28 December 2006

MLA in progress

That yearly occasion of joy, despair, and drinking known as the MLA is
in full swing and I just came from a panel more or less on blogging that
included none other than academic blogger extraordinaire <a
href="http:\\www.michaelberube.com>Michael Berube</a>. With great wit
and humor as becomes professors of literature, these panelists (or at
least two of the three, as the third didn't really talk about blogs)
pronounced blogs to be good things.

For Berube, they are primarily outreach, a continuation of his
long-standing call for literature professors to engage the general
public and present their work outside the rigorous and very limited
world of scholarly journals (and of course MLA meetings).

Good stuff all in all, but I have a panel to catch, so no more details.

I know you're all disappointed.

22 December 2006

Talking Recording Industry, Part Two.

So...the music business. The Recording Industry has existed for around a century, becoming a dominant force in the music business sometime around World War One. It's important to note that the culture industry, of which the recording industry is part, comes to prominence around this time, with the advancement of movies and records and radio. It was indeed revolutionary for consumers to be able to purchase copies of their favorite symphonies, etc. Walter Benjamin's essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" gets to the heart of the matter:
...technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself. Above all, it enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record. The cathedral leaves its locale to be received in the studio of a lover of art; the choral production, performed in an auditorium or in the open air, resounds in the drawing room.

In other words, the art becomes portable and private and can be repeatedly consumed at the purchaser's leisure. It's a tremendous advancement that also creates a need for a distribution network: from the point of production (the studio time) to the store shelf. With commercial success requiring the distribution network, the record labels by and large controlled the head of the distribution chain (without a record contract you could certainly book your own studio time, but who was going to distribute or promote your product?).

This model has collapsed. Anyone with a halfway decent computer program and/or an 8 track can create reasonable recorded music and distribute it themselves for almost no cost. Between youtube.com and myspace.com, for example, distribution is free and controlled entirely by the artist. The drawback, of course, is that you won't make any money off your downloads. However, that's the Recording Industry's fault across the board: the money will no longer be available for the recorded product.

I see a revival of local music scenes and regional sounds, but that does not mean the demise of megastars -- just the demise of the worst the pop world has to offer. Small labels will remain -- they're more labors of love than they are money-makers -- but the era of the big label is over.

Of course, I could be wrong. Capitalism has an amazing way of co-opting movements and technology to serve its needs (one need only examine the marketing techniques directed at the 1960's counterculture to see how revolution against the system quickly turned into revolution through consumption: being a revolutionary became and image not an activity).

20 December 2006

A Sea Change: Part One

Today I happened to cruise by the soon to be closed Tower Records in downtown DC. For those of you who don't know, Tower Records, a nationwide retail giant that was last hip and/or cool sometime around 1988, went bankrupt and basically the past month or so has been one long and very complete liquidation of store inventory.

When I first visited the DC store back in the early 1990s, I realized immediately that you had to be some sort of freak to get anywhere in the hiring process. The main floor was staffed with people who thought they were Trent Reznor circa 1995, but weren't, had large numbers of piercings and tatoos before that was so gauche, and basically had an attitude problem (dude...you work in a chainstore...it's like a CVS but with records). Prices were high and Smash Records in Georgetown (yes, before Smash turned into some sort of faux-punk clothing boutique) had a far better selection of punk and indie in their little basement.

Anyway, as I was sifting through the remains of Tower, finding absolutely nothing (seriously, the only band name I recognized was The Soup Dragons, and I wasn't really in the mood), I started thinking of what the demise of one of the most visible titans of the music distribution business meant. Most independent shops have closed up, although some survive. Crooked Beat in Adams Morgan is great, but it's easy to remember that it replaced -- after a hiatus of a few years -- another record store in that location, Flying Saucer Discs. And of course, DCCD is no longer.

We've essentially hit a point where record stores (to use the archaic term) can't survive except in very select niche markets. The once ubiquitous mall record store (think National Record Mart or Wall to Wall or Listening Booth) is no longer. Sam Goody is still around, but it's been reinvented as a gaming outlet rather than a music store. Today people buy music -- when they don't steal it -- from online retailers like Amazon or iTunes and big box stores that stock music but don't really rely on it for their daily bread (Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target). And the brick and mortar retailers have the shittiest selection of music ever. No depth and very little breadth.

None of these observations should be new to anyone who buys music or has an interest in the music scene. Or to B-School tools who are simply interested in business models. It's fairly straightforward stuff. But it got me thinking about what the collapse of the recording industry itself will mean. That's Part Two.

18 December 2006

Is it really one week to Christmas?

It's been busy. On Friday I successfully defended my dissertation and successfully did a little but not much drinking in the course of celebrating. Saturday and Sunday meant the final weekend of Xmas tree selling, and I am certainly glad of that. It's pretty tiring having no days off for the past three weeks.

Worst of all, of course, is that I haven't had much of a chance to plug the holes in my Christmas shopping list. I've got some catching up to do, and I'm really not interested in going out on Saturday the 23rd to do it. Might be too late for mail-order, too. I'm thinking perhaps I'll just buy a bunch of popsicle sticks and make everyone some popsicle stick houses with glue and paint and see how that goes. It works for kids.

My wife got me the Gob Iron CD for Christmas, then decided it was too depressing as a Christmas gift and gave it to me early. It's a project by Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt) and Anders Parker. The title is "Death Songs for the Living," and it's mainly some traditionals with an original thrown in. If you like the roots rock/folk tradition it's a hell of an album, but it will not cheer you up.

15 December 2006

If you don't know me you can call me Doctor Cuff

As of sometime this Friday afternoon I officially left the ranks of ABD
and joined the ranks of PhD.

14 December 2006

Two things: One big, one small. Not in that order.

Two Items.

First item: as a quick follow-up to yesterday's post, I'd like to say that I am now regretting signing up for the "Small Penis Support Group Newsletter," because apparently they sell their mailing list to all sorts of direct email merchants. Today, Ms. Vetrone Natalika wrote to me informing me that "It's Time to make it bigger!" Disappointment came, however, when I realized that Ms. Natalika's offer was nearly word for word the same as Ms. Tassos's offer of a day ago.

Second item: I found great irony in this statement from the late dictator and mass murderer Augusto Pinochet's grandson (who serves as a captain in the Chilean army -- or did: the Chilean army discharged him following his paean to fascism):
"He was a man who defeated at the height of the Cold War the Marxist model, which tried to impose its totalitarian model not by vote, but more directly by force of arms," the officer said.

I've heard of revisionist history, but this one takes the cake. Salvador Allende was actually elected by popular vote, and it was Pinochet's force of arms that imposed its totalitarian model over the democratically elected Allende. But the U.S. knows all about that.

13 December 2006

Everyone has something to sell.

I got an email today from someone I didn't know informing me that "Big Guys have Big sausage." I hadn't really stopped to think about it much, but it's relatively true that most butchers I've ever come across (and I'm old enough to remember when you used to go to a butcher for meat, not a supermarket) were on the portly side.

Apparently, though, the emailer, one Camilli Tassos, wasn't talking about anyone in the butcher business or abattoir profession, even though her email assured me that "Not only a larger meat will make you feel better, it will make you look better!" I suppose I could overlook the comma splice, since email is something of an informal medium.

Ms. Tassos was very cordial, though, and opened her email, "Salute sir," which is very nice, as it's always good to be called "sir," if you're a man. She then told me, interestingly enough, that "Girls love big weenie," and more importantly, I suppose, she told me that "If you don't have one -- GET ONE!" The all-caps and exclamation point imperative got my attention, let me tell you.

I couldn't help thinking about how I might get one, either from one of those naughty stores in Dupont or maybe through a mail order catalog, but Ms. Tassos confided to me a few paragraphs later that none of that was necessary; I could in fact "get a months supply and see the difference! No Pumps! No Surgery! No Exercises!"

The no exercise bit got me pretty excited, because one thing I certainly try to avoid is exercise, and what's more, she promised me "Safe Results Or Your Money Back!" I was a little deflated to see that Ms. Tassos apparently punctuated every sentence with an exclamation point, but I suppose the excitement of bringing such a valuable product to market probably got the better of her.

I'm still not exactly clear what Ms. Tassos is talking about, but it is nice to have a money back guarantee.

12 December 2006

As the flames rise, Bush picks up his fiddle again.

It's pretty clear by now that the Iraq Study Group has wasted its time coming out with a report that takes the Bush Administration to task for everything from the way it has been running the Iraq Debacle to the way it fails to engage in diplomacy with any of its adversaries. Bush brought in a few hand-picked "experts" to cast doubt on the report's validity so that he can continue to ignore the chorus of voices who have told him since before the war started that it was a mistake.

Let's remember, if we can, that this President not only had no foreign policy credentials (many Presidents don't), but also had no desire to attain them. He scoffed at the notion that he should learn about foreign countries and their leaders, and his followers accused the Press of playing "gotcha" politics when it exposed his sad lack of world knowledge. Let us please remember that this President is essentially the stereotype of the ugly American: the ignorant, callous, and clueless lout. In short, he is an asshole.

So his experts (two academics and three retired generals) came in and they had a chat. To tell how serious it was, the Post reports that "The military experts met with Bush, Vice President Cheney and about a dozen aides for more than an hour." Wow. More than an hour? And then what...was it Bush's nap time or was it time to feed Cheney a raw steak? Anyone who's been in the room with more than one academic should know that it takes close to an hour to get the introduction out of the way. Bush has had blackouts that last longer than that.

Not surprisingly, the generals want more money (even though they're retired), and these so-called academics agreed:
But the five agreed in telling Bush that the Army and Marine Corps both need to be bigger, and also need bigger budgets.

Are we really interested in being a nation that seems to exist for the subsistence of its military? I don't think so. These hogs already steal the lion's share of our tax dollars, both for their current operations and for servicing the debt to pay for their overruns. Some calculations have the military chewing up 49% of our money. The government itself estimates the percentage at 19%, a figure that doesn't include overspending and payment for past wars.

Needless to say, this boondoggle will continue for the near future, and all of our children will pay for it (or pass it on to their children).

11 December 2006

One of those days.

Well I was going to write about Augusto Pinochet and the support that the U.S. and the U.K. gave to that dictator and others, but I've been beaten to that punch.

Anyway, my daughter is sick and so I'm home from work. It's an awful thing when a 20 month old is sick, because they really can't tell you what's wrong and they don't understand a whole lot about what you're saying. They do, however, know that they feel rotten.

07 December 2006

Rock a bye baby, in the treetop...

Mary Cheney certainly is an interesting case. Here we have the very out daughter of one of the great panderers to the hate-mongers who has become news once again over the revelation that she's pregnant.

Who doesn't recall John Edwards's ridiculous attacks on Cheney during the vice-presidential candidates debate back in 2004? Here Edwards had the very essence of evil directly in front of him and he chose to fight the devil on his own battlefield, trying to stir up hate by insinuating something amiss with Mary Cheney. It was so pathetic that Saturday Night Live lampooned it very effectively. Edwards would have been far better off going after Cheney's own record of hate, such as his vote in Congress to keep Nelson Mandela in prison (Cheney was a big supporter of the racist Apartheid government of South Africa...surprise, surprise), and kept at it. Instead, he chose to pander to the hatemongers himself.

Anyway, back to Mary Cheney. Is it her fault that her father is perhaps one of the most evil and uncivil men ever to hold high office in our government? Do we hold her responsible for being born to an unholy couple, one of whom cut his teeth as part of the no-holds-barred criminal administration of Richard Nixon and the other of whom headed up a National Endowment for the Humanities under Reagan that began eliminating or critiquing awards for women and minorities and whose more current pet project ACTA (Association of College Trustees and Alumni) published a blacklist of professors who weren't sufficiently right wing for them?

No, we shouldn't hold her responsible for being the spawn of such utterly asinine parents. It isn't her fault. However, it is her fault for not standing against their complicity with the right-wing hate attack that the elder Cheneys have promulgated throughout their careers in "public service." Hadn't she learned anything from an earlier era, an era in which her father Dick, ensconced in his Washington offices, surely would have recoiled from the chant "Silence Equals Death" coming from ACT-UP?

Here's what a spokesperson for one of Dick Cheney's allies, the fascist Concerned Women of America, had to say:
Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America described the pregnancy as "unconscionable."
"It's very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father," said Crouse, a senior fellow at the group's think tank. "They are encouraging people who don't have the advantages they have."

"Unconscionable" is a pretty strong word. However, if you read her comments a bit more deeply, what she's really upset about is that this "celebrity couple" (read: well off) might encourage the less fortunate to procreate as well. And of course, for all you heterosexual single mothers, it's nice to see your experiences invalidated as well.

I wonder if Mary Cheney's baby will be invited to the White House?

06 December 2006

Nice work if you can get it.

DC Council is set to give themselves a massive raise in the near future. A councilmember's job, which by the way is considered part-time, currently pays $92,000 a year; not bad for part-time work, especially in a city where the median income lingers around $50,000.

However, that's not good enough, apparently. Phil Mendelson took the COLA angle:
Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who proposed the new council salary, said the increase was equal to the cost-of-living rise over the past eight years. Council members last received raises in January 1999, but the increase makes them the highest-paid council members in the region.

Phil may be right, but I'm not aware of too many other part-time employees that have the power to give themselves retroactive COLA raises. Still, who can argue with a nice Christmas bonus like a $22,000 plus raise for part-time work?

Speaking of bonuses, if I'm not too sick of it all I might take on the idiocy that surrounds the DC library brouhaha, an issue that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the council members simply don't deserve their self-approved raises.

05 December 2006

War as employment scheme.

You can go back to Shakespeare, and probably beyond that, to read the literature about war as a profiteers paradise. Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children is a great modern treatment of war profiteering (Brecht seemed to be pretty interested in the subject, as it appears also in A Man's A Man). Now, of course, the Bush Administration dispenses with the whole idea of the war profiteer as adjunct or side-effect of the war and in the process exposes them as one of the neocons' wet dreams of war: war as a tool to open markets.

The Washington Post reports today that the number of government contractors nearly equals the number of soldiers in Iraq. Apparently, there are 100,000 government contractors -- i.e. war profiteers -- tooling around Iraq, many of them performing functions that the army privatized a while ago such as feeding the troops. We all know about the sleazy contracts doled out to Haliburton (which, surprise, surprise, just happens to be Vice President Dick "The Puppetmaster" Cheney's old firm) that are costing the taxpayers billions, but that firm isn't the only pair of greedy hands looking to feed at the government's ill-watched trough:
In addition to about 140,000 U.S. troops, Iraq is now filled with a hodgepodge of contractors. DynCorp International has about 1,500 employees in Iraq, including about 700 helping train the police force. Blackwater USA has more than 1,000 employees in the country, most of them providing private security. Kellogg, Brown and Root, one of the largest contractors in Iraq, said it does not delineate its workforce by country but that it has more than 50,000 employees and subcontractors working in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

And a bang-up job these contractors are doing. Blackwater USA is basically a mercenary firm, the type of guys who back in the 1980's were reading Soldier of Fortune and wishing they'd been around in the 1970's, when a mercenary could find ready work in any number of third world civilian repression operations.

"Government contractor" sounds so much better than "mercenary," though, doesn't it?

04 December 2006

Weekend Report: Defenses and Conifers

So Friday came and went, and my wife is now a doctor. She beat me by 14 days (if I pass, that is...). After the defense, a good time was had by all.

Saturday and Sunday meant slinging trees for my son's elementary school, and it was a good two days: brisk but not freezing with clear skies meant we had a lot of foot traffic and happy holiday shoppers looking to support a local school and pick up a tree in the meantime.

You can get a cheaper tree at Home Depot, but Home Depot isn't going to put a phys. ed. instructor in our school or pay for some of our field trips. The tree sale is our school's biggest fundraiser and we hope to sell some 300+ trees by the time it's over. We'll be out there again next weekend, the 9th and 10th, on the corner of 17th and R NW on the patio of the Dupont Italian Kitchen, who have generously donated the space for us to sell trees.

After moving trees all weekend I'm a little sore, but it's that good kind of sore like after a good workout (I seem to remember working out once in the 1990's and it felt like that). I didn't even get a chance to read the Sunday paper.

01 December 2006

I'm hawking trees now.

This weekend and next you can purchase your very own xmas (or solstice
or whatever) tree and help out a local public school.

17th and R NW, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at the Dupont Italian Kitchen.

We're selling trees, wreaths, and stands, and of course donations are
welcome, too. 50% of the purchase price is tax deductible, which is
good, since we're running a fundraiser and not a bargain counter.

Come one, come all.