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Monday, Jun 26, 2006

Nothing gets economists excited like a good road privatization. Privatization is usually in theory intended to create a market, and economiss love their markets and their magical efficiency. Most noneconomists probably don’t want to have to shop for roads to drive on (or shop for mail carriers or retirement services or electricity or water or what have you) because we like to think there is no room for competition in these services; they are simply provided or not provided. This is fiction, of course, but a useful one; if there is only one provider, no one can feel like they are getting second-rate service. (I know, that sounds like a justificiation for a Soviet system for universal inadequecy, but there must be nothing worse then to be aware you are getting a second-rate education or drinking second-rate water because you can afford better and your society doesn’t give a damn about you.) The existence of several road companies forces me to make a choice that is likely to based on limited information and likely to induce unnecessary stress. Privatization enhances efficiency (theoretically) at the expense of the peace of mind of most customers, who suddenly have more burdens of choice to deal with in areas where they don’t want it. Drivers don’t want a market in roads, they just want a road to exist and be maintained.


Richard Posner and Gary Becker comment extensively on the recent sale of the Indiana toll-road to Spanish and Australian interests. (Ironic, considering many Interstates were originally built for national-security reasons, in imitation of Nazi autobahns.) Becker in particular is excited because he thinks this will inspire competition in road building and management, which should drive down costs and enhance services and perhaps relieve congestion. But customers are generally used to roads costing nothing and are willing to pay the price of sitting in traffic rather than see the highways become a class-ridden system where auto-aristocrats pay for private roads and the rest of us suffer on broken down public roads that no one has any incentive to fix, once the government washes its hands of the business. Roads will no longer be something we travel down together; they will become infected with connotations of status, like every other kind of positional good.


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Monday, Jun 26, 2006

Surely Alan Freed’s ghost must be chuckling that payola is alive though not-so-well.  Thanks to NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (and not the self-appointed moral guardians at the FCC), another major label had to pay up recently for its flagrant misdeeds: EMI settles ‘pay-for-play’ probe.  What’s most amusing and interesting is that some of the payoffs when to support what are their biggest acts: Coldplay, Gorillaz.  Remember one year ago when EMI sadly admitted that its bottom line was hitting the bottom because its cash cows had delayed their albums?  Even Chris Martin was disgusted by his own company’s pathetic state.  Turns out that they were more desperate than he thought, having to line the pockets of some radio programmers just to make sure these bands did strike it big.  How effective it was might be open to some debate but the Coldplay and Gorillaz CD’s did deliver the sales.  And what’s the moral of the story?  Even the biggest sellers of the majors need a push just to make sure they keep selling.  Doesn’t bode well for the industry now, does it…?


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Saturday, Jun 24, 2006

John Updike has just discovered this crazy new thing called “the Internet” and it has him pretty pissed off. Apparently people who haven’t been carefully groomed by the publishing industry can just go and write whatever they want and reach a public there. How dare they? And what’s worse, people can browse the entire expense of textual information without having to set foot in book stores in Harvard Square or on 5th Avenue in New York, where they can be assessed by the gatekeepers of high culture and discouraged from touching the holy tomes with their grubby hands if they are not the right sort. Why, they can just type in what they are looking for into a “search engine”—barabarous thing, engines—and out pours a diarrheal rush of information, which they are obviously too stupid to sift through, which is sure to pollute their fragile eggshell minds with falsity. And readers, uppity with their ability to aggregate a wider supply of information, will become text processors, picking and choosing what parts of books they want to read and ignoring the author’s manorial right to dictate to them the terms of their passivity. It’s pretty horrible isn’t it? Hopefully Congress will step in and put a stop to this “Internet” or at least put grownups like the cable and telecom companies in charge of what can be disseminated across its lines.


Does Updike realize what a reactionary he is? Stupid question—of course he doesn’t. But to romanticize the glories of wandering aimlessly through bookstores for inspiration and use that as evidence that the Internet should be stifled to preserve the magic of the book is just plain silly. It seems the kind of backward-looking conservative argument you make when you feel your own power and livelihood threatened. So you mount your pedestal and impugn the technology that threatens you, dub it “Marxist” in an ad hominem attack, accuse those working to forward the technology of short-sightedness and utopianism, call them the retrograde reactionaries. Yes, Kevin Kelly’s article for the NYT Magazine about the possibility of a universal library was a bit overheated and rife with futuristic glee at what change technology promises. But Updike distorts it entirely to deduce that the only thing techology promises is the destruction of the author’s right to hide himself away. “Has the electronic revolution pushed us so far down the path of celebrity as a summum bonum that an author’s works, be they one volume or 50, serve primarily as his or her ticket to the lecture platform, or, since even that is somewhat hierarchical and aloof, a series of one-on-one orgies of personal access?” Updike pines for the days when simply being selected to be published was enough to assure your significance, and then you could sit back and bask in notoriety via your proxy, the books in the stores. You didn’t need to promote it, because the means of production were onerous enough to eliminate competition. Publishing was essentially an oligopoly. But the Internet democratizes publishing, and makes the marketplace more contentious. It bruises tender Updike’s sensibility, and he resents that he must face competition, that he must sully himself in the world to make his living. “As the author is gradually retired from his old responsibilities of vicarious confrontation and provocation, he has grown in importance as a kind of walking, talking advertisement for the book.” That is, rather than having the aristocratic right of transcending the world of public affairs and commenting on them from some lofty, untouchable position, authors now actually have to be much more accountable. So to answer Updike’s fatuous, pompous question: “In imagining a huge, virtually infinite wordstream accessed by search engines and populated by teeming, promiscuous word snippets stripped of credited authorship, are we not depriving the written word of its old-fashioned function of, through such inventions as the written alphabet and the printing press, communication from one person to another — of, in short, accountability and intimacy?”—No. If he can possibly believe that the Internet with its explosion of social networks, journalling, blogging, instant messaging and e-mailing, is undermining communications and removing intimacy from public discourse, then he is more self-deluded than his navel-gazing (or penis-gazing, rather) fiction would lead you to believe. The Intenet brings dead texts like his own back to life by allowing people to work with them much more actively. But since Updike won’t be allowed to control or profit from such manipulations, he’d rather not know about them. They hurt his tender authorial feelings. The very idea of it makes him think about having to go out in public and reassert his authority over his own work and bury it anew, safely in the narrow tomb of his own moribund opinion. The idea that his work could be subject to a community of perspectives is “ominous” to him—he prefers to browbeat readers one at a time, so he can remain always master and the reader always the servant. This is why he fetishizes the lonely one-on-one relation of bookreader and author; it’s the scenario that preserves his mastery and his reader’s enfeeblement: “It is the site of an encounter, in silence, of two minds, one following in the other’s steps but invited to imagine, to argue, to concur on a level of reflection beyond that of personal encounter, with all its merely social conventions, its merciful padding of blather and mutual forgiveness.” Yes, forgiveness is only so much blather; what’s important is being forced to follow in the author’s footsteps and guaranteeing the author be the only recourse to any questions that path inspires. If this is beyond a mere personal encounter, it’s because it’s been elevated in Updike’s mind to something almost religious, the private relationship of a penitent reader confronting his God in the form of Updike. If Updike fears having his work contextualized in the greater sphere of other texts, perhaps its because his work can’t bear the scrutiny. He fears his readers, allowed to communicate with each other as they read his puerile accounts of masculinity, will dismiss him altogether, reject the worn path his mind repeatedly lays out.


Anyway, the whole notion that the Internet reduces the significance of text is ludicrous—what it does is force people to do more with it to earn a living by it while opening up more opportunites for people to earn such livings. It certainly doesn’t threaten individuality, unless individuality can mean only isolation. (Updike’s right when he refers to himself as a “surly hermit”) And it doesn’t dull the edge of ideas; if anything it reveals them in surprising places, sending them often to cut back against the grain the author intended. The seriousness with which a reader approaches a text doesn’t depend on what surface the words are printed on. May as well decry the destruction of “intimacy” when readers stopped reading the handwritten papyri of scribes. Updike would probably concur with that though—an ideal situation, where the limitations of textual reproduction kept the reading public to a size small enough where its every interpretation could be controlled.


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Friday, Jun 23, 2006
by PopMatters Staff


The Dr. Octagon Chronicles


DJ ESE featuring Bisc1 “Perfect World” (Life During Wartime Mix)
[MP3]


The Return of Doctor Octagon, Chapter 8: Dj ESE & Bisc1 “Perfect World” (Life During Wartime Remix)


Rob Sonic, Mike Relm, The Gray Kid and the staff of OCD stood behind the front door staring at it. Behind them, staring along with them via webcam were the other members of the Decipher project. It was time for an epic battle, and they all knew it. They wanted to believe from everything that had happened that Dr. Octagon was trying to present mankind a path to a better world, and this pesky alien tribe of Gorillas was trying to prevent him, and so they must fight. But was it all that simple? The facts seemed so confusing. Yet, they knew the time had come…


Rob clutched his sledgehammer tighter. Mike slowly twisted his nunchuks. Gray Kid slipped his razor-edged money clips out of his pocket, into his hands. Behind them, the monitor screens stared back at the scene, but the people behind had disappeared.


Rob kicked open the door, and the battalion of vigilantes stormed the yard outside only to be greeted by the sweltering stillness of a late Los Angeles evening. No Gorillas in sight. Only darkness. Silence.


They headed to the curb and looked down the street to the west, into the ocean. A faint rumble could be heard as something emerged on the horizon. Hummers. Big, huge, gigantic hummers.


Disciple 908 was right: the Gorillas were headed straight for OCD HQ, presumably for the master recording in the mp3 player that appeared mysteriously eight weeks ago. The Decipher crew had not only lead the Gorillas right to it, but had now been drawn out, like pawns in a chess game, away from the very item they have sworn to protect. Mike Relm and Gray Kid raced back inside the building to retrieve the mp3 player and keep it guarded. Rob Sonic and OCD staff stood ready to face the oncoming onslaught when gusts of wind picked up around them.


Looking up, they saw a stealth bomber arriving, hovering high above them. Small figures jumped out of the airplane and sped toward the ground with jetpacks. Rob gave a sigh of relief when he realizes that its members of the Money Fight and Cassettes Won’t Listen. As Drake landed, he ran to Rob and explained, “That’s Kid Loco’s plane. He powers it with some strong skunk… damn that plane flies high and light!”


With the reinforcements, the Decipher crew’s morale surged and they gathered to barricade the building. The Hummers approached closer and closer. The crew held their positions. The first Hummer screeched to a halt in front of the building. The crew held their positions. The front doors opened… and out popped a brown hi-top sneaker with neon blue stripes. It wasn’t Gorillas - it was DJ Ese and Bisc1 of Embedded Music.


“We don’t have much time,” announced Ese. “My guy’s got a pressing plant locked down in Simi Valley - let’s get the masters there and dupe Dr. Octagon’s message a.s.a.p. With packaging, we can flood the streets with them in a few days. That’s going to be the only way we can protect ourselves from the Gorillas.” With cheers of approval, everyone piled into the Hummers as fast as they could. At last, the Decipher crew could commit, with fair certainty, that Dr. Octagon’s message was good, no longer evil, and must be disseminated widely towards the betterment of the world.


As they drove off, a lowly intern in the back of the last Hummer in the caravan, turned to look out the back window at the OCD HQ building for one last time. He gasped; “who is that boney figure on the rooftop? He’s wearing a labcoat with a stethoscope around his neck, and seems to be holding the head of some black hairy creature in his hand.” The intern shook his head and looked again…


Dr. Octagon had disappeared…

DJ ESE featuring Bisc1 “Perfect World” (Life During Wartime Mix)
[MP3]


Previous Chapters:
Catchdubs “Al Green” (Chapter 2, Verse 908 Remix)
[MP3]
“A Gorilla Driving A Pick-Up Truck” -  Kid Loco (Banana Loco Remix) [MP3]
Cassettes Won’t Listen “Aliens” -  Hearing Aid Remix [MP3]
A Gorilla Driving a Pick-Up Truck -  Rob Sonic Road Rage Remix [MP3]
The Gray Kid Al Greezy remix [MP3]
Al Green: The Gray Kid Al Greezy remix [MP3]
Mike Relm 20-minute Return of Dr Octagon megamix [MP3]


The Return of Dr Octagon hits stores June 27th.


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Thursday, Jun 22, 2006

Second class citizens no more? The other day The Wall Street Journal had a small item about increased bus ridership in the wake of recent gasoline-price increases. (Daniel Gross excerpts most of it here.) “Soaring gas prices have led a whole new group of drivers to park their cars and use public transportation. Many are professionals like Mrs. McDowra who never would have considered taking the bus before. But with prices at the pump almost doubling in the past three years, they have started to reconsider.” So maybe finanical incentives really can trump cultural mores and deeply ingrained prejudices, if the pressure is severe enough. Most people seem to reject public transportation because it seems to them inconvnenient, unsafe or undignified, even though sitting in a traffic jam picking one’s nose in the midst of drivers on tilt with road rage isn’t very convenient, safe or dignified either. In its very wastefulness the car can communicate a callous sense of individual freedom; waste is not a byproduct, it’s the basic appeal—it’s a good way to give the finger to the world and bask in the envy everyone is supposed to feel. It’s a way to show that you scorn anything that’s public; that you have no intention of sharing anything with anybody.


But the fact that women in Dallas can be priced into bus riding at least shows that there is some hope. Stigmas can swiftly be removed, shifted elsewhere at any rate. Certain bus lines would inevitably become prestigious and better maintained, and a second-class buses would merely become a subset rather than the entire service. But it’s good to know that if the U.S. ever enacted a carbon tax that reflected the damage burning gasoline does to the environment and that driving does to society, the shift to public transportation could actually happen pretty swiftly. Too bad that will never happen in our lifetime.


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