Bad Dreams/Sweet Romance

Has pop music advanced in the last three decades? Let’s look at the evidence. Here from just three years ago, is a song that, given what it is, is quite good:

And here is pretty much an identical song from 26 years earlier:

This occurred to me today when a motorcycle drove past me blasting what I originally thought was Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) but turned out to be Bad Romance. This is not an attack on Lady Gaga—she gives the people what they want. I suppose it is an attack on the people.

Like I said, there is nothing wrong with Bad Romance. God knows, most mega-hits don’t even come close. And I’m not that keen on Sweet Dreams. But both represent about the best of their time’s meta-hits. That they are so similar[1] does not speak well of the culture. Maybe in that way, we have reached the end of history.

[1] I will allow a couple of things. First, Sweet Dreams was made on a semi-pro 8-track unit, most likely with similarly primitive effects. That makes the accomplishment all the more impressive, but the sound quality is not great. Similarly, I think the video was very good for its time, but there is no doubt that music videos have made major advances since their infancy.

You Say Potato and I Say Genetically Modified Food Product

MoneyThere is something unethical at the core of conservative thought. I even saw it in myself when I was a libertarian. At that time, I really did not want a lot of people voting because I knew that they would not vote along with my Loony Tunes ideology.

This came to my mind this morning, reading Eric Alterman at The Nation on Show Us the Money. In the article, he talks about the Center to Protect Patient Rights.

The Center to Protect Patient Rights. That sounds really good. It sounds like they go into hospitals and make sure that the patients aren’t abused.

But that’s not what they do.

Instead, they do whatever they can to stop the 50 million people without healthcare from getting it in the future. In 2010, they spent $55 million getting right wing fanatics elected. Yeah! Another do-gooder nonprofit corporation!

I don’t bring this up because it is a big surprise. “I’m shocked—Shocked!—to find that gambling is going on in here!”[2] It is just that I don’t know of many liberal organizations who hide their purpose in their names. But it seems the vast majority of conservative organizations do. Admittedly, “The National Organization for Marriage” sounds a lot better than “The National Organization to Limit Marriage Rights.”

The problem, as I see it, is that when it comes to individual issues, people skew liberal. So conservatives have to hide their intentions. You can’t say “Lynch the blacks!” But you can say, “States’ Rights!”

In addition to hiding the hateful intentions of such groups, this practice makes the policy of correctly naming groups invalid. If you set up a group to make life easier for people in wheelchairs, you can name it “People in Favor of Making Life Easier for People in Wheelchairs.”

But who would believe you?

[2] Shocked!

Heterodox Economics

Bad SamaritansI just finished Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang. It is refreshing to read an economist who attacks the free trade movement. I’ve long said that I look forward to a time when I disagree with Paul Krugman. The truth is that we disagree about some fundamental issues. But our political system is so out of balance that an economists who is at best a centrist is considered some kind of wacko leftist.

Ha-Joon Chang’s thinking is more in line with my own. A Reader[1] at Cambridge, I suspect despite his brilliance, his heterodoxy will trump all and he will never win the Nobel Prize.

In Bad Samaritans, Chang argues that the neo-liberal philosophy of free trade hurts developing nations. He shows that selective protectionism is good for weak countries trying to nurture new industries. Two primary examples of this are Japan and their protection of their auto industry and Finland with Nokia. As he points out, if these countries had allowed free trade, Toyota would now be at best a small subsidiary of GM.

The broader picture is of a world in with major countries impose policies on minor countries that give advantages to big companies over small companies. This isn’t surprising, of course. But it is chilling. I wonder if the people will take control of their world before the neo-liberal free trade fueled corporate zombie “people” destroy the whole system. How would I choose to die: from an untreated infection on a subsidence commune or from starvation inside a cardboard box in a ally in San Francisco? They both have their appeal.

Meanwhile, Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism just arrived. Now the question whether I will read it or what I should—Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train. Maybe a little of both.

[1] In the UK and other places, Lecturer is what we in the states call an Assistant Professor. A Reader is an Associate Professor. And Professor is a Full—or what we always called Fool—Professor.

Heart of a Dog

The Emerald City of OzFor the first time in decades, I watched The Wizard of Oz. When I was a kid, I didn’t like it. The Kansas scenes seemed so bleak and the Oz scenes scared me. It was pleasant to see that it is a wonderful, ridiculously sentimental film. It reminded me of a Powell and Pressburger film, but you know… for kids!

One thing that really stands out in the film is the moving camera. It looks like they were going for long takes too, but for whatever reasons they cut them up. For instance, during Somewhere Over the Rainbow, there is a disconcerting cut away to Toto. Overall, the film looks great. The Oz part is a bit too colorful for my modern eye, but I can’t help but love it. And the Kansas part is consistently gorgeous.

I even liked the choreography. It is the perfect mixture of professionalism and silliness. And you can’t complain about the songs. Of course, I would think that, given If I Only Had a Brain is probably my favorite song ever.[1]

It is a tired observation that the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion exhibit the strengths they claim to lack. Although it is true, there is one character who has the most intelligence, heart, and courage: Toto. And so I was very interested in what happened to him in a way I never did when I was younger. Sadly, I didn’t find out. Almira Gulch (AKA The Wicked Witch of the West—the best part in the movie!) still had her warrant from the police for Toto. Or if she didn’t she could get one again. Who will protect Toto?

Perhaps I should ask that of us all. In 1910, L. Frank Baum wrote The Emerald City of Oz. In it, Dorothy brings Aunt Em and Uncle Henry to live in Oz after a tornado destroys their farm, leaving them penniless. Interestingly, a hundred year old book takes a closer look at economic instability than the majority of political and economic nonfiction today.

We’ll always have Oz.[2]

[1] This isn’t what I was thinking of. I couldn’t find Livingston Taylor doing it, who I associate it with even more than Ray Bolger. This is Elvis Costello and Bill Frisell:

Oh hell, here are Ray and Judy doing their thang:

[2] That’s my second film reference. I hope you’re impressed.