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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:

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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.


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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.

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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.

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Monday, Aug 13, 2007

It’s a week of extremes at the old B&M. On the one hand you have the arrival of the latest opus by a man who makes more than just movies. Indeed, his latest work is as unruly and brilliant as ever. On the other side you have an obscure TV cartoon that made the transition to celluloid in a rather nefarious fashion. The city of Boston will never forget the fear generated by its viral marketing strategy, a plan that ended up being mistaken for a terrorist attack. In between, you’ve got an unfathomable box office hit, an unfairly dismissed thriller, an amazing documentary, and a collection of desirable double dips. Put them all together and the 14th day of August is looking like yet another retail burden on the old bundle. If you can only afford a since disc this week however, make sure you pick up our SE&L selection. It represents the best that the modern film movement has to offer:


It’s a shame that this director’s output is so infrequent that it becomes an event when he makes a new movie. What’s even more disturbing is that no one would allow the man the artistic freedom to produce and market the final results the way he wanted. David Lynch may be a lot of things – difficult, arcane, incomprehensible – but to deny his impact on cinema, and the amazing films he’s made in the process, seems downright foolish. In fact, many found this latest offering (a shot on digital experiment melding many divergent storylines and characters into a single thematic statement) to be his most daring and definitive to date. Leave it to the jaded genius to self distribute the work, carting it around to theaters all over the country for limited engagements. The DVD promises insights into the production, as well as providing a chance for those not lucky enough to live along the roadshow’s stops to witness its wonders themselves. Most will be flummoxed, while a few will be rewarded. All will have to appreciate a true creator at the top of his game.

Other Titles of Interest

Back to School (Extra Curricular Edition)

No one pegged professional comedian (in a good way) Rodney Dangerfield as a movie star. But after stealing Caddyshack from everyone else in it, he was headed for solo vehicles of his own. While Easy Money is much funnier, this oldster goes to college crack-up is definitely worth discovering. This was Rodney in his prime, banging on all six cylinders and never underestimating his growing fanbase. After this, it was all pretty much down hill.

51 Birch Street

Like Capturing the Friedmans without the horrible hot button issues, this oddly insightful documentary finds filmmaker Daniel Block discovering the truth about his parents’ 54 year long marriage. Within three months of the death of his mother, his father catches up with a past secretary, and the two marry almost immediately. Then Block discovers his mom’s diaries. What they reveal turns his adult life upside down, and argues for the notion that no one really knows their family.

Taxi Driver: Two Disc Collectors Edition

Travis Bickle is back, and ready to sweep the scum off of New York’s seedy sidewalks. One of Martin Scorsese’s undeniable masterpieces, this look at life on the fringes has been released on DVD a few times before. This presentation promises a bonus disc loaded with additional context. If you don’t already own it, what’s stopping you? This is classic cinema, period. For others, a double dip may be in order.

Wild Hogs

Every year, Hollywood has to publicly humiliate itself by offering some god-awful effort (usually a comedy) and cringe as critics cry foul. But a funny thing happened on the way to this junk pile’s journalistic drubbing – the audience ate it up. Trying to figure out how this slapdash crap became a hit will challenge every fiber of your cinematic being. It is not funny, poorly constructed, and relies almost exclusively on its dim star power to shine.


Amongst all the hype and hoopla surrounding the spring hit 300 and the imminent arrival of Spider-man, this decent little thriller failed to find room on the pop culture radar. Like Disturbia, which opened the week before and earned all the press, this throwback to the days of solid suspense was overrun by the tween take on the material. Here, Kontroll’s Nimrod Antal makes a spectacular Tinsel Town bow. Definitely should be rediscovered on DVD.

And Now for Something Completely Different
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Film for Theaters for DVD

To call Cartoon Network’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force (part of its Adult Swim nighttime lineup) a “cult” animated series would be an understatement. This show has flown so far under the channel’s routine radar that its elusiveness should be utilized in the creation of future Stealth technology. Still, for those devoted to its deranged surrealism (the show is about a talking trio consisting of a milk shake, some French fries, and a ball of beef), it’s one of the funniest ‘things’ on television. A movie seems like a creative stretch – the series itself only exists in short, 10 minute installments – and the characters do use their inherent abrasiveness to push the limits of their humor. Still, like The Simpsons Movie that finally arrived this Summer, ATHF more than managed the transition intact. Unfortunately, that meant it was still too weird for mainstream appreciation. The DVD promises to deliver even more unglued hilarity. 


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