, including at Microsoft. And it was always said with the same cheerful enthusiasm that indicated that the speaker thought it was a clever phrase they had just made up rather than the most tired of cliches.

Long Hours Goofing Off

Over time, I've come to see that it was not just a cliche, it was also a lie. In fact, it is a double lie. My time in corporate America has shown that mostly, people do not work hard. They work long. It's a way of proving fealty to the corporation, "Look, I'm willing to spend 12 hours a day in this cubical and rarely see my wife and kids! I'm a team player!" Meanwhile, these same people mostly goof off. I even see it here on Frankly Curious. I had asked my direct boss why it was that traffic here goes down so much on the weekends; she said, "It's the same for every site; people surf the web most at work."

But the other part of this myth is the "play hard" part. I don't even know what it is to "play hard." But these people certainly didn't do it. They didn't play at all. It would be better to say that they "worked long and goofed off hard."

Similarly, my last job was a tiny startup. We did amazing work until we ran out of money and the company was taken over by a bunch of real estate investors who destroyed it through utter incompetence. But the head of the company was in every day, putting in those hours. But what was he doing? Every time I looked, he was on some website about sail boats (he was really into boats). It's pretty typical, though. So the idea that everyone is working hard is just nonsense.

At that point at that company, I wasn't working either. I was terribly sick (I almost died). But more, everything I had built the two years before was being destroyed in the name of the egos of a real estate agent and a boat mechanic. When I was at Equilibrium, however, I wanted to work and go home. I did not like this nonsense of hanging out at work. But then, I was about ten years older than the other workers and was far more interested in finishing my first novel. And it annoyed me that I was expected to work long hours as though it were some kind of religious observance.

But the other part of this myth is the "play hard" part. I don't even know what it is to "play hard." But these people certainly didn't do it. They didn't play at all. It would be better to say that they "worked long and goofed off hard." Because just killing time in a way that doesn't seem like you are goofing off is a large part of what the people at Equilibrium did.

This occurred to me today as I was reading Thomas Frank's new book, Listen, Liberal. A lot of the book is a critique of the "innovation mentality." You know what it is: this idea that if we all get college degrees and think like entrepreneurs, then we will live in a bright shiny world. He talks about how every town goes out of its way to bring in those great "innovators" who will revitalize the boarded up downtown regions where people only go if they want to by sex or drugs. Frank remarked:

I toured innovation center after innovation center, each one featuring brightly colored furniture, open workspaces, inspiring quotations about inventiveness, ping-pong tables, and Guitar Hero sets and other instruments of break-time levity (not one of which I ever saw actually being used)...

I remember at Equilibrium, we had a great big break room. And in it was a very expensive Foosball table. I never saw anyone play it. In fact, in all those long hours I never saw anyone in the break room (which I passed by often), except on Thursday mornings, when they would bring in bagels, and people would come in, get a bagel and cream cheese and take it back to their desks where they would eat and "work."

This all goes back to the breakdown of worker solidarity. And here we have a variation of the paradox of thrift. Everyone wants to prove to the boss that they are the hardest worker. But there isn't really that much work to be done. There were certainly times when long hours were required, but these were rare. And they were always because of sequencing: I needed to wait around for one person to finish something so that I could do my part. But the rest of the long hours is just one individual trying to outdo another individual. The end result, is that everyone ends up spending a whole lot more time at work, without any more getting done.

"Work hard, play hard" is a myth people use to justify wasting large parts of their lives.


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Morning Music: Helter Stupid

Helter StupidYesterday, I featured Negativland's song "Christianity Is Stupid." And I discussed how the song was used as the basis for a fake press release that claimed that the song had inspired David Brom to kill his family. The fact that so much of the media fell for the fake story seems to have delighted the band. Well, it's hard to tell. Maybe they were outraged. Regardless, it inspired them. The first side of their next album, Helter Stupid, is dedicated to it.

There was always a little of The Firesign Theatre in Negativland's work, and it really comes to the fore here. The following album side is composed of two songs. First is "Prologue." This is made up mostly of a story that KPIX did on the fake story. And then we move directly into "Helter Stupid." The basis of it is, I think, a sped up sample from Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby." On top of it is an amazing sound collage with bits from the original song, more of minister Estus Pirkle, Charles Manson, and lots of media reporting on the fake story. And then there is lots of laughing.

We also get a commercial for "Al's House of Meat (on the sirloin strip)." Then the people in the studio notice when they rewind it has evil messages. For example, "This child, is a child of evil." And, "Last night he murdered his parents; tonight his target is his aunt and uncle." Finally, they have some fun with the trailer of Death Wish II. You don't have to be analytical to figure out what they are saying.

When I was a teen, this idea that rock songs had evil things recorded backwards on them was very big. As I recall, "Stairway to Heaven" had "Sweet Savior Satan" or something. But even when I was young, the idea that people would somehow pick up on something said backwards was ridiculous. But isn't it just like Americans to look for something so fantastical to explain our violent culture when Death Wish II is given an MPAA rating of R mostly because of the sex?

Anyway, this is 22 minutes of brilliance. Really, listen to this. It is probably the greatest thing that Negativland ever did. (This is the whole album. The rest of it is interesting and funny, but not as great.)


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Anniversary Post: Botany Bay

Welcome to Botany Bay! Now go home!On this day in 1770, James Cook first landed in Australia in a place he will call Botany Bay. It was there that he first met with the aboriginal tribe, Gweagal. I think that must have been interesting. It is like us looking into the sky every day and mostly seeing nothing -- perhaps a small airplane in the distance. And one day a huge spacecraft shows up filled with people we did not previously know about. It is not surprising that the Gweagal were intrigued but shy toward the strangers.

These kinds of interactions between civilizations are fascinating to me. They show the lie of the libertarian utopia. As you may have noticed, Botany Bay is not under the control of the Gweagal. But when Cook showed up, it was their land. In fact, archaeological digs indicate that settlements date back 5,000 years. Meetings between stronger groups and weakers groups tend to go the same. Things often start out nice enough with trading. But after a while, the stronger group decides that they would like what the weaker group has. And regardless of how the stronger group justifies it, in the end it comes down to the fact that they take it.

This is so ingrained in people, that the great defender of individual rights herself, Ayn Rand, could not see that her own philosophy ultimately degenerated into: might makes right. Matt Bruenig has dealt with the subject from a philosophical standpoint, Non-Aggression Never Does Any Argumentative Work at Any Time. But the truth is that not even the libertarians who claim to follow the non-aggression principle even stick by it. And it doesn't make sense, anyway. Would it have been all right for the first human to think of it to say, "I own all property." And then no one could do anything because that would be interfering with his "rights"?

In a perfect world, we would have a just way of divvying up resources. But in the real world, we have no such method. So we stick with what we've always done: might makes right. And that is why bad things happen when civilizations collide. That's not to say that "might makes right" isn't also what's happening in downtown San Francisco, but it isn't as big an issue.

Happy anniversary for the "discovery" of Botany Bay!


Filed under Anniversaries, Politics