Best Britney Spears Ever—and More

Britney SpearsIt’s your fault America. Your the ones who like hyper-produced “cute” boys and girls performing your music. You’re the ones who want all real emotion and authentic humanity taken out of your music. You are the ones who have elevated just the right reverb on the digital snare drum above songwriting craft and inspiration. And above all, you’re the ones who have allowed auto-tune distortion to soil every mainstream hit for the last decade to the point where you think its a singing style and not an algorithm for fixing inaccurate singing. So it’s your fault and I want you to shut up about it.

The issue at hand is Britney Spears’ new single, “Alien,” which someone got released with the lead vocal track un-processed. Many are saying that the problem is that it hasn’t been auto-tuned. The producer claims it was just a test track, and so shouldn’t be judged as the kind of work that Ms Spears is capable of. I’m sure both of these claims are true. And there’s one more thing: Spears, like all the other purveyors of children’s music, does not have loads of other effects put on her voice here. But before listening to this track, bear in mind that her pitch problems are not primarily on those high notes that most people are freaking out about. I suspect that if it weren’t for those high notes, few would even have noticed. So again, America: it’s your fault because you have no taste, no maturity, and very little musical sense.

My take on the song is different. I think it’s the best thing she’s ever done. I just wish all the background music were taken away. With that vocal and an acoustic guitar, it would be terrible. But that would be a major step up from what most of my fellow Americans think passes for good music.

Now I’m going to present to you some good simple music. No, I’m not going to go back to Robert Johnson. Here is Camper Van Beethoven doing Take the Skinheads Bowling. It’s simple; it’s fun; and it’s pretty well in tune (not that it is critical):

Here is Devotchka with “The Clockwise Witness”:

Here is Jules Shear doing “The Trap Door”:

And here is the greatest punk band ever, Minutemen with “Two Beads at the End”:

I don’t care if you like any of that, America. But when you demand music that is created like television commercials, don’t be surprised when all the pieces aren’t perfect on their own. What you hear on “Alien” is an actual human voice. If you don’t like it, admit that it’s the technology you care about. Embrace your dehumanization.

A Modest Proposal for Israel-Palestine

Hiroshima BombI have a modest proposal for the Israel-Palestine conflict: genocide. It’s time tested. After all, if the conflict were going on 500 years ago, the Israelis would have just gone in, slaughtered all the Palestinians who weren’t able to flee, and the conflict would be over. And would it really matter? Yes, there would be people who would be very upset. But there already are! Why should Israel care? They are the only country in the region with nuclear arms and they have the biggest military. Plus, anything the United Nations would try to do would be vetoed by the United States. So I say: go for it!

Now I know what you bleeding heart liberals will say, “Just because you got bumped out of art school by a better Jewish painter doesn’t mean you should commit a genocide against the Jewish people.” I see that point, but you have to draw a line somewhere. For example, some Palestinian idiots fire a couple of rockets into Israel wounding two people. So the Israelis respond in their usual proportional way. They didn’t go after the people that fired the rockets, of course. They just did their usual (And totally justified!) collective punishment, which killed at least 23.

This, of course, is following the kidnapping of three Israeli youths. It appears to have been a usual thing where thugs kidnap people and exchange them for money. But when it became a political issue, they thought it was best to just kill them. [Update: it now seems it was a Hamas splinter group that did it. -FM] This led to some sicko Israeli folks kidnapping a Palestinian youth and then burning him alive. So let’s see there. Step one: unpolitical act of murder by individuals. Step two: political act of torture murder by extremists. Step three: political act by extremist Palestinian faction. Step four: official Israeli attack on Palestinian population.

It’s not a good situation. And I know that many conservatives in the United States will say that the at least five Palestinian children who were killed in the recent attack should have been born to different parents or something. So given that it is perfectly acceptable to kill civilians if you think you have just cause (Defined as: whatever!) why don’t we just get systematic about this!

Of course, it will be sad to see all the Palestinians killed. But we’ll get over it. I mean who remembers the genocide of the Ottoman Empire? Who cares about the American genocide of the native peoples? All of them would be dead by now anyway. So in a hundred years, who will really care?

But let me be clear: it doesn’t have to be an Israeli genocide of the Palestinians. It could be the other way around. It is just that there are problems. One is militarily, the Palestinians really aren’t up to it. What’s more, if they did manage to do it, the United States wouldn’t be there to protect Palestine at the UN because we only believe in justifying absolutely everything that Israel ever does.

What’s really great about my idea is that the Palestinians are hardly clean in this matter. Sure, there’s about a thousand to one Israeli reaction to anything Palestinians do. But the Palestinians aren’t a bunch of Jains out sweeping the road in front of them to make sure they kill no living things. And it certainly doesn’t help that Hamas can’t decide if it’s a government or a revolutionary group. It was sad that they supported the murder of those three Israeli youths. So the point is that Israel has justification for attacking Palestine. And they don’t ever seem to be concerned about an appropriate level of force. So let’s get some of those nukes out. Let’s get this over with!

Afterword

Of course, the two countries could act as adults and not allow the extremists on both sides to destroy diplomatic efforts. But I’m sad to say that this idea is even more fanciful than my modest proposal.

Why Americans Don’t Work Less

Dean BakerDean Baker has long advocated a response to economic recessions that one never really hears about: work reductions. Suppose that there is a recession and a company decides that it needs to layoff 20% of its workforce. Instead of doing this and putting the laid-off workers on unemployment, the company could cut everyone’s work hours by 20%, and the government would make up the extra 20% in compensation. This would lead to a faster recovery where the company would again be running at full steam.

This is a system that works really well in other countries, most notably Germany. But it would be especially great in the United States because workers here are notoriously bad about taking time off. But the main thing is that it is just good economic policy. It provides more stability. And the truth is that our country produces far too much stuff anyway. Over the last many decades, other advanced economies have used increased productivity in the form of more leisure time. In the United States, at least for the last 35 years, we have used increase productivity to make the rich even richer.

Let’s think about the issue of leisure for a moment. When most people think of leisure, they imagine drinking a cold beer on a Caribbean beach. But the truth is that for most people, leisure is actually something else. Most people really do go by the old saying, “A change is better than a rest.” People putter in their gardens, they knit sweaters, they play with their children (which helps in their proper development). Leisure is not a lack of work, it is just a lack of pay. And that is why as a country we should embrace leisure. It isn’t wasted time. The only way you can see that is if they only thing that matters to you is making money. And although that might be true of the power elite, it shouldn’t be a worldview that the rest of us accept.

Today, Dean Baker wrote a wide ranging article about the problems we face today because of our lack of economic demand, High Asset Prices, the Savings Glut, Secular Stagnation, and Unemployment. After discussing the standard economic approaches to the demand problem, he notes that we could have full employment if everyone just decided to work less. For a great many people, this sounds like a great idea. And the fact is that most Americans work so much not because they need to, but because they are afraid that if they don’t work unreasonable numbers of hours, they will lose their jobs.

Still, there are a lot of people like me who do very much live to work. I’ve seen this a lot in the high tech industry where programmers just want to work ridiculous numbers of hours. But there is no reason why they need to do all that work for some company that frankly abuses such work ethics. These programmers could go home at 5:00 each night and code cool new apps or code controllers for fly sized drones.

But I don’t see us moving in this direction. And the reason is not that people wouldn’t like it. The reason is that the power elite love having a work force that is terrified of losing their jobs. So given the option of laying off 20% of a work force or cutting back hours by 20%, most owners would rather lay off the employees. For one thing, it is less disruptive to the company. But more important, it sends a message to the employees: stay in line, don’t ask for more money, work longer hours, and most of all, tenderly smooch my bottom.

GOP Picks Perfect RNC Location!

Cuyahoga River FireI don’t want to hit this too hard, but it is funny as hell. The Los Angeles Times reported, Cleveland Picked to Host 2016 Republican National Convention. I’ve never been to Ohio, much less Cleveland. And I’m sure it’s a perfectly nice city with wonderful people. And I understand: Ohio is a swing state. Good choice Republicans! I guess.

There’s just this one little thing that bothers me. It’s the Cuyahoga River. You know: the river that caught fire. And not once. According to Wikipedia, “At least 13 fires have been reported on the Cuyahoga River.” This is because it has often been one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. It’s not on fire right now, but that’s only because the Republican Party is not able to dictate environmental policy. Otherwise, I’m sure the free market would have it all ablaze.

The big city on the Cuyahoga River is, of course, Cleveland. Randy Newman was being sarcastic when he wrote:

Cleveland, city of light, city of magic!
Cleveland, city of light, you’re calling me!
Cleveland, even now I can remember,
‘Cause the Cuyahoga River
Goes smoking through my dreams!

But what could be a better symbol of the Republican Party: a river so polluted that it self-immolates. The modern Republican Party has become toxic with its mixture of insanity, stupidity, deliberate ignorance, shortsightedness, hatefulness, and greed. And through the smoke and flames it can’t see that America is drifting ever further away from it. In fact, the party hallucinates due to smoke inhalation—thinking that it is just what the country is waiting for.

“There’s a red moon rising on the Cuyahoga River”!

Burn on big party—burn on!

Gothic Novelist Ann Radcliffe

Ann RadcliffeOn this day in 1764, the pioneering Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe was born. I’ll be honest, I’m not that fond of the Gothic novel. But Radcliffe had a great influence on novelists who I don’t even think of as writing in this style. Part of this is because a lot of her work wasn’t exactly Gothic. So she influenced Jane Austen, although not directly. She parodied her in Northanger Abbey where Catherine just loves the novels of Radcliffe. Austen did this sort of thing a lot. Most people miss it today, but Sense and Sensibility is a scathing attack on the Romantics and what Austen thought was an affected love of nature.

One thing is for sure: we would not know of the Bronte sisters if it weren’t for Radcliffe. Jane Eyre definitely has that Gothic thing going on in the middle of the book with the mysterious estate. But the worst part of book is the most Gothic when Jane’s considering marrying St John and she hears Rochester’s voice from the ether, “Jane! Jane! Jane!” If I were to rewrite the the novel, she would hear, “Jane, come back to me! But first kill St John because he is the most annoying character ever!” But certainly, it was Emily Bronte who perfected that Gothic novel with Wuthering Heights. To this day, while I admire that book, I feel very strongly that Emily Bronte needed to be slapped.

The middle section of Jane Eyre is actually more in keeping with what Radcliffe wrote. In her novels, things seem strange but there is always a rational reason for it. Intellectually, she was definitely part of the Enlightenment, even if she was a big source of inspiration for the Romantics. Edgar Allan Poe was clearly aware of her work, although (as usual) he didn’t think much of her. And she was an influence far past that. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is clearly influenced by her.

Like a lot of the early novelists, I think that Radcliffe thought of herself as more a poet than a novelist. Just like Cervantes, she peppered her novels with poetry. And just like with Cervantes, everyone agrees she was a mediocre poet. Walter Scott, who was an admirer of her, noted that “her prose was poetry and her poetry was prose.” But you have to give artists credit who, while slogging out what the people want, still take the time to do what they love. I’ve always admired that about about Thomas Hardy, although in his case it is generally admitted that he was a rather good poet. And anyway, given his trajectory, any novel after Jude the Obscure was certain to cause widespread suicide.

As you can probably tell, I’ve never read any of her novels. It’s just not my kind of thing. I have read some of her poems, however. They aren’t bad — at least in a technical sense. In fact, she a fine feel for the formalism of the time. But given her reputation for evocative descriptions in her novels, it is shocking how banal her poetry is. Again, as with Cervantes, I think that the rigidity of the form suppresses the great creativity that existed in her. So I think you can take a pass on reading any of her poetry. But if you are in love the Brontes, Ann Radcliffe is probably worth checking out.

Happy birthday Ann Radcliffe!