Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Urban, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Aug 14, 2007

I never knew that the U.S. had a comptroller general, but his name is David Walker, and he made news yesterday when he produced a report (that he himself commissioned) in which he compares America to the Roman empire. Reports the Financial Times:


Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”....Mr Walker said he had mentioned some of the issues before but now wanted to “turn up the volume”. Some of them were too sensitive for others in government to “have their name associated with”.


The comparison may be apt, but because it verges on cliche, it has lost much of its effectiveness to shock, and certainly it is so grandiose that it presents no real spur to action. It makes it seem like Western civilization is failing on such a massive scale that there is nothing left to do but be glad that you we’re born now rather than 50 years later.  It hardly turns up the volume; it just seems a bit overblown. Not that he’s wrong about this:


“With the looming retirement of baby boomers, spiralling healthcare costs, plummeting savings rates and increasing reliance on foreign lenders, we face unprecedented fiscal risks,” said Mr Walker, a former senior executive at PwC auditing firm.


But the way to begin to solve these problems is not to make histrionic alarmist comparisons, but to actually try to build consensus behind pragmatic solutions. Walker advocates that politicians be more concerned with “intergenerational equity,” by which he probably means shoring up Social Security and reduce foreign debt. There’s just one problem with that: future generations can’t vote.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Aug 14, 2007

Grammy-award winning band The Flaming Lips continue to draw in fans with their out-of-this-world concerts. Formed in 1983, the band consisted of Wayne Coyne, Mark Coyne, and Michael Ivins. Later, Mark dropped out of the band, and eventually, the Flaming Lips became their standard trio of Wayne Coyne on vocals and guitar, Michael Ivins on bass, and Steven Drozd on drums. In 1990, the band signed onto Warner Bros. Records, and in 1993, released Transmissions from the Satellite Heart with their first single, “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Later, in 1999, The Flaming Lips released The Soft Bulletin, an album that received massive acclaim. Since then, they have gone on to release two more critically acclaimed albums, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and At War with the Mystics. On August 21, 2007, the band will release a DVD of their Oklahoma City concert, U.F.O.’s at the Zoo.


Trailer for U.F.O.’s at the Zoo


“Fight Test” from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots:


“The Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” from At War with the Mystics:



Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Aug 14, 2007



I was in the Louvre the other day. Perhaps the world’s most famous art museum, it is also one of the world’s largest. According to this on-line source, it has 300,000 pieces of art spread out over 100 acres of real estate. Whatever. After about the first thousand paintings and five acres traversed, the mind kind of numbs.


I don’t know if you are at all like me (who could be?—so perhaps I shouldn’t dwell on the obvious), but when my mind numbs, perspective tends to shift. A lateral slide that mimics liquid mercury rolling along a metal surface, rather than just freezing in place as it might with other folks. Thus was it that when I finally found myself in front of the Mona Lisa (well, La Joconde, to you purists)—which would have been about after 4,357 objects of art and 13 acres of stairs, escalators, marble corridors, domed halls, etc.—I found my camera doing this . . .


and this . . .


 


and this . . .


 


Call me strange. Off-kilter. Or simply a bad reporter. Always missing the main point in any story.


 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Aug 14, 2007

Musings on the Ethics of Contemporary Journalism


As author and UCLA Professor of Social Research Methodology Mike Rose once wrote in Lives on the Boundary, “Mistakes are the place where education starts.” Unfortunately, for too many journalists, mistakes are the place where good journalism ends.


For years, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics has outlined the template for good, ethical journalism. That code states, “Admit mistakes and correct them promptly,” and that sentence contains three mandates: the admission, the correction, and the speed in which a mistake is corrected.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Aug 14, 2007

In its most recent issue, BusinessWeek has a package of articles on the future of work, and not surprisingly, these mostly adopt the viewpoint of management, regarding labor as a datastream of productivity and costs. This is a common euphemistic practice, to conceal the pain of workers behind dehumanizing terminology—empowered workers become “a tight labor market” that’s responsible not for a improved standard of living for workers (for that all credit must go to management’s brilliant efforts to extract more productivity from said labor market without increasing costs) but only inflationary pressure and macroeconomic danger. This damned tight labor market is keeping the Fed from cutting interest rates and giving the stock market a boost; if only more workers would be laid off and the reserve army of the unemployed were beefed up a little bit, then we’d have ripe conditions for the good kind of growth—get more of the fruits of economic growth in the hands of passive investors rather than the workers producing it.


It’s enough to make one want to dream of a world without a parasitic management stratum, and interestingly enough, the BusinessWeek package offers a hint of one form such a world might take. One article described Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program, which seeks to match people with free time with simple jobs that can be done on computers but only with human guidance. The name Mechanical Turk is a reference to the famed hoax where a little chess genius hid inside a cabinet and pretended to be a machine. In other words, one got from the Mechanical Turk human expertise in the guise of a machine. So Amazon calls it artificial artificial intelligence—it allows corporations to use computer networks to harness uniquely human skill sets. But the crux of Amazon’s program is to liberate work from the managerial structures in which it is customarily contained—rather than show up at an appointed time and labor for a set number of hours for a by and large inflexible wage on the same tasks over and over again, the Mechanical Turk system portends relations of production in which workers would elect to work only as much as they chose to on tasks and for wages they basically select from a menu that takes into account their particular skills. This is how Amazon describes it (and I apologize in advance for the surfeit of business-ese in this excerpt):


Humans are much more effective than computers at solving some types of problems, like finding specific objects in pictures, evaluating beauty, or translating text. The Amazon Mechanical Turk web service gives developers a programmable interface to a network of humans to solve these kinds of problems and incorporate this human intelligence into their applications.
For businesses and entrepreneurs who want tasks completed, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service solves the problem of getting work done in a cost-effective manner by people who have the skill to do the work. The service provides access to a vast network of human intelligence with the efficiencies and cost-effectiveness of computers. Oftentimes, the cost of establishing a network of skilled people to do the work outweighs the value of completing it. By turning the fixed costs into variable costs that scale with business needs, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service eliminates this barrier and allows work to be completed that before was not economical.
For people who want to earn money in their spare time, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web site solves the problem of finding work that they can do wherever and whenever they want.


I bolded what seems to me the key notion here, that capital can thrive by getting rid of the overhead costs of committing to maintaining a workforce. That sounds like a bad thing unless you are enamored of the utopian possibility that this will mean much more flexibility for labor as well as producers. If you are sufficiently optimistic, you can see in work distributed over the internet an end to the sites of exploitation, the factories and offices where surplus value is extorted. And with surplus value remaining with the worker, we effortlessly move out of the era of capitalist relations into something new.


Needless to say, there is reason to be skeptical of this revolution-free path to more egalitarianism and better quality of life for workers. Turning the internet into a giant worldwide labor market is likely to cause massive amounts of “dislocation” Currently, a class divide exists between those who have access to a feel comfortable in the internet environment, and those who are afraid of breaking the entire computer by pressing the wrong button and erasing everything. The divide is in part generational but is also a matter of income and autonomy—the income to have access to the latest technological innovation, and the autonomy to teach oneself how to use it successfully. That autonomy may come from higher education, or it may be part of the apparatus that comes with a bourgeois upbringing. At any rate, the technological dispersal of work will only benefit those equipped to navigate the system, and the amount of work to be dispersed in this way will likely remain a scarce commodity, as a larger and larger bulk of jobs in the future will consist of face-to-face services—care for the elderly, processing food, nursing, etc.


Still, it’s pleasant to dream about being able to log on for a few hours to replenish your account doing whatever task that’s available that looks intriguing and then spending the rest of your time furthering your own projects, perhaps generating tasks you’d be willing to pay someone else for help with. We could all be middle managers, grunt workers and entrepreneurs all at once, depending on the time of day and the energy we’re inclined to invest.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.