Archive for the ‘FAIL’ Category

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Advice on Writing Advice for Writers

July 5, 2011
[This post was kicked into gear thanks to a FB note by JPM, whose Facebook feed is often full of moments like this. This piece has been laying around in my “unfinished” work folder, under the presumption that at some point I would finish the mofo off and send it out to be rejected by various humor sites.
Thus properly motivated by JPM’s note, I took a look at it and decided that it looked pretty finished to me. I also have other “unfinished” posts that tie into this one, so I’ll probably be looking harder at those as well. If nothing else, you’ll get to see (and experience) the immense amount of self-loathing that goes into calling yourself a “writer,” which makes all of us a bit masochistic and probably even more than slightly deranged. (This isn’t some sort of power tripping derangement either. This isn’t a “I suffer for my art” thing. This is a “I hate writing but am internally compelled to do it” sort of thing.){Also, it’s not a real “hate.” Obviously. It’s a special kind of love that manifests itself most frequently as hate and is usually self-directed and has nothing to do with writing as much as it has to do with “not writing”.}]

This is what a blogger looks like. Except, replace the "pipe" with a nicotine patch and the pen with "completely useless box o' electronics/internet."

So, you want to be a writer? Waving aside the fact that this makes you about as unique as a band influenced by the Velvet Underground, and the fact that there’s an entire internet full of writers already, you have to ask yourself, what do I have to offer the written world? What do I bring to the table that hasn’t been brought to the table so often it’s being sent back?

Still drawing a blank? Put down that sketch pad and listen up. (Just a little metaphoric humor there. Feel free to use that when breaking the ice at your next book club meeting or whatever the hell it is you writers do with your spare time.)

What most writers are looking for, despite the fact that they’ll never ask directly, is advice. All writers, especially writers who have never been published, crave writing advice. If nothing else, it allows them to put off writing for at least another 10-15 minutes. Never underestimate a writer’s desire to be doing anything but writing. This element is key to the “writing about writing” business.

Another crucial element is a side-effect of the advice itself. Whether the reading writer agrees or disagrees with the advice is immaterial. The end result is always the same; a refreshing confirmation of the reader’s superiority to other readers/writers/advice authors.

If the writer agrees with the advice, it justifies his or her peculiar habits, no matter how unpleasant or anti-social.

What if the writer disagrees entirely with your slapped together and mostly borrowed (without attribution) advice? Not to worry. Your new adversary will be enjoying a nearly identical sense of superiority, with each point of disagreement becoming a shiny new feather in his or her cap of Writing Knowledge.

My other typewriter morphs into a large beetle. I get more work done on that one.

An added bonus for the reader is the chance to compose an overly long comment expressing (point-by-point) how completely wrong you are about everything from the amount of time you should spend writing each day (2-12 hours) to how much margin is acceptable for submissions in .doc format (2-12 inches). Once again, the aspiring writer is allowed to escape the hellish prison of their current novel/essay/fanfic submission and right (or should I say, “write”?) any and all perceived wrongs with a pure passion borne of vindictiveness and procrastination. (You’re correct. I shouldn’t say “write.” We’ll leave that for the struggling writers to use.)

At this point you’re probably wondering why YOU have to do all this writing while other writers are allowed to duck their chosen profession. Well, I’ve got good news and great news.

The good news is that practically anything you come up with off the top of your head can be considered “advice,” whether it’s a suggestion they read every day (something they already do) or more drastic recommendations like cutting themselves out of important family events (immediate and extended) to ensure they have more time to sullenly glare at their blank pages.

The great news is that other writers have written plenty of advice for writers already. It’s everywhere. A quick internet search should find you a few thousand articles to cherrypick from. If you don’t mind doing a little transcribing (don’t worry, it’s much easier than writing “from scratch”), you should easily have at least 10-15 items on your list. With this pre-paved list in hand, you may now allow the children to return from their basement exile, provided they still communicate using ASL only.

Still need another nudge? Here’s a brief list of sure-fire advice:

Problem solved: My homunculus will be writing all future posts. In second person.

1. Read more.
Reading is a great procrastination technique. Writers reading are “doing research” or “developing technique” or simply doing it because “it’s a dying art. Well, both reading and writing, actually. Turn off that TV. It’s killing your brain.”

2. Write more.
As much as writers hate being reminded that, as writers, it would logically follow that they spend a great deal of time writing, it’s an even bigger faux pas to leave this off the list. Try to give your readers some leeway. Make it sound like a suggestion and utilize the word “try,” which will allow them to excuse their failed attempts and often, their failure to attempt. Avoid specifics as to what kind of writing should be done. This allows your reading writers to justify angry comments, angry Facebook status updates and angry comments on the statuses of others as being part of their “writing 2-12 hours a day.”

3. Be honest.
Basically, this is “write what you know” phrased in a way that allows writers to more highly regard their own confessional pieces involving more unseemly moments in their lives. These moments are often something they’ve often secretly wanted to brag about without having it sound like a rejected Penthouse Letter. Just as every writer believes themselves to be a “unique voice,” they also tend to regard themselves as the “last honest writer.”

4. Write in your own voice.
Yet another form of “write what you know.” Nothing makes writing easier than writing the way you speak. In theory, just typing up whatever rolls through the writer’s head (unless it’s sporting a foreign accent) should get their great American novel or Kim Possible fanfic epic kicked out in no time. Everything should click for a few minutes until they realize how limited their vocabulary actually is. A loss of momentum is to be expected as they spend the next hour or two looking up synonyms for “nice,” “awesome” and “asstacular.”

This should give you the headstart you need to start cranking out post after post of “Advice for Writers.” In fact, you could just copy and paste what’s included here for a quick eHow post. Just make sure to remove all disparaging comments leveled at your potential readers before submitting.

-CLT

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Jay Maisel + Asshole = 11,400 Hits

June 27, 2011

Some of you may be familiar with Jay Maisel. Some of you may know him as a talented photographer. Others may only read architectural magazines or NY Mag and such and know him from his 72-room mansion. Now, thanks to some extraordinarily nasty copyright thuggery, people all over the internet are getting to know Jay Maisel in a whole new way.

Jay Maisel + Asshole
11,400 hits

Here’s what happened. Andy Baio (of waxy.org) decided to compile an album of chiptune Miles Davis covers. He did everything he was supposed to:

I went out of my way to make sure the entire project was above board, licensing all the cover songs from Miles Davis’s publisher and giving the total profits from the Kickstarter fundraiser to the five musicians that participated.

But then he ran into an unexpected problem:

But there was one thing I never thought would be an issue: the cover art.

Before the project launched, I knew exactly what I wanted for the cover — a pixel art recreation of the original album cover, the only thing that made sense for an 8-bit tribute to Kind of Blue. I tried to draw it myself, but if you’ve ever attempted pixel art, you know how demanding it is. After several failed attempts, I asked a talented friend to do it.

You can see the results here:

That’s when Jay Maisel, the original photographer, entered the picture:

In February 2010, I was contacted by attorneys representing famed New York photographer Jay Maisel, the photographer who shot the original photo of Miles Davis used for the cover of Kind of Blue.

In their demand letter, they alleged that I was infringing on Maisel’s copyright by using the illustration on the album and elsewhere, as well as using the original cover in a “thank you” video I made for the album’s release. In compensation, they were seeking “either statutory damages up to $150,000 for each infringement at the jury’s discretion and reasonable attorneys fees or actual damages and all profits attributed to the unlicensed use of his photograph, and $25,000 for Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violations.

After seven months of legal wrangling, we reached a settlement. Last September, I paid Maisel a sum of $32,500 and I’m unable to use the artwork again. (On the plus side, if you have a copy, it’s now a collector’s item!) I’m not exactly thrilled with this outcome, but I’m relieved it’s over.

$32,500.

For an album that was created from $4,500 in Kickstarter funds, with all money going to the chiptune artists.

Andy Baio, who hired someone to craft an homage to an iconic album cover, who curated an album of covers with permission from Miles Davis’ publisher, who profited nothing from this experience other than the joy of creating something, is out $32,500.

Meanwhile, Jay Maisel, he of the 72-room mansion, is $32,500 richer.

Jay Maisel + Dick
323,000 hits

And for what? Being able to wield copyright like a mafia thug’s baseball bat? For being unwilling to consider the work transformative enough to fall under “fair use”? For being so full of himself that he can’t even accept the hat tip of an homage?

I don’t care how much you may believe that copyright, trademarks, patents, etc. are good and just and fair, but in your mind, if you truly believe that Jay Maisel deserves 7 times the amount the album was created for, then you’ve got problems far beyond being too myopic to recognize a clearly transformative work.

And to argue that this isn’t transformative misses the point entirely. This isn’t some simple PS filter de-rezzing. It takes actual talent to create pixel art. See this for comparison:

And as to all this compressed, very black “art” scattered throughout this post? They’re simple ASCII conversions of iconic Maisel photos (done with this handy tool). These “pictures,” which took me all of 10 minutes to convert and post without using a single ounce of actual talent are transformative enough to avoid a copyright beatdown.

But actual art, created with actual talent? I guess that’s something to throw lawyers at.

Jay Meisel + Greedy
73,200 hits

Jay, I hope whatever you spent Andy’s money on was worth it.

-CLT

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Unpublished Correspondence V2

May 6, 2011

Sneak past my spam filter, will you? Brace yourself for an onslaught of wordiness which contains none of that important personal information you’re barely trying to capture.

Your email just W o n £ 850,000 UK Pounds in our on-going 11th Anniversary PROMO!!!

YOUR DETAILS: L u c k y # : 12-12-23-35-40-41(12),
T i c k e t # : 00869575733664,
C G P N : 7-22-71-00-66-12.

For more information Contact: Email: mrgrahambenfield_101@hotmail.com
Agent: MR GRAHAMS BENFIELD. On behalf of staffs felicitate with you!!
MRS. ANGELO COLLETTA (Promo Announcer)

————————————————————————

NOTE: Do not reply this mail, send your correspondnence to Mr Grahams as instructed.

….

Dear Mr. Grahams Benfield –

Thanks for alerting me to this promotion. I’m not too sure what the prize is but I would love to have your staffs felicitate this. Unless your UK pounds are significantly different than our American pounds, I’m going to need a lot of help hauling these 850,000 pounds to my apartment. I may also need to obtain a storage unit as I’m not sure if 850,000 pounds of anything would all fit in my apartment.

Of course, math never was my strongest subject. I suppose after conversion this prize would weigh something more manageable, but I still think I’d better take advantage of your staffs.

Not that this is important or anything, but when did you “blokes” (I hope I’m using that correctly) ditch the metric system? I didn’t read anything about it online, but I spend most of my time cruising baseball stat sites or leaving mocking comments on various Gawker blogs. All I have to say is: it’s about time. We both speak English, so why shouldn’t we be able to do a 1-1 weight conversion? It’s bad enough that I have to Google up a calculator every time I buy an import album on eBay.

Which raises another question: are you or are you not using the Euro? If not, “bully” for you! (Again, I hope I’m saying that right.) No good can come of a single currency. Prominent conspiracy theorists  have indicated that it could very well bring about the Apocalypse, and I don’t know about you but I still got some livin’ to do! Some livin’ with my new collection of … things… that weigh a lot!

Looking forward to hearing from you. Please let me know how many staffs will be available to felicitate this move. Please keep the number of women and children to a minimum. This sounds like a lot of lifting and I can’t be slowed down by people unable to keep up with me and my roommates and your guys.

If you must send women/children, please make sure that they can lift a minimum of 20 pounds, in accordance with my handwritten EOE compliance form. Please also have several copies of your most bulletproof waiver forms on hand for those who think they might become repeatedly injured during this move.

Sincerely,
CLT

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Unpublished Correspondence V1

April 14, 2011
Let’s face it. My spam blog is dead. I keep the link up under “The Side Projects” as a taunting reminder of all the dreams I’ve killed off with my lack of focus, time or ideas. At least I had the stones to publicly retire Blow by Blow. And Clifton L. Tanager is just kind of twisting in the wind.
(Oh, by the way, I do have something I’m still writing for. Check out “You, Only Awesomer!” I’m doing business as “Thomas Massey.”)
So, rather than just cross-posting or anything productive like that, I’m going to start posting my one-way conversations with my inbox refugees. (I will, of course, be cybersquatting on the tasty penis joke URL.) The spam-crafted pen is unofficially retired. Vive le spam!

Hi there,

My name is Michael

No Matter what you are selling – Hit-Booster will send targeted visitors to your website!

Within 15 minutes you will have your own website traffic generator that will bring in an ever increasing amount of hits to your websites! Automatically

This software is perfect for bringing real traffic to your site… even if… it’s an affiliate link where you have no control over the website content!

Michael –

Thanks for showing an interest in improving my business, which is still very much in its formative stages. In fact, it’s so formative as to not exist. However, l would like to not disappoint either of us at this early juncture. I have an existing blog that could use some more hits and from which I hope to springboard into a sales career.

Quick question, Michael: Do you happen to own any videoconferencing software? If so, I’d like your permission to borrow it. I don’t have a business plan per se, but would love the chance to connect with like-minded customers of yours and sort of “spitball” ideas until I come up with one.

Do you have any idea what the optimal setup for video spitballing is? I’d like to be able to see enough of the other people to be able to monitor body language and such while also being sufficiently far back as to avoid most of the spitballs.

I can’t be too far back, though. I’ll still need to clearly see the others’ eyes in case we decide to take a different angle and approach this exciting new Web 2.0 paradigm through a few rounds of Texas Hold’Em.

Also, (again, assuming you have this videoconferencing equipment, which I would assume you would, considering you seem pretty “on the ball” webwise, not to mention very “email savvy”) would it be possible to view other conference members in rotational 360-degree views? I would like to rule out any of those members who look better from the back than the front as well as those who kinda “look good from a distance.” I have a pretty busy schedule these days and I don’t want to waste valuable time cyberstalking someone who looks great from behind at a distance of 10 feet or greater.

Thanks in advance for the use of your equipment. I will have my secretary forward you the needed information as soon as he or she is hired.

I’m afraid I won’t be needing your Hit-Booster service, however. I’m a little concerned with the last paragraph and its mysterious use of ellipses and exclamation points. Usually the ellipsis would be used to build anticipation rather than making the sentence sound like a horrible bait-and-switch. I’m sure it’s just a typo but it does make me wonder who would be in the market for affiliate linking where they “have no control over the website content.” I’m sure any up and coming entrepreneur would be thrilled to show potential clients a custom website loaded with affiliate links to sketchy foreign porn sites and counterfeit iPod knockoff sales.

Sincerely,

CLT

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The Mozart Makes Us Classy

March 30, 2011

SearchLOL:

[Click to enlarge.]

-CLT

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Internal Documents Show TSA Knew of Backscatter Imaging Radiation Problems

March 16, 2011

The TSA is back in the news again as maintenance reports have indicated that their backscatter imaging devices are emitting up to 10 times the radiation originally claimed. Understandably, this isn’t sitting well with the general public, who are now concerned that they are being robbed of valuable years off the end of their lives along with their dignity.

The TSA and the manufacturer of the device have claimed that all this stemmed from a simple misunderstanding in terminology. However, the leaked instruction manual for the Backscatter Imaging Device (or as it is popularly know, “PornoScan”) clearly indicates there were already concerns when the units shipped.

As safe as any high-powered electronic device operated by glorified security guards.

PORNOSCAN QUICKSTART GUIDE

Congratulations on your purchase of a federally-mandated PornoScan!  We know you have several less humiliating options to choose from when it comes to anti-terrorist devices and we’re glad your employers have chosen the PornoScan to serve and demoralize traveling citizens.

ASSEMBLY

First, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the contents. You should have (several) boxes, each containing (several) parts. Make sure you have everything needed to assemble your PornoScan, including a Phillips screwdriver, 151 self-tapping screws and a B.S. (minimum) in nuclear physics.

You’ll need two people to assemble this properly. When prompted, refer to the included assembly diagram. (Not included. Please call the Help Desk for replacement instructions. Allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.)

Note: your PornoScan (or Backscatter Imaging Device) contains time-sensitive depleted uranium. Failure to fully assemble this device will result in escalating isotope instability, which can quickly result in full core meltdown. (See Appendix 4.b. “OH SWEET JESUS, MY FACE!!!”)

To avoid causing undue passenger alarm, these mandatory stickers have NOT been shipped with your scanner.

CONTROLS

Now that your PornoScan (PS) is fully assembled, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the control panel. Let’s take a look at the four (4) status lights:

Power” – When power is on, this button will glow bright green. Due to improperly isolated isotopes, this light will also glow bright green when the device is off. A replacement containment device is on the way. Allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.

Note: The PS puts out a shitload (metric) of radiation when fully powered. Please maintain a distance of 15-20 feet when “Power” button is lit.

Standby Power” – A “power saving” setting. This will allow the device to quickly “boot up” upon passenger entry. This light will glow red when activated.

Note: This lower setting should allow you to come safely within 10 feet of the device. Be prepared to run 5-10 feet in under 0.2 seconds should a passenger enter the device thereby returning it to full power. Additional note: does not actually save power.

Standby” – Pretty much what passes for “Off” these days. Can still render you sterile within a diameter of 5 feet. Should you need to approach the device (for instance, to power up the PornoScan), please ensure your genitalia are covered with your hands and your body turned 30 degrees perpendicular to the egress of the machine. This button will glow orange if activated or if “Power” button is currently green.

PANIC” – This status light will glow red at all times UNLESS a meltdown or other catastrophic failure is detected by the onboard computer. At that point the light will switch off. DO NOT PANIC. When the PANIC light goes out, a signal is sent to the nearest TSA headquarters. Please remain calm and await further instructions. (Allow 4-6 weeks for signal delivery.)

Note: PANIC indicator light will go out when  “Standby Power” is activated. This is a normal control panel function. Do not panic unless instructed otherwise.

OPERATION

With the controls functional, it’s time to put your PS to work. In addition to providing the illusion of safety, your PS is also a time-saver, freeing up the time you usually spent mentally undressing passengers and allowing you to brush up on your gun handling skills and anger management courses.

The powerful patented “Backscatter” system now allows you to fully undress passengers without leaving your desk or closing your browser window. For added safety, post the included “Clothing Optional” sign above the entrance to the device.

Note: As is indicated by the “Backscatter” terminology, this device is chock full of flying atoms doing God knows what. Please keep door closed when not in use.

As passengers enter the noisy and possibly brightly glowing PornoScan, they may become apprehensive, especially when informed that their hands need to be in what is normally a stickup victim pose. Calm them by suggesting fun “role-play” activities like “Pretend you’re on a roller coaster,” or “Act like you’re at a party where the DJ is busting out some old skool hip hop.”

There may also be concern expressed as to the safety of the untested device itself, in particular the amount of radiation used to provide the naked scan. If your assurances that “Hey, I’ve been working with this thing for X number of hours and I’m still OK” fail to calm the passenger, refer to the information provided in Appendix 2.b. (“No, I’ll Tell YOU What Your Rights Are“) to answer their queries with various threats of detainment.

FEATURES

Let’s take a quick look at the newest features in the PornoScan 1.14 (beta). Here’s a brief list of the items your PS can detect that your average TSA agent can’t:

  • Unusually sized genitalia
  • Prosthetic devices (incl. unusually sized genitalia)
  • Confiscatable items such as high-dollar watches, jewelry and gold fillings
  • Sarcasm

In addition, the latest in bomb detection technology allows the PornoScan to detect these type of explosive devices:

  • Bundled dynamite with a clock/timer/fuse attached.
  • Black, globe-shaped bombs with a fuse attached.

Note: If timer is running or fuse is lit, DO NOT PANIC. Check “PANIC” light. It should be “on” (off). Evacuate terminal of all crucial personnel including TSA members, airline employees and gift shop staff. Next, calmly herd passengers and suspected terrorists to the nearest empty tarmac where they can be safely detonated. Finally, give yourself a pat on the back! You’ve just averted domestic terrorism!

The TSA agents quickly discovered her cast was made entirely out of "bomb."

HELPFUL TIPS

Pregnant women and women with infants will often try to smuggle their own fluids on board through the use of their “breasts.” Most of these suspects will have somewhat of a haggard glow about them. APPROACH WITH CAUTION. In addition to harboring “breast fluids,” their glow will often turn to vitriolic hatred once confronted.

Other women may be carrying saline or silicone in their “breasts.” To date these fluids have not been linked to terrorist activity. Play it safe and investigate further.

Good luck in your fight against terror! Armed with this information (and your gun) you should prepared to deal with any uncomfortable situation!

(Addendum: The manufacturers of the PornoScan and your management team would like to remind you to refer to the device by its proper name [Backscatter Something Something] while on duty.)

-CLT

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Rescued from the Cutting Room Floor: The Best Previously Unpublished Charlie Sheen Quotes

March 8, 2011

Charlie Sheen prepares for an early morning strafing run by summoning his cocaine-serving robot.

Due to the nature of the beast that is the white, powdery monkey on Charlie Sheen’s back, many of his interviews have been trimmed to fit the time allotted. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your level of fascination with this ongoing train wreck), this means that some of Sheen’s biggest proclamations have been excised in order to fit his self-absorbed ranting into an hour-long interview format.

The following is a brief selection of quotes that never made it to the airwaves due to time constraints or some sort of editorial concern over exactly how much “crazy” they were allowed to air uninterrupted. Enjoy.

  • “I’m currently crafting a trained army of attack falcons… well, more of an air force, really…”
  • “Gary Busey? Jake Busey? Winners! Third book of the Necronomicon being written now by these gnarlingtons.”
  • “I sleep only 40 minutes a night, serenaded by air raid sirens and Norwegian black metal.”
  • “Those of us who are actually still rad are still using ‘rad’ all the time. A new wave of BMX destruction is at hand, all before you get your fuckin’ Venti whatever, yuppie.”
  • “TZ [Todd Zeile] and I have spent the last four nights cock-blocking down at the Chicken Ranch because we are insatiable and our waters run deep, my friend.”
  • “We’re also druid shadow priests. Chaotic neutral. No alignment. Take that however you will.”
  • “[Jon] Cryer is buckwheat pancakes with oat bran seasoning. He’s like Jiminy Cricket crossed with John Harvey Kellogg. I’m not sure he’s ever produced semen in his life.”
  • “It’s not a mixtape without Sister Christian. Write that shit down, Alan. Gospel.”
  • “While doing Shaolin monk training with Keith Carradine in Tenochtitlan, Mexico, we ate Alfonso Ribeiro’s heart. A warning: don’t bet on bullfights. You can’t beat the locals.”
  • “Blowing money on coke and hookers is nothing. You aren’t really spending money until you’re ordering Kharma speakers online at 3 am.”
  • “As far as I’m concerned, the only legitimate president we’ve had in the past 600 years was Thor, or as he was born, Nikolai Tesla.”
  • “Do you what makes me absolutely histrionic, absolutely batshit crazy? Just coke, bro. Just this essence. It’s the rich man’s ‘white lightning,’ man. Without it, empires fall. Markets collapse. Human life is devalued. Santa dies.”
  • “I once had sex with seven women simultaneously. It was like Jesus with the five loaves and fish but instead it was with penises and tongues. When you’re winning, doors open for you and miracles are commonplace. Commonplace enough to be almost annoying.”
  • “[To a member of the studio staff] Your mom’s like Aleve, d-bag! All day strong, all day long! In the ass!”
  • “Two albums. Both with Mojo Nixon. Next year.”
  • “I’ve been certified as a nutritionist in 14 states. 40 minutes of sleep a night leaves you a lot of downtime. I maximize.”
  • “If I go down or CBS invalidates my contract, I’ve got a whole list of Hollywood people’s real names in my lawyer’s safe. Try me, Chaim. I have data. DOB. DNA maps. For real.”
  • “Scientologists have Jennifer Grey’s real nose. I traded it for their alchemy secrets.”

-CLT

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Income Inequality: the Imaginary Powderkeg

February 25, 2011

Mother Jones recently published a set of infographics on income equality in America, which is understandably kicking up some dust around various corners of the internet. The numbers are shocking: the top .01% make an average of $27 million per household. The bottom 90%? Only $31,000.

Looking at this chart, it’s easy to believe that some sort of unfairness exists. That somehow the richest 10% (who control over 70% of the wealth in this country) are undeserving of their income. The knee-jerk response is to start thinking of the nation’s wealth as zero-sum, and for every dollar going into Bill Gates’ pocket, a corresponding dollar is being taken away from the lower 90%.

Obviously, nobody believes this is done directly. But many do believe that this is being done indirectly through layoffs, wage suppression or actions along those lines.

But it’s an illusion.

It’s an illusion created by those who believe there is some sort of caste system, aided by political action, that serves to make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

But don’t fall for it. There’s nothing there.

The supposed “problem” of income disparity only exists if you believe it exists. I’m not saying that these charts aren’t accurate or that there is not a large gap between the top 10% and the bottom 90% of earners. I’m saying that this gap is only a problem if you choose to believe it’s a problem.

The thought process as to why you should believe it’s a problem is false. The theory is that the more the top 10% makes, the less you make. Unless the CEO of Goldman Sachs is siphoning money out of your bank account, this simply isn’t true.

“But I don’t work for Goldman Sachs, I work for X company.” Exactly. And every chart like this is intended to make you feel as though the CEO of X company is getting richer by suppressing your wages. People look at infographics such as these, compare that with their paycheck and subjectively apply it to their situation, forgetting that there are several people in the top 10% who don’t (directly or indirectly) have any effect on their paycheck.

Ask yourself this question: what do the super-rich have that I don’t? Multiple houses, luxury vehicles, housekeepers, etc. are not the sort of thing any reasonable person expects out of life. Even in the lower income levels, we still have access to services and consumer goods that used to be the domain of only the rich: decent medical care, a house, multiple vehicles, high-end electronics, computers, appliances, schools, and so on. These all used to be available only to the very well-off. In the past, only the rich could afford qualified doctors and education for their children. Computers used to cost thousands of dollars. The same with high-end electronics. Washers and dryers were luxury items.

As life has gone in the US, the cost of these goods has fallen dramatically. Everyone has a free option for their children’s education. Life expectancy has gone up. As the wages spread further and further apart, life has not gotten collectively worse for everyone outside of the top 10%. Life continues to get better for a majority of the other 90%. There are some outliers in the lowest percentiles but generally speaking, life is better for a majority of Americans despite this perceived inequality.

In fact, as wage disparity has increased, happiness levels in America have risen as well. Income disparity increased over 50% between 1972-2004 and yet a GSS (General Social Service) poll shows happiness levels increasing from 30 to 31 percent.

“If the egalitarians are right, then average happiness levels should be falling. But they aren’t. The GSS shows that in 1972, 30 percent of the population said that they were “very happy” with their lives; in 1982, 31 percent; in 1993, 32 percent; in 2004, 31 percent. In other words, no significant change in reported happiness occurred—even as income inequality increased by nearly half. Happiness levels have certainly shown some fluctuations over the last three decades, but income inequality explains none of them.”

There are a lot of reasons for people to be unhappy now. We’re in the middle of a recession. The housing market has collapsed, dragging down net worth for the bottom 90%. A jobless recovery is slowing progressing. People need a villain to take the blame and the top 10% is better than nothing. The perception that America is run by robber barons is taking hold again.

A lot of this perception stems from the financial industry’s top level compensation. There’s a huge disconnect between what CEOs in this field make and the perceived value of their actions. Resentment has built from the bank bailouts and other special treatment these institutions have received over the years, which when coupled with the current recession tends to bring most people to the conclusion that these same CEOs are extremely overpaid. I’d agree with this conclusion. They are overpaid. But then again, so is most of their rank-and-file. It’s a feeling that those who push imaginary money around shouldn’t be compensated this well, especially when their money-pushing results in hardship for the bottom 90%.

But this isn’t totally the fault of the financial institutions. If you want to blame somebody, blame the government. And keep blaming them because they’re never going to fix it. Goldman Sachs, in particular, is a revolving door that circulates its executives in and out of government positions and vice versa. Even if the government decided to step in and raise taxes appreciably on big business and the incomes of the top 10%, it would have no effect on the bottom 90%.

The ugly truth is that if you tax something more, you get less of it. Just ask New York City, whose latest tax increase (to $6.86 a pack!) resulted in an influx of tax-free bootleg cigarettes and the relocation of tax money to neighboring states with lower prices. Sales dropped 27% between July and November, far exceeding the 8-10% the politicians predicted.

A higher income tax would simply mean that more of the top 10% would relocate to countries with lower tax rates. The same goes for the businesses. They would incorporate in tax havens and dodge the bullet that way. The bottom 90% would pay more for goods and services as any applied tax meant to “punish” the high end would simply be passed along to the low end. It’s always this way and those who yearn for the golden era of 90% marginal tax rates on millionaires are kidding themselves if they think a tax hike will actually result in some sort of windfall for the bottom 90%.

Contrary to the images painted by those with class warfare on their minds, a majority of the rich did not simply “luck” into this money or exploit the hell out of others to get it. Many of them were innovators (Bill Gates, Lawrence Ellison, Sergey Brin) who developed new products and services. Others were savvy investors (Warren Buffet, Carl Icahn, Sheldon Adelson). With the exception of the Wal-Mart inheritance and the Mars family, no one on the Top 20 list of richest Americans simply had money given to them.

It’s at this point that merit comes into play. Do people who hate the income gap really want all people to be rewarded equally? Do they want the top end skewed down or do they want the bottom end to rise? Should this be handled via “redistribution” (in other words, taxes – an impossibility but we’ll let it slide for rhetorical reasons) or wage caps? Do they really want a world where hard work and foresight is punished?

Take Mother Jones, for example. Their ad income is most likely several times that of smaller online commentary sites. Should they be forced to toss their “excess” in a pool for the smaller sites to benefit from and close the “gap” that way? I would imagine they’d disagree with this, stating that they’ve built up their brand and hired talented writers and thus, deserve this additional income.

Is that any different than deciding that Bill Gates should be forced via taxation or salary cap to cough up his “excess” income so that those in the bottom 90% can have more? And how exactly does anyone expect this to happen?

All the ideas I’ve read revolve around raising the tax rate on the top 10%. This is the ever-popular “soaking the rich” tax plan. It plays well with voters but will never be instituted, thanks to the fact that many of our nation’s representatives are wholly beholden to the ultra-rich, if not actually part of the ultra-rich themselves. (Interesting note: Democrats are more prone to painting the Republican party as champions of the ultra-rich, but 7 out 0f 10 of the richest representatives listed below are, in fact, Democrats. And not just any Democrats, but Democrats who crossed party lines to vote FOR Bush’s tax cuts on higher incomes.)

Beyond the fact that there is nobody in Washington willing to do this, a further issue is the fact that the government is quite possibly the worst Robin Hood analogue imaginable. They cannot, despite constant assurances otherwise, redistribute wealth. They cannot take Bill Gates’ money and spread it among a random sampling of the bottom 90%. They can’t even do it indirectly through taxes, as much of that money is already promised to a variety of earmarks, subsidies and entitlements already.

Not only that, but a higher taxation rate wouldn’t close the gap. Gross income is still gross income, no matter what the tax rate. Someone making $20 million will still make $20 million, even if 60% of it is siphoned off in taxes. And the person making $30,000 will still be making $30,000, even if $12 million just rolled into the IRS offices.

They also have no business setting wages. Despite governmental creep into the private sector, there is no way these self-interested players should be allowed to cap wages or set minimums. They already have screwed up with the minimum wage and granting them the power to cap maximums is asking for a quasi-socialist system where even fewer people have a chance to get rich but many, many more will have the chance to be poor.

Beyond that, no one seems to have any idea how to close the income gap. If this were a real problem, rather than just a shoddy platform plank, ideas would flow freely. As it is, it’s just a political haymaker and another reason to get pointlessly angry.

My suggestion? Let it go. It won’t change. It can’t change. And anyone who thinks it can be changed wants to enlist the worse people possible to handle/redistribute other people’s money: the government. That’s not a solution. That’s a farce.

-CLT

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The Music Industry is Dying. I’ll Get the Shovels and Champagne.

January 28, 2011


Robert Verbruggen over at National Review Online asks “Can We Save the Music Business?” The first obvious question is “Why?”

[This post is nothing more than a reprint of my overly-long comment left at NRO. I’ve emphasized a few things with BOLD and corrected a couple of grammatical errors, but otherwise it’s intact.]

An “effective” plan?

I don’t know how anybody could willingly believe that the music industry legislating itself back into business with the aid of an all too cooperative government will actually save them for eventual implosion. All this would do is stick them on life-support on the taxpayer’s dime.

Equally stupid is the assumption that a graduated response, especially one that aids one industry (recording) while punishing another (ISPs) would be any less troublesome than straight-out “deputizing ISPs.” If both the government and the entertainment industries are involved, there’s is no way that any internet watchdog can ever be considered “independent,” as is dubiously stated in relation to France’s current anti-piracy program.

Speaking of which, you cite a 53% reduction in infringement (at least according those polled) but fail to provide any numbers showing a correlating rise in music sales. My guess is that there will be little change or at best, a short-lived uptick while everybody figures out how to get back into the free music business. This may come as a shock to the record labels, but it won’t surprise anyone who is aware of the fact that a pirated album does not equal a lost sale.

More troubling is the fact that your internet usage information is now in the hands of both the government and some very self-interested parties, both of whom have shown an ugly willingness to abuse the public’s trust.

Every dollar spent (taxpayer/music industry) on combating piracy is a dollar wasted, one which would have gone to better use pretty much anywhere else. Every time a file sharing service or data hosting site gets shut down, another two pop up. The music industry continues to view online piracy as the equivalent of a guy selling burned discs out of his trunk. They cannot seem to understand that this is millions of individuals acting alone, rather than under the control of some overriding directive.

They also don’t seem to understand that these “pirates” aren’t making any money off these “transactions.” What little they do understand of it causes them to scapegoat hosting services and ISPs. They know this isn’t directly their fault but I think they believe that going after services earning money will allow them to show some return on their lawsuit investments.

The more draconian the action, the further underground file sharing goes. New hosting will pop up to replace RapidShare, MegaUpload, et al. Limewire will be succeeded by others. With every step they fall further behind. Hosts will operate under masked IP addresses and innocuous URLs. And when they finally do decide to sue or kick someone off the internet, the only people they can victimize are those who are that many steps behind themselves. This is why they end up dragging clueless grandmothers and 8-year-olds into court.

Once everything is disguised enough, they’ll start booting people off for false positives. The government and the record labels have already proven they’re far from tech savvy and will start harassing citizens who’ve never considered piracy just because of a spike in usage.

They also fail to understand that kicking people off the internet will do nothing to increase their sales. Do they honestly believe that Joe Q. Pirate is going to trot to the nearest store and make up for his infringement by purchasing several shiny plastic discs? He’s not going to be able to buy digitally after all. And trust me, he’ll find another way to get back online. He may be dumb enough to get caught but he’s still smarter and faster that the ad hoc committee pursuing him.

There’s no equivalent for “free.” Just because someone downloaded Lady Gaga’s latest for free is not an indicator that they would have purchased it if there were no alternatives. Lots of people get stuff they don’t particularly want or need just because it’s free. It’s like going to a garage sale and picking up a half dozen drill bits and some Cussler paperbacks from the “free” box. It doesn’t necessarily follow that Black and Decker lost a sale or that I would have grabbed two Cussler books down at Barnes and Noble otherwise. Maybe I just figured you can’t have too many drill bits and I was tired of reading well-written books.

And as for the “poor artists” the labels are constantly using as penniless strawmen in their arguments? Well, he’s got fewer options and potential customers thanks to their actions. Fewer hosting sites. Fewer people online.

The claim that artists somehow deserve to get paid is just plain stupid. That’s a holdout from the good old days of the music industry, where they’d state that as an excuse to levy fees on blank tapes and CDs. But they’ve never been too keen on actually paying their artists. There are hundreds of stories of bands that got screwed by their labels, whose unrecouped amounts never seem to go down and how clever accounting and label finance opacity has allowed them to hide their gains from the prying eyes of their stable of musicians.

Look at the wonderful things Warner Bros. did to Too Much Joy.

Not only that, but if you’re getting into art to get paid, you’re doing it wrong. If you manage to make a living at it, congratulations. You’re part of the 1%. No guidance counselor ever recommended a student drop out of school and buy a guitar. No parent ever breathed a sigh of relief when their offspring told them they were quitting college to form a band. No one owes an artist a living wage. Art is supported, not purchased. The record labels have a hard time differentiating between “product” and “art,” which explains why most of their output is considered lousy.

I’m not saying music should be free or that piracy is ok as long as it’s from a normally unprofitable field. I’m just saying that demanding upfront that your contribution to the music world immediately start showing positive returns is an annoying combination of false entitlement and ignorance.

This sentence is troubling: “...if we want artists — and, by extension, everyone who works with and for artists — to be paid for their creations…” This is part of the music industry’s problem. While piracy is bad for their business, and by extension, artists, ensuring that everyone else on the overextended food chain gets their cut is unsustainable in this day and age.

The only artists that can feed this extended family at this point in time are the top 5-10% of their roster. Everyone else gets to wait for minute amounts of royalties to make their way down from the top, spending years attempting to get recouped and finally start making money on their own.

At some point you, the artist, get a small slice of whatever's left after taking care of everyone else.

With the distribution options available to artists today (bandcamp, Facebook, Myspace, Beatport, Amazon, iTunes, etc.), I see no reason why any of them need a major label to act on their behalf. Some people (mainly record execs) argue that without their assistance they’ll never get heard. They tend to assume radio airplay is still the only game in town. (And it won’t be for much longer, not with all the fees being extracted by ASCAP, BMI, PRS, etc.)

But those people, the “everyone” that “works with or for” artists are the ones doing most of the complaining. They’re swiftly realizing that they could easily lose their non-essential positions. The artists themselves rarely complain about piracy as most of them realize it will only alienate part of their potential audience. (See also: Metallica.) The few artists that do complain are from the stratospheric layer of fully-recouped and highly successful acts. Bono (and U2’s management) spend a lot of time griping about the unavailability of “ivory backscratcher” money. Bono has even gone so far as to ALMOST recommend we follow China’s lead in privacy violation and institute their internet tracking program. (He stops just short of siding with one of the world leaders in human rights violations in his NY Times editorial. He just kind of throws it out there and, I assume, hopes that our overzealous government will run with the ball.)

Now, like many people on the other side of a long-winded rant, you’re probably asking yourself if I have any solutions to this dilemma rather than just reciting a litany of problems. It’s a good question. I don’t see any. The industry gouged customers, screwed their artists and tried to sue their way back into profitability rather than actually deal with the shift to digital. The only option they have is to deal with what’s left of their market. Short of building a time machine, heading back 15 years and trying again, I really don’t see that they’ve got many options left.

But there’s a larger question that rarely gets asked in these sort of editorials: WHY do we need to save the recording industry? Who, beyond those employed by it, really needs them to continue on in any capacity, much less in a legislated pseudo-return to the money-burning days of the CD?

I honestly don’t think that their collapse would do any lasting damage to the economy or society as a whole. The music industry likes to pretend (and are aided in their delusion by pieces like this) that they are the gatekeepers for ALL OF MUSIC and that without their endless generosity over the years, we would be a cultural black hole.

There are thousands of bands waiting to fill the void should they finally collapse and thousands of indie labels, self-producers and hosting services will to handle the distribution. Who knows? Radio could even re-emerge once freed from acrimonious performance rights groups. The only ones feeling the pain would be the former employees and the upper echelon of bands, who without a label-supplied collection of flunkies, would be forced to do some of the heavy lifting themselves.

The last question is for you, Robert. Why this sudden show of support for over-reaching and potentially dangerous legislation? In fact, why bother to stand up for the music industry at all? I can’t see anything else in your archive that would lead me to the conclusion that you’re a major label apologist. I’ve read other pieces of yours that I’ve enjoyed and agreed with but this one just seems to be horribly misguided at best, and incredibly ill-informed at worst.

I’d recommend checking out Techdirt.com where Mike Masnick has been putting together a solid body of work refuting pretty much every point in this piece and others like it. With a couple of quick topic searches, you can probably gain a better understanding of how the music world will continue to function just fine without the major labels.

-CLT

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Salem’s “Black” Magic; or That Razor Works Better When It’s Sharp – Sincerely, Occam

January 27, 2011

About a month back, while reading through the Village Voice’s 20 Worst Songs of 2010 (which you should totally check out — the very thorough dismantling of Train in the #1 spot is a blast), I came across Trapdoor by Salem in the #6 spot.

Now, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of SALEM but my issue with their takedown of this track has nothing to do with their particular critique but with whom they had chosen to link to, Brandon Soderberg over at his blog, No Trivia.

Soderberg’s issue with Salem has to do with Jack Donoghue’s use of pitch-shifting and ebonics (l guess that term will have to do) to make himself “sound black.” More specifically, he feels that Donoghue makes himself sound “black” so that he can get away with misogyny that he would be unable to if he sounded “white.”

“The slowed down vocals do not only have the effect of bringing the vocalist’s voice down to stoned crawl, they make the white performer sound black. This, coupled with lyrics that are content-wise, what my grandmother thinks rap’s about (murder, rape, misogyny, repeat) and the problematic, conscious “hip-hop” pronunciations underneath that vocal effect, makes Salem’s music pretty egregious. This is a group of white kids who’ve screwed their vocals down to “sound black,” and then use that screwing-down of vocals to say things they wouldn’t–and couldn’t–say otherwise. Employing the word “minstrelsy” is controversy-baiting, but it also isn’t that far off.”

Touched on (and dismissed) is Salem’s love for the pitched-down “screwed” sound of Houston rap. (See below.) According to Soderberg, this doesn’t excuse Salem’s “minstrel show” as Donoghue also willfully mispronounces words (“skreets”) when not indulging in full-blown misogyny.

There’s offensiveness on either side of this issue but a lot of it takes some serious digging and extrapolation. Soderberg is additionally perturbed that Donoghue (or John Holland in the NY Times interview) doesn’t just come out and say that he’s  trying to emulate black rappers or even engage in a discussion as to how some people might find this emulation troublesome.

First of all, some context. Check out this video of Salem “performing” at the Fader Fort*:

This “version” of Salem live seems to have its shit together a bit more (although still dangerously low on energy):

Combine that top video with this interview with the NY Times:

“Anyway, the group remains sanguine about its stage future. “I think there’s a lot you can do with having, like, I don’t know, smoke and fog and things,” Mr. Holland said confidently.”

(*Sidebar: As atrocious as the Fader clip is, I think I’d still be tempted to shell out to see them live. No matter which band hits the stage, the spacey trainwreck or the strobelit nightmare, I still think you get your money’s worth.)

Take a good long look in Donoghue’s eyes. If you’re wondering why no one owns up to the arguably troublesome subtext of “sounding black,” those windows to the soul with the “vacant” sign hanging in them would seem to indicate a full disconnect from their immediate surroundings, much less deeper philosophical issues.

Attempting to drag the band into any discussion of underlying themes is like finding a dead zone with your cellphone: you half expect a dialog box to pop up stating “Connection failed.” I don’t see his recalcitrance as intentional but rather as inadvertent. Donoghue seems incapable of subtext and engaging in a discussion about Salem’s “minstrel show” aspects is giving him entirely too much credit.

More disturbing is the fact that when you state that someone is trying to “sound black” simply to get away with bog-standard misogyny, you are also stating that misogyny is ok as long as you’re actually black. This implicit statement is at least as offensive as the original issue.

Now, if it’s misogyny that Soderberg has an issue with, he’s got 90% of rap and 60% of rock to tangle with. If it rubs him the wrong way that Donoghue mangles English without the authenticity of being, you know, black, we’re right back at square one, stating that it’s ok to talk street (or “skreet,” I suppose) as long as you’re the right race.

Ask yourself this: how many white people have you heard spouting off some version of “fo shizzle”? (Too many, I’m sure.) Did each of these mini-minstrel shows get a full blast of your outrage? Or was is just one of those things millions of (white) people do without recrimination thanks to the assumed irony? Is it ok as long as we’re all in on the joke?

I’m not here to defend Salem’s subject matter in this particular track and whether any of us like it or not, it tends to fall into that grey-ish “artistic persona” area where it gets really tough to attach the misogyny to the person saying it, especially when Salem’s members don’t really give a shit what you think. I also tend to give controversial subject matter in artistic endeavors lots of elbow room and have no desire to censor somebody’s work simply because it offends me. I also have no desire to kick out 800 words on how X offended me with their Y. Too much is open to interpretation and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to listen to/read/watch it again.

I’m willing to concede Soderberg’s point that the co-opting of black music that gave birth to rock and roll is not relevant to this discussion. Occasional vocalist and on-stage smoker Heather Marlatt flies this flag briefly in an interview with XLR8R when asked about Salem’s borrowed (via pitch shift) blackness.

“I feel like that’s something a white person would say,” says Marlatt. “In a way to criticize what we’re doing. It’s like, to anyone that thinks that in this era—I don’t know what to tell them. It’s not like we’re Elvis Presley. God. What, are we robbing the music from a different race? Give me a break.”

It’s not a very skillful deflection but then again, the collective members of Salem aren’t really known for their erudite conversation. But her defense doesn’t work. Of course, it doesn’t really need to. This isn’t an attempt to sell black music to white people by attaching a white face to it. This is (supposedly) a co-opting of black music to excuse its transgressive content, a charge that is pretty much going to remain in the eye of the offended beholder.

Problem is: I’m not buyin’ it. I don’t think Donoghue’s pitched-down gangster shit is anything more than a poor attempt to emulate his influences. I don’t think it’s any more racist than the white hip hop fanatic down the block that refers to everyone as “nigga.” It’s an ill-advised affectation that will probably result in his ass getting beaten someday but I don’t think he’s handing out the term with the same intentions as some Klan member or a former Seinfeld star.

As for feeling Salem couldn’t get away with misogynistic fantasies because they’re white? Isn’t this the sort of discussion we should have been having over a decade ago when Eminem first hit the radio? As for “minstrelsy” accusations, I don’t see anything about this that is intended to lampoon or demean the black race.

What Soderberg’s post does read like is a bit of character assassination. This would be fine if that’s how it was presented. (See again VV’s obliteration of Train.) But Soderberg turns his dislike of a band into accusations of racism, which is a bit disingenuous.

If you don’t like Salem there’s plenty to bitch about. Uninspired, repetitive music? Ok, I can see that. Terrible rapping. Agreed. Terrible subject matter. Yeah, but that’s rap for you. Bullshit genre? This too shall pass.

With all those targets available, why does Soderberg feel the need to drag his highly subjective racism claim into the mix and hang his criticism off that framework? It just seems like a long way to go to basically state “I H8 SALEM.” (Even worse, there’s a whole lot of backpedaling on the racism/minstrelsy claims in the comment threads.)

It’s like critiquing Norman Rockwell. While decrying his lack of imagination and overuse of cliche, you grab this painting:

and veer off into speculation on Rockwell’s latent pedophilia. Soderberg is irritated that the members of Salem dodge the racism question in the XLR8R interview, stating something vague about the history of white theft in rock and roll. I guarantee if someone cornered Rockwell about his naked child butt pictures, he probably wouldn’t spend much time entertaining your pedophilia queries. (Although, this might have a lot to do with him having been dead since 1978.)

Soderberg makes it very clear in the comment thread how subjective this attack is when he says, “THIS offends ME.” He should have left it at that. With no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that Donoghue is a racist (intentionally or otherwise), this kind of outrage is a pretty tough sell.

One final question: if Donoghue is truly trying to imitate a black person, what exactly is the harm in that? His pitch-shifted rap doesn’t seem to be demeaning or dismissive. He doesn’t come across as someone who’s interested in playing up a stereotype. If anything, it’s an homage to his Houston-scene influences. Just because it’s badly done and lacking in subtlety does not immediately turn it into a post-death rock Amos and Andy.

As Soderberg states more than once, this is his subjective take. But if that’s all it is, why spend so much time defending that stance? It offends you. So be it. But the other commenters aren’t necessarily wrong, they’re just not finding anything offensive in what’s going on. Obviously the longer the discussion goes on the less likely it is that anyone will change their mind.

But maybe, just maybe, this is exactly what it seems. A white boy doing screwed-vocal rap because he digs screwed-vocal rap. Nothing more. Nothing less.

-CLT