Surprising facts about Fox News Conservatives

Oct 21, 2009 in Current Events

Democracy Corps - The Very Separate World of Conservative Republicans

This eye-opening focus group study paints a portrait of the modern conservative movement — the Glenn Beck watching, Palin-loving bloc that composes one-fifth of our electorate. Some of the facts are surprising, others are downright mind-boggling:

They’re not really racist

Conservatives bristle at the suggestion that their opposition to Obama is based on racism. Rather, it’s based simply on the fact that he’s a liberal democrat with a dynamic personality — just like Bill Clinton was. Although there are undoubtly some racists among their ranks, it’s not really a motivating factor.

They dislike the Republican party too

These conservatives see the modern Republican party as out of touch with their base, having moved away from its conservative ideals. They’re embarrased by George W. Bush, although they like him personally and admire his convictions. For these Republicans, Sarah Palin is the great white hope of the Republican party.

They really believe that Obama intends to install a socialist dicatorship

Just like all conspiracy theorists, these conservatives feel like they know what’s really going on in this country, while everyone else remains in the dark thanks to the efforts of the all-powerful liberal media. Fox News, not surprisingly, is where they get much of their information.

Everything from the bank bailouts to health care reform is an attempt to topple our government so that Obama and the secretive moneyed “liberal elites” who put him into power can install a socialist government. No really, I’m serious. This is what they actually believe.

They are far outside the mainstream of American political thought

Although they’re loud and omnipresent, the Fox News conservatives stand alone in the realm of American politics. Compared to an focus group of moderate conservatives, the differences are striking.

The moderate group hopes that Obama succeeds, even though they may have voted for McCain. They have concerns about the Democrats, but it’s mostly due to government spending. They think Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are idiots, and that Sarah Palin is unqualified for national office.

The Fox News conservatives comprise two-thirds of the Republican party, and with this level of mass delusion it’s apparent that the Republican party is in trouble.


Growing up in the 80s with Michael Jackson

Jun 26, 2009 in Pop Culture, Music, Current Events

I was never a big Michael Jackson fan, but having grown up in the 80s, it’s hard to deny how big of a phenomenon he was. For those of you who are too young to remember his heyday, it’s hard to imagine how big a single celebrity could be.

Michael Jackson was everywhere in the 80s. Almost everyone had heard his music, seen his videos, or owned a copy of Thriller. Kids did the moonwalk and dressed like him. Remember the jacket from ‘Beat It’? That was a coveted fashion statement in the early 80s!

Just an anecdote to relate how big MJ was — I remember walking into a department store in 1983. Right inside the front door was a display stocked with the Thriller album. There was a small TV playing the Thriller video. What’s more — there was a crowd, watching the Thriller video on this small TV screen, in the front of a discount department store.

In today’s fragmented pop culture, it’s no longer possible for a musician to attain the level of fame that Elvis, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson once did. (And to a lesser extent, Nirvana). Of course, that level of fame has a sinister dark side.

Elvis died on the toilet an overweight drug addict. John Lennon was shot by a crazed fan. Kurt Cobain took heroin and killed himself. And Michael Jackson steadily grew weirder and whiter until he died of as-of-yet unknown causes. Maybe it’s better that we not deify our celebrities so much.


A return to a singles-based approach to releasing music

Oct 01, 2007 in Music

The Album is Dead

Well no, not really. But it’s glory days have long since passed. The record industry’s primary method of music creation and distribution — the full-length LP — is on the decline, as CD sales continue to tumble year after year. Less than a decade after the record labels disposed of the single as a distribution vehicle, it came back with a vengeance in the form of mp3’s, iTunes and ringtones.

The recording industry’s traditional business model is failing, and no one’s quite sure what the replacement is going to be. The music industry as a whole is still locked into the concept of the full-length album, released once every 1-3 years, with the attendant promotional and touring cycle. I believe that this model is no longer necessary.

With the renewed viability of independent distribution and promotion and the opportunities afforded by the Internet, artists and labels can begin to experiment with new ways of releasing music. I think it’s time for the music industry to move back towards a singles-based approach.

A little history: For the first half of its existence, the music industry relied solely on singles (78 RPM) to distribute music. The 33 1/3 RPM LP was created in 1948, but it wasn’t until the 60’s that the pop music industry began to release significant amounts of music in this format. Before the Beatles and Bob Dylan, LPs were simply collections of singles padded with filler material (sound familiar?) It wasn’t until Rock started to become Art that the LP emerged as a creative and commercial medium.

After the 60s, the record industry rearranged itself around the sale and promotion of full-length LPs. Instead of a string of singles, bands began churning out ten songs at a time once every year or two. While some albums were worth listening to from beginning to end, most albums — even by otherwise great bands — consisted of a few good songs surrounded by mediocre filler.

Even then, the record industry still relied on singles to promote albums. Many casual music listeners only ever bought singles — remember the cassette single in the 80s, or those old piles of 45s that used to be common among music collectors?

The album as Art will never truly go away, but it is obvious that the way we consume music now is shifting back towards a singles-based approach. We listen to our mp3’s on shuffle, we create mix CDs, we cherry pick songs from iTunes. And for an independent artist, free from the restrictions of record labels and traditional methods of physical distribution, it is now possible to release music in smaller quantities at more frequent intervals.

The Proposal

Instead of primarily releasing music as full-length albums every 1-3 years, I propose that artists experiment with releasing music in the form of singles or EPs every 3-9 months. I believe there are several advantages to this approach, both from a creative and commercial standpoint.

Greater Quality and Creativity

Currently, with the full-length LP paradigm, a band decides that it’s time to put out a new album. Over a period of weeks or months (sometimes while sitting in the studio), the band writes a batch of songs, all very similar in sound and intent. Some will be good, while most (at best a few) will be mediocre.

I can’t say for certain that this is how every band writes an album. But for most bands, it’s probably close enough to the truth. An LP is supposed to sound cohesive — to fit a particular sound or mood. Back in the glory days of the rock LP, bands created full-length albums as complete works meant to be listened to in one sitting. If a band doesn’t approach an LP as a complete work, then it is merely a bunch of songs that sound fairly similar. And some of those songs will undoubtedly suck.

There are valid creative reasons for recording a full-length album, but it is not always necessary or even desirable to do so. If a band has written several good songs, then shouldn’t they release those songs on their own merits without half an album’s worth of filler? If anything, it may decrease the crap ratio of most bands’ output.

By releasing music more often, a band can be freed from the full-length release cycle of writing and recording, and create music regularly and spontaneously. Never mind that another album isn’t due for a while. Assemble a few great songs into an EP. Put it out on iTunes, or press some limited edition CDs or vinyl.

The idea is to make the creation of music a more natural, relaxed endeavor, one that is not tied to the release of full-length albums. Create and release music as it comes, and it might actually result in more good music.

A Gradual Evolution

The current gap of 1-3 years (on average) between releases means that bands sometimes tend to evolve in great leaps. Bands change, and the sound they’ve pursued on their newest album may be far removed from the sound of their last album. It’s almost like watching a child grow up in two-year increments. The change is often dramatic.

How many times have you listened to a band’s new album, only to find that it sounds considerably different than the last album that you fell in love with? At best, a change in sound might earn a band some new fans (if it were a more commercial shift). At worst, it might result in an exodus of old fans.

By releasing music in shorter cycles, the feedback on a band’s musical direction would be more immediate. A full-length album that turns out to be a commercial mistake can be a big blow to a band’s career. By the time the follow-up comes out, the band’s older fan base might not be interested anymore.

From an aesthetic perspective, a band that releases material more often will evolve more naturally in the ears of its fans, even in the face of huge stylistic leaps. It’s the difference between Rubber Soul and Revolver (1 year) vs. Revolver and Abbey Road (3 years). Imagine if Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album were never recorded. By today’s model, that’s pretty much what would have happened.

More Experimentation

For any musician that is so inclined, shorter releases can provide an opportunity to experiment musically in ways that are not viable on a full-length LP. Try that dub reggae experiment. Make that mini-concept album. At worst, some fans will like it, and some won’t. Instead of wasting $14 on an album that they weren’t expecting, they may have given up a few dollars to download it from iTunes. And those fans can always buy your next, non-experimental release.

Successful experimentation may point the way towards a more commercially or artistically successful direction. It could earn your band a rabid cult following. At least you can get those creative impulses out without permanently alienating large sections of your fan base and getting dropped from your record label.

Short releases can also provide a model for experimenting with multimedia. Although hybrid CDs with extra content have existed for years, the record industry has yet to fully embrace multimedia content. You could release an EP with music videos, live performances or whatever your imagination can conjure.

Maintaining Fan Interest

A band can have a breakout single and be the hot new thing, but by the time they get off tour, head back into the studio and release their follow-up two years later, most of the music-buying public has lost interest and moved on to the next big thing.

How many bands have lost sales between one album and the next? Sure, the dedicated fans will buy the next album, and a long-awaited album from a great artist is always an event. But in a short-attention span culture such as ours, wouldn’t it be nice if the fans didn’t have to wait two years for new material?

By releasing new material sooner, a band could capitalize on their new found popularity and extend their public exposure. Fans would be treated to great music a lot sooner. It could even be used to build up anticipation for a proper full-length release.

How to Make it Work

The Web and digital downloading have revolutionized the way that musicians promote and distribute their music, so it’s easy for artists to release and promote their music on their own terms.

Digital distribution through iTunes and other music download services eliminates one major barrier: the need to manufacture and distribute many short EP and single releases. Of course, you can still do that (see below), but digital distribution means that your material will always be in print, and you won’t have to carry more stock than you’ll need.

A band website with a mailing list and a blog is essential, as well as MySpace and any other social networking and promotion opportunities you can take advantage of. Since you won’t have the promotional push behind full-length releases that a record label can offer, it’s up to you to market directly to the fans.

Physical Releases

Of course, the record industry is still based at least nominally around the sale of physical hard copies of music. For the artist who releases music more frequently, there are several paths to take.

One method is to print limited edition runs of EPs and singles. Add some artwork, maybe an extra track or two, put out some colored vinyl. If you have the fan base, limited edition releases could be a good way to stimulate fan interest and turn your records into collectors items. Plus, you won’t need to press more copies than the initial demand requires. If you have the distribution, sell some copies in record stores. The rest, sell at shows or through your website.

Another is to release regular anthologies of your single and EP output. On the same schedule that you would normally release full-length LPs, release a full-length anthology of your work to date. Stereolab regularly does this with their limited edition single and EP output between albums. If you have the fan base, it shouldn’t be hard to find an indie label that will handle manufacturing and distribution for you.

The Future

This proposal may sound a little risky to some. After all, who wants to deviate from a comforable, time-worn business model and litter the market with singles and EPs? But the fact is that selling copies of music is no longer the business model that it once was. Most bands never made much money selling albums anyway. For the typical working musician, the real money is in live performance.

I’m not suggesting that this model will work for everyone, nor am I proposing that we should dispose of the full-length LP. Rather, I’m suggesting that independant artists could experiment with different types of releases other than the obligatory full-length album. At the very least, it will distinguish you from other artists.

The idea is not necessarily more music, but better music more often. Let’s face it: Most songs on full-length albums are mediocre, and most people don’t listen intently to a full album in one sitting anymore. Some of the best releases I’ve heard are EPs. The means are available and the risk, if any, is minor for an artist who self-distributes their own work online.

Addendum: I found this after I wrote this post, but this recent New York Times article summarizes many of the same conclusions.

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Shaolin vs. Ninja! The Pride of a Nation Rests on the Outcome

Aug 31, 2007 in Humor, Current Events

t16106sy58r.jpgReuters reported today that a lawyer for the Shaolin Temple in China demanded an apology from an internet message board poster who claimed that a Japanese ninja once defeated several Shaolin monks in unarmed combat.

“The Internet user, calling themselves “Five Minutes Every Day”, said on an online forum last week that a Japanese ninja came to Shaolin, asked for a fight and many monks failed to beat him, the newspaper said.

“The facts that the monks could not defeat a Japanese ninja showed that they were named as kung fu masters in vain,” the Internet user was quoted as saying in the post.”

The Beijing News said, “The so-called defeat is purely fabricated, and we demand the Internet user to apologise to the whole nation for the wrongs he or she did,” while the Shaolin Temple “’strongly condemned the horrible deeds’ of the user.”

Lets step back here for a minute. The entire nation of China is demanding an apology from some kook on an internet message board who said that ninja could defeat Shaolin. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

I won’t speculate on how a ninja/shaolin battle would turn out (except to say that it would be fucking awesome), but China seriously needs to grow a pair. For the most populous nation in the world — and the second largest economy in Asia — to be so sensitive about a message board comment demonstrates a lack of cojones. And it’s not just the Japanese. Mention Taiwan and the Chinese will turn red (no pun intended).

On second thought, a ninja would totally kick a Shaolin monk’s ass. Until next time, when the Chinese gov’t demands an apology from In My Room, and I create an international diplomatic incident by laughing at them…


Finally, someone comes out and says it!

May 01, 2007 in Current Events

In the ongoing debate on illegal immigration, the simple truth is that the primary motivator of much anti-immigrant sentiment is plain bigotry and scapegoating. And despite America’s history as a land of immigrants, the “great melting pot,” it has almost always been this way. In a CNN commentary piece, Ruben Navaratte Jr. elaborates:

‘In the late 1700’s, Benjamin Franklin fretted over Pennsylvania becoming “a colony of aliens” thanks to German immigrants. In the mid-1800’s, concerned that immigrants from the Far East wouldn’t assimilate, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to keep out … guess who. And in the early 1900’s, Congress targeted Italians, Jews and Greeks by creating quotas that limited immigration by country of origin.

In each of those cases, those who tried to shut the door didn’t care a whit that the people they were keeping out were coming legally. All they cared about was that the immigrants on the other side of that door were foreigners with weird languages, strange religions, and peculiar customs.

Not much has changed. Much of what’s driving the current debate is the same fear of foreigners and the changes they bring.’

This paper from the National Immigration Forum, Cycles of Nativism in U.S. History offers a brief history of anti-immigrant movements — from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to waves of anti-Catholic sentiment in the 19th century and the English-only legislation of today.

The consensus among those who have studied the history of immigration is that many nativist movements spring up during times of political or economic turmoil, causing some to seek scapegoats at which to vent their frustration. A focus on illegal immigration — namely the sudden emergence of the topic on the national stage within the past year — can serve as a convenient distraction from other, more pressing, political issues. Such as an unpopular war.


Real-life Korean murder flick

Apr 18, 2007 in Current Events

cho_large.jpg

The country is still reeling in shock after an angry, disturbed and depressed Asian kid shot 32 of his fellow students and professors at Virginia Tech. One of the most frustrating things about this case is that it is not clear exactly how this could have been prevented. The warning signs were obvious to anyone who encountered him: the vacant gaze, the violent writings, the undeniable creepiness. And it wasn’t as if no one had acted upon it. Roommates, teachers and the university itself had all taken action — repeated suggestions to go into counseling, a forced stay at a mental hospital, disciplinary actions for behavior…

But ultimately this kid made a conscious decision to bottle up all that anger inside of him and let it all out in a premeditated act of senseless violence. Mental illness certainly played a role — between shootings, the killer sent a package to NBC with a long, incomprehensible rant against rich kids. But unlike Columbine, there were apparently no school bullies, neglectful parents, or dysfunctional institutions that may have contributed to this tragedy. The only person responsible for this massacre is Cho himself.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped people from trying to play the blame game. Already, certain demagogues are blaming video games and the teaching of evolution for inspiring this rampage. The only thing that’s missing is Marilyn Manson.

Things like this are just a little personal for me, for at one time I was an angry, depressed and withdrawn twenty-something. While I can certainly understand what Cho’s day-to-day state of mind might have been like, the difference is that I didn’t snap and kill anyone and I eventually grew out of it. (I’m starting to think that time, maturity and experience are the best anti-depressants.)

It’s practically a rite of passage to be young, angry and at least somewhat depressed. The world does that to you. Eventually you grow, and it passes. The sad thing about this incident is that — just like Columbine — every angry, depressed or withdrawn young male is going to be treated like a potential murderer. That’s not to say that more aggressive action shouldn’t be taken on behalf of people like Cho. It’s just that the people in charge won’t always know where to draw the line between violently disturbed and just clinically depressed.

In reference to the killer’s Korean background, I couldn’t help but think of the films of popular South Korean director Chan-wook Park, most notably the “vengeance trilogy” films Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. It turns out that according to a New York Times blog, several of the photos Cho sent to NBC bear an uncanny resemblance to scenes from Oldboy.

Park has said that the vengeance theme in his films are meant to display the futility of revenge, and how it destroys the lives of everyone involved. (In Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, all of the main characters are dead at the end of the film). That’s certainly an apt description of what happened here. Nevertheless, it’ll only be a matter of time until someone blames violent movies and Chan-wook Park for this tragedy.

And so, on behalf of every angry young man, asian film fan, Virginia Tech massacre victim and family member, I say to Cho Seung-Hui: Thanks asshole. I hope you burn in hell.


Suggestions for your Netflix queue

Apr 15, 2007 in Film

Looking for something interesting, shocking or thought-provoking to watch? From digg, I came across this exhaustive list of the most controversial films of all time.

There’s the usual suspects (Caligula, Salo: the 120 Days of Sodom, Cannibal Holocaust, I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left), the blockbusters (Birth of a Nation, Basic Instinct, The Exorcist, Fahrenheit 9/11), the masterpieces (Citizen Kane, A Clockwork Orange) and the foreign arthouse smut (I Am Curious (Yellow), In the Realm of the Senses, Last Tango in Paris, Romance).


New Sarolta Zalatnay compilation

Mar 28, 2007 in Music

I finally got around to upgrading the blog from an outdated Movable Type installation to the much cooler and easier-to-use Wordpress. Dig the cool theme?

Eclectic British reissue label Finders Keepers has just released the first-ever English language compilation of 70’s Hungarian sexpot Sarolta Zalatnay. The US release is slated for April 24.

Here’s my previous post on Zalatnay’s Hadd Mondjam El.

Crate-digging DJs from the UK and elsewhere have long coveted rare vinyl copies of Sarolta’s early work — as well as that of other 70s Hungarian funk rock bands such as Locomotiv GT, Skorpio and Omega — for their funky, wide-open breaks and Sarolta’s searing vocals, which are reminiscent of Janis Joplin.

A notorious celebrity in her native country, Zalatnay recently served a two-year sentence for fraud, and in 2001 posed nude in Hungarian Playboy — the oldest woman ever to do so.

MP3: Sarolta Zalatnay - Sracok, Oh Sracok


How much do you know about religion?

Mar 26, 2007 in Current Events

An AP article posted on Fark today revealed that Alabama residents polled higher on Biblical knowledge than the rest of America: “For example, nearly 70 percent of respondents to last week’s Press-Register/University of South Alabama survey correctly named all four Gospels.”

But Fark commenter “MrKraclenutz” noted: “As an Alabamian I have to say that while my fellow residents may sport a higher knowledge of the contents of the Bible, they in no way adhere to the teachings of said book at any higher rate.”

I guessed two of the Gospels correctly, John and Luke. The other two are not Paul, George, Ringo or Bo (for you Dukes of Hazzard fans). The correct answer is Matthew and Mark. Which are both better names for your children than Cody, Dakota or Ashton.

The article mentions the new book from Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn’t. The author makes the case that Americans — even those who are “Bible-believing” — don’t know jack about religion.

The main culprit for our religious illiteracy? It’s partly the Christian evangelicals themselves, who place more emphasis on emotion (read: “faith”) than knowledge and who teach doctrine primarily through dumbed-down Sunday school classes. Supreme Court decisions outlawing Bible readings in public schools have also had a chilling effect, even though the court has repeatedly stated that factual discussion of religion is okay.

The author recommends reinstating academic religious instruction in schools and colleges. In an age where religion is frequently the basis of political arguments and extremism runs rampant, a better knowledge of religion would go a long way toward lessening the influence of the bin Ladens, Falwells, Robertsons and Bushes of this world.


The Indoctrination of America’s Schoolchildren (or, the dumbing down of America’s kids, for you not-so-bright folk)

Feb 27, 2007 in Current Events

I’ve long wondered why it seems that a significant percentage of people (especially — but not exclusively — in America) seem content to live in sheepish ignorance — uncritical, unthinking and accepting of any line of bullshit promulgated by the government, the media and the corporations.

Perhaps John Taylor Gatto (Wikipedia link) has the answer. A public school teacher for almost 30 years, he won numerous awards and was named New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. Later that year he quit teaching, explaining his rationale in an essay published in the Wall Street Journal: “If you hear of a job where I don’t have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know.”

He later became a public speaker, railing against the public education system in America. He has written several books, including An Underground History of American Education, a damning indictment of public education and its effect on our society. A pre-publication edition of the full book is available to read on his website.

If you’re not inclined to read the entire book, I suggest you read the Prologue and Chapter 2. Both offer a eye-opening overview of the problems with compulsory education.

In brief, Gatto makes the case that modern public education is a product of the Industrial Revolution, an enterprise primarily designed to mold subservient and obedient workers and consumers. Through discipline, boredom, irrelevant subject matter and a brutal social hierarchy, the modern public education system strives to strip creativity, inquisitiveness, individuality and self-worth from children — churning out a broad social class of undereducated workers and consumers who will not question their social condition.

Sounds like hyperbole or exaggeration? Check out these quotes from some of the architects of the modern educational process:

‘The gigantic Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project, outlined teaching reforms to be forced on the country after 1967… The document sets out clearly the intentions of its creators—nothing less than “impersonal manipulation” through schooling of a future America in which “few will be able to maintain control over their opinions,” an America in which “each individual receives at birth a multi-purpose identification number” which enables employers and other controllers to keep track of underlings and to expose them to direct or subliminal influence when necessary. Readers learned that “chemical experimentation” on minors would be normal procedure in this post-1967 world, a pointed foreshadowing of the massive Ritalin interventions which now accompany the practice of forced schooling.

‘The Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project identified the future as one “in which a small elite” will control all important matters, one where participatory democracy will largely disappear. Children are made to see, through school experiences, that their classmates are so cruel and irresponsible, so inadequate to the task of self-discipline, and so ignorant they need to be controlled and regulated for society’s good.’

“In our dreams…people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple…we will organize children…and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.”
General Education Board - Occasional Letter Number One, 1906

“What we’re into is total restructuring of society.” Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory, 1989

“We must continue to produce an uneducated social class.” Gerald Bracey, 1989

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Gatto’s not the only voice decrying the manipulation of our educational system. Charlotte Iserbyt, formerly of the U.S. Dept. of Education, wrote The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America (available online as a free PDF), a whistleblowing expose of Reagan-era educational policies. Parents who have opted to home or private school their children and even many educators can opine in depth on the sorry state of public education.

A reading of Gatto’s analysis produces this significant implication: Our public educational system, in all its bureaucracy, dysfunction and violence, is not an accident. Rather, it is by design. I’m not the type to believe in conspiracy theories — the idea that a small powerful, elite is manipulating our society to selfish ends. But I can’t help but wonder whether this is in fact happening.

The Bush tax cuts, the widening income gap, the high poverty rate, the unsure and fearful working and middle class whose lot has not improved despite recent economic successes: Someone is gaining from this, and it certainly isn’t us.

The most powerful democracy in the world has failed — perhaps intentionally — to produce citizens who are informed enough to participate in a representative democracy. If the better part of the American population were educated enough to think critically, would we have had George W. Bush, the Iraq War, and more people voting for the next American Idol than the president? I think not.