iRadio Will Not Destroy Pandora

Apple SucksIt looks like Apple is going to get into the internet radio business. You’ll never believe what their going to call it. Yeah, I know: iRadio. Pretty fucking obvious. But it isn’t just the name that’s obvious. The idea is obvious. Apple will only be about the hundredth company to enter the field. And here’s the thing. They could conceivably blow away the competition. And then years from now everyone would think that Apple invented internet radio. Just like they think about everything else that Apple is famous for but didn’t do any core work creating.

Matt Yglesias suggests that Apple will indeed blow away the competition. Why? Because they don’t have to make money at it. This is an idea that, for reasons that escape me, thrills him. He makes the same argument about Amazon delivering fresh groceries. I think the problem is that he is not seeing that capitalism only works for us all if there is competition. In the long run, if Amazon or Apple create a monopoly, they will strengthen their position through political influence and raise prices. Because, as I say again and again and again, prices are not based upon manufacturing costs.

The problem with iRadio is more than just the possibility that it will destroy the smaller companies. For one thing, I’m not at all clear that will happen. And that highlights the bigger problem. Apple makes fine hardware. In general, it doesn’t offer good value. The Apple brand costs far more than it’s worth. But in general, you won’t be disappointed in their hardware. The problem is with their software. It is of surprisingly low quality. And nowhere is that seen more than in iTunes. So I assume that iRadio will be a bloated pig that is more focused on licensing issues than usefulness.

There’s no doubt that iRadio will be successful. As far as I can tell, there is no product so bad that a large fraction of Apple users won’t love it. But I have great doubts about it knocking all the competition out of the way. Rocco Pendola over at The Street wrote a great defense of Pandora, that looks at the problem from a whole different perspective. Primarily, he argues that Pandora has been in this business for 13 years—from the beginning. But more important:

Apple—and everybody else in Internet radio for that matter—does not and will not do what Pandora does with the MGP [Music Genome Project] as a discovery engine. It does not and will not have teams of music experts—working musicians and such—listening to songs all day, every day, entering seven pages worth of data about every song. It’s a process that takes 20 to 30 minutes per tune. I have seen it firsthand, looking over the shoulder of a music analyst at Pandora‘s Oakland headquarters.

The truth is, if Apple could do that, they wouldn’t. It isn’t the kind of company they are. Again: I’m not slamming Apple in a general way. They are an excellent hardware company. And I think they would be a better company overall if consumers would get past their brand obsessions. But my guess is that just like with most Apple products, I will be able to get along just fine without iRadio.

Beauty and the Dirty French Painter

Paul GauguinArbiter of men’s fashion in the early 19th century (one of the reasons they dressed so silly) Beau Brummell was born on this day in 1778. He is usually “credited” with introducing the modern suit and tie. People have speculated that was gay. Who would have thought such a thing?! Some have even speculated that Brummell and Lord Byron were lovers. You may remember Byron’s poem, “He walks in beauty because he spends 5 hours every day getting dressed.”

In 1917 on this day, Dean Martin was born. I never liked him much when I was a kid. He was just the guy who screwed up Jerry Lewis’ movies. But as with most people, I got over my love of Jerry Lewis and, perhaps less commonly, came to appreciate Martin. He is actually a funny guy. But more importantly, he’s quite a good singer. I don’t like him as much as Sinatra, but I prefer him to Tony Bennett. I’m sure he put on a hell of a show. Here’s a clip that shows this, I think; he’s performing “Volare” and “An Evening in Roma” with lots of laughs beside:

James Ivory, the great director of just about every costume drama you’ve ever seen is 85 today. Two of my favorites: A Room with a View and The Remains of the Day.

Then we get to the music stars. First, Tom Jones is 74. He annoys me personally. But I rather like his voice and I love the arrangements of his bands. Here is a good example of a kick ass band with Jones doing his thang with “It’s Not Unsual”:

And our second music star, Prince is 55 today. You may know him by another name, however: The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Or: The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Or as I like to think of him: The Artist Formerly Known as the Human Formerly Known as Prince Rogers Nelson. Take your pick. Anyway, he is one of these scary talented guys. But I’ve never really liked him. Here he is doing a song I’ve never heard that sounds very much like every other song of his I’ve heard. And I assure you it is not because I don’t “get” it. It’s fine pop music, but I know he is capable of far better:

We have three actor birthdays today. Liam Neeson is 61. One of the best things ever to come out of Saturday Night Live, Bill Hader is 35. And Michael Cera of Arrested Development is 25.

The Yellow ChristThe day, however, belongs to the great French Impressionist Paul Gauguin who was born on this day in 1848. When I was at the Getty Center last year, I have a revelation while in its impressionism room. Those artists I liked least when I was younger, I now like the most. This is especially true of Paul Cezanne, who I think is by far the most interesting of the impressionists. But it is also true of Gauguin, whose primitivism speaks to be greatly. For example, The Yellow Christ is great religious art from a time that just couldn’t manage it. I think it is better even than any of Dali’s religious paintings.

Andrea has indicated that Gauguin was not a good man who treated his family badly. I don’t find any evidence of that. He strikes me more as a man with marginal mental health who was finally banished by his family when he was of no economic value to them. Regardless, there is no doubt that he lived a scandalous life. He probably had more illegitimate children than the five legitimate ones he had with his wife. And then there are the sexual relationships that he had with prepubescent Tahitian girls. (I would like to think this did not include coitus, but really I don’t want to know.) Regardless, it doesn’t much matter. I don’t have a problem overlooking terrible personal lives in artists I admire. (Rape is another matter, though.) It is more the vile beliefs that put me off.

Happy birthday Paul Gauguin!

Why Democrats Must Stand Firm on Immigration

John CornynThis afternoon, Greg Sargent wrote, Dems Vow Hard Line in Immigration Reform’s Next Phase. It is about John Cornyn’s amendment to make the bill “stronger” by increasing border security. People in Washington are claiming that by appealing to conservatives with the amendment like Cornyn’s, they might be able to get 70 Senators to vote for the new bill. What’s more, that might push the House to vote on it. There are so many things wrong here!

To begin with, we are back to the conventional wisdom from after last year’s election that Obama’s win would somehow make Republicans in Congress more compliant. I said it then and I’ll say it now: what the “country” thinks doesn’t mean a thing to a particular member of congress; they don’t get elected by a national vote; all they care about is how things look in their districts and states. So what do House Republicans care if 100 Senators vote for a bill? What’s more, Boehner needs to please House members. It might be a little uncomfortable for him to refuse to vote on a popular Senate bill, but I don’t see how it actually matters to his seat or his speakership.

But what I find most offensive is the idea that if the Democrats just make the bill conservative enough, then the Republicans will vote for it. Haven’t we already gone through this time and again? Didn’t we start with a conservative healthcare bill for the purpose of getting overwhelming support for it? And that turned out like this: not a single Republican voted for it. Not one. This is the modern Republican approach to legislation: push bills as far to the right as possible and then don’t vote for them anyway. Anyone thinking that 16 Senate Republicans are going to vote for the immigration bill is delusional.

There is another side to this: are the Democrats supposed to stand for nothing? I know in CentristLand, passing any law at all is good. Because: bipartisanship! So this bill could just fly through Congress if Democrats were willing to vote for a law that had nothing in it they liked. Why not take out the path to citizenship? After all, that’s the real stumbling block here. All this extra border security is just a way for conservatives to signal to their base that they hate those dirty Mexicans as much as ever. But the point of legislation is to improve policy, or at least to try to do so. I understand that to House Republicans, who have now voted to repeal Obamacare 37 times, it is really about “sending a message.” But that’s just a pathology of the modern Republican Party—not something the rest of us should take seriously.

So I’m pleased that the Democrats are pushing back against this nonsense. As I’ve long argued: the Republicans are so unreasonable because the Democrats have been a damned sight too reasonable. What’s more, Republicans seem to respond well when Democrats play tough. In fact, there is a lot of bully in the modern Republican Party: fight back and see them fold. But the way it is, the only thing the Republicans have to worry about is their crazy base. They need to fear that the Democratic Party will push every advantage and make them look like the unpatriotic idiots they are. Trying to pacify them hasn’t work because it can’t.

Citizens: the New Enemy of the State

Enemy of the StateI didn’t see Enemy of the State until 2003. I was over at my sister’s and it came on TV. The film grabbed me instantly. It’s directed by Tony Scott, with all of his wonderful excesses. And then there was Gene Hackman taking another turn at the reasonable paranoia of Harry Caul in one of my very favorite films, The Conversation. What was a real surprise to me was that the film was not new—it was released in 1998. It seemed so obviously an attack on the recent huge increase in the surveillance state after 9/11. It wasn’t that I was naive and thinking that this stuff suddenly appeared as a result of the Bush administration. But the film seemed almost exactly what happened: government leaders using fear as political cover to greatly curtail civil liberties.

Most people by now have seen Lindsey Graham telling Fox News, “I’m a Verizon customer; I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government, if the government’s gonna make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist with somebody in the United States. I don’t think you’re talking to terrorists; I know you’re not. I know I’m not so we don’t have anything to worry about.” With all due respect to Graham, this entirely misses the point. For one thing, we don’t know what the government is doing with those records. For another thing, data use creep is a well known phenomenon. I can well see the definition of terrorism creeping from “people who bomb us” to “people who sell drugs to us” to “people who cheat on their wives.”

But the biggest issue is the Enemy of the State problem. Under most circumstances, Graham is right: we have nothing to worry about. But we do have something to worry about if we start publicly complaining about government policy. We’ve already seen the “War on Terror” used against peace activists. For the average American Idol fan, there is nothing to fear. But that’s also true under most autocratic governments. The fact that Lindsey Graham and the hosts of Fox and Friends have nothing to fear is irrelevant.

The film Enemy of the State has many problems. For one thing, satellites can’t be moved around like that. But there were three things that Brill says that seem relevant to the recent revelations about the government’s spying programs. First, how long:

The government’s been in bed with the entire telecommunications industry since the forties. They’ve infected everything. They get into your bank statements, computer files, email, listen to your phone calls… Every wire, every airwave. The more technology used, the easier it is for them to keep tabs on you. It’s a brave new world out there. At least it’d better be.

Second, how easy:

In the old days, we actually had to tap a wire into your phone line. Now with calls bouncing off satellites, they snatch ’em right out of the air.

Third, how bad:

Fort Meade has 18 acres of mainframe computers underground. You’re talking to your wife on the phone and you use the word “bomb”, “president”, “Allah”, any of a hundred keywords, the computer recognizes it, automatically records it, red-flags it for analysis. That was 20 years ago.

It’s alright to think it’s hopeless, because it probably is. But it is wrong to think it isn’t a problem.

Here is a good segment on the whole issue by Cenk Uygur:

Afterword

A big problem I run into with liberals these days is the idea that this isn’t a problem because we can trust Obama. Of course, it isn’t phrased that way. It’s mostly just an attitude: liberals shrug off these revelations or claim that Bush did the same thing. Well, that’s the point! First, we all elected Obama because we thought he would be better than Bush. Second, even if we can trust him, he will only be president for another three and a half years. Then we will have someone else. Eventually, we will have a Republican. And regardless, eventually we will have a really bad person in the job who will abuse these powers in a way that will shock even the American public. This is important stuff.

What Politicians Should Respond To

Dylan MatthewsRemember yesterday when I reported on Ezra Klein’s most recent false equivalence? He rightly noted that the Republicans are not changing their position on the budget deficit even though the situation has changed substantially. But since he attacked the Republicans, he had to attack the Democrats. So he said that the Democrats have not come to terms with the fact that the Republicans are fine with the Sequester. According to Klein, the Democrats should be negotiating with the Republicans to make the law work better rather than holding out for a deal to replace it.

But then, just this morning, Klein’s own subordinate at Wonk Blog, Dylan Matthews reported, Will a Fight Over Defense Spending Blow Up the Sequester? He started the article almost taunting Klein, “Turns out Republicans aren’t willing to cut defense down to sequestration levels after all.” Of course, the Republicans just want to get rid of the defense Sequester cuts and keep everything else. That’s the usual way: Republicans think compromise is where they get everything they want and the Democrats get nothing. Hence the phrase: fair and balanced.

The point of all of this is that false equivalence is a tricky maneuver. It is really easy to be shown wrong. Yesterday, I called it, “I think he’s stretching here. The Republicans have had years to adjust to falling deficits and the Democrats have had just two months from the very beginning of the Sequester.” This doesn’t mean that the Democrats really can hammer out a deal with the Republicans. But it is simply wrong to state that the Republicans are perfectly happy with the Sequester. In fact, they are anything but; unfortunately, Klein is being naive, taking them at their word about it when we always knew most of them were just positioning themselves.

Whether Klein’s broader point is true, I can’t say. I already argued that if we really look at what the Republicans and Democrats want, they are acting rationally and are in no way ignoring new information. But fundamentally, this doesn’t even matter. Politicians aren’t supposed to respond to facts about the economy. They are supposed to react to us, their constituencies. We are the ones who are supposed to respond to the facts. And in general, I think we do an alright jobs of that. The problem is that the politicians don’t so much respond to us.

Media Responsible for Debt Hysteria

Matt YglesiasThere is something that Matt Yglesias wrote that I quote all the time. In it, he talks about how those running around screaming about the federal debt are not really interested in it. He compares them to a hypothetical group of Quakers claiming that we must cut spending on the military in order to reduce the deficit. If the Quakers then rejected raising taxes to reduce the deficit, we would figure that the Quakers didn’t really care about the deficit; they just used it as an excuse to cut military spending. Well, the same thing is going on with the deficit scolds: they claim to want to reduce the deficit, but really they care about other things—cutting entitlements mostly.

Yesterday, Yglesias presented a chart from the Center for American Progress (pdf) that shows that the medium term budget deficit has largely been fixed. Fundamentally, he is making the same argument that Ezra Klein did yesterday: that the changing facts are not changing behavior in Washington. But yesterday, I countered that Klein was being naive. Conservatives are not calling for reducing the deficit because they care about the deficit. If they did, they wouldn’t try to lower taxes and increase military spending.

Yglesias puts it much the same way that I do:

We’ve done things to reduce budget deficits, in other words, but we haven’t really acted to make it tougher for people to retire. But people don’t like to say they want to make it hard for people to retire so instead they talk about “the deficit,” and they’re not going to stop.

And that takes us back to the Quaker problem. Why is it that the mainstream media still take these budget hawks seriously? Really, why did they ever? A budget hawk like Romney who wanted to reduce taxes and increase spending on an already bloated military should have been laughed out of politics. But he wasn’t. Most people pretended as though he was some honest broker.

Now the situation is far more absurd. We’ve managed to bring the deficit down without touching Social Security and Medicare. So what are the deficit scolds going to do now? They’re going to lie and obfuscate. They are going to create calculators like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget that are designed to frighten more than enlighten. But the issue that Klein and Yglesias don’t discuss is that it doesn’t matter what those people do. What matters—what is really important—is that the media take these people seriously. They pretend that they really do care about the deficit. The the real question is when the media will start treating these people as the charlatans they are.