Archive for the ‘FAIL’ Category

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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

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Your Arbitration Rights Explained

January 21, 2011

As one of many half-assed services we provide, Fancy Plans (in association with Pants to Match) is proud to present a brief guide to arbitration “rights.” This plain-English breakdown of the legal and technical terms used will help you get a “leg up” in your next legal battle with predatory lending agencies, home owner’s associations and the combative legal team currently suing you for violating your Confidentiality Agreement with last night’s drunken Tweeting.

In addition to breaking it down into terms the average layperson can understand, this somewhat brief explanation will also clear up the many reasons that “rights” keeps appearing in quotes. Key explanations and added language will be highlighted in blue text for readability and ease of use when quoting it out of context.

Color-coordinating often helps give the illusion of fairness.

WAIVER OF JURY TRIAL AND ARBITRATION PROVISION

Arbitration is a process in which persons with a dispute: (a) waive their rights to file a lawsuit and proceed in court and to have a jury trial to resolve their disputes (also covers other resolutions, such as barroom brawl, coin toss, H-O-R-S-E, humbled apology, threatening late night phone calls) and (b) agree, instead, to submit their disputes to a neutral (but biased) third person (an “arbitrator”) for a decision. Each party to the dispute has an opportunity to present some evidence to the arbitrator. (In your case, you may present receipts for expensive luxuries, your highly negative public school disciplinary record, all bankruptcies filed, all bankruptcies considered, personal letters of recommendation from acquaintances currently in jail/rehab.) Pre-arbitration discovery may be limited. (In your case, severely fucking limited. Usually this will be constrained to a valid photo I.D. and a valid blank check whose ABA routing number and account information can easily be copied by the other party for unauthorized withdrawals.) Arbitration proceedings are private and less formal than court trials. (Less formal = you being referred to as “this lazy asshole” or “deadbeat” as well as several disparaging remarks referencing your sexual misadventures/penis length.) The arbitrator will issue a final and binding decision resolving the dispute, which may be enforced as a court judgment. (Or more rarely, a court-sanctioned kneecapping.*) A court rarely overturns the arbitrator’s decision.

* Also: dickpunching.

THEREFORE, YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE AS FOLLOWS:

1. Acknowledgments. You acknowledge and agree that by entering into this arbitration provision:

A. YOU ARE WAIVING YOUR RIGHT TO HAVE A TRIAL BY JURY TO RESOLVE ANY DISPUTE ALLEGED AGAINST US OR RELATED THIRD PARTIES, INCLUDING HOLDING AND MANAGEMENT COMPANIES, THUG-LIKE ENFORCERS, HIGHLY PAID CHARACTER ASSASSINS AND UMBERTO, THE LANDSCAPER;
B. YOU ARE WAIVING YOUR RIGHT TO HAVE A COURT, OTHER THAN A SMALL CLAIMS TRIBUNAL (COMPOSED OF IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBERS) RESOLVE ANY DISPUTE ALLEGED AGAINST US OR RELATED THIRD PARTIES (INCLUDING OUR RELATIVES); and
C. YOU ARE WAIVING YOUR RIGHT TO SERVE AS A REPRESENTATIVE, AS A PRIVATE ATTORNEY GENERAL, OR IN ANY OTHER REPRESENTATIVE CAPACITY (INCLUDING REPRESENTING YOURSELF, WHICH WILL LEAVE YOU SUBJECT TO QUICK AND MERCILESS JUDGMENTS), AND/OR TO PARTICIPATE AS A MEMBER OF A CLASS OF CLAIMANTS, IN ANY LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST US AND/OR RELATED THIRD PARTIES, INCLUDING OUR PYRAMID-SCHEMING BROTHER-IN-LAW, DOUG.

2. Arbitration Fees and Process: Regardless of who demands arbitration, at your request we will advance your portion of the expenses associated with the arbitration, including the filing, administrative, hearing and arbitrator’s fees (“Arbitration Fees”). These fees will be financed at 31.75% per day until arbitration has been sufficiently “dragged out,” at which point these fees will be financed at prime + 257%. The arbitration hearing will be conducted in the county of your residence, or within 30 miles from such county, or in the county in which the transaction under this Agreement occurred, or in such place as shall be ordered by the arbitrator, such as current vacation hotspots, international waters, local dives, wi-fi hotspots or the moon. In conducting the arbitration proceeding, the arbitrator shall not apply any federal or state rules of civil procedure or evidence, but rather an (wait for it…) arbitrary set of rules whose ever-shifting requirements will resemble those of the arbitrator’s favorite drinking game/”house rules” Monopoly. [In the highly improbable event that] the arbitrator renders a decision or award in your favor resolving the dispute, you should probably got out and buy a lottery ticket or bet on some horses or something. At the timely request of any party, the arbitrator shall provide a written explanation for the award including all applicable citations, charts, graphs, line drawings and NSFW Flash animation. The arbitrator’s award may be filed with any court having jurisdiction, most likely one miles away and open inconvenient hours/accessible only by rented boat/mule. In the much more likely event that a decision finds AGAINST you, the arbitrator will sentence you to one of the following:

  • 24 hours in stocks
  • Stoning
  • Caning
  • Immediate bankruptcy (moral AND financial)
  • Lashing
  • Plank-walking
  • Internet vigilante justice
  • Scapegoating
  • Book throwing
  • Bedazzling

All personal information will be forwarded to both 4chan and The Smoking Gun.

-CLT

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Proposed Additions to CBSC’s Banned Music List

January 18, 2011

Speeding through Canada's new "Alpert-Free Zone."

As you are probably aware, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council decided to ban the unedited version of Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing thanks to a sole complaint by a Newfoundland woman who was completely outraged by the in-triplicate appearance of the word “faggot” and rushed to defend the entirety of non-straight humanity nearly 26 years after the fact.

You may also recall that some long-winded and profane amateur blogger spewed out around 1,400 words (about 40% of them variations of “fuck”) in response to this bit of news. This same blogger is back with more profanity and words to add fuel to the bonfire of stupidity with a list of tracks that would be better off blacklisted.

Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side
“Colored girls,” Reed? You should know better than that. The last person to use that outdated (and offensive) term was my grandfather, which makes him roughly the same age as you. So, um… as you were. Partial points for the positive portrayal of a transsexual.

Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar
Plantation owner rapes slaves. Doesn’t get much worse than that. Willing to ban immediately provided Angie and Wild Horses are included for the heinous crime of being incredibly whiny, a fact compounded by their overuse as a rock radio tempo shifts/call-in dedications.

Billy Idol – Mony Mony
Jimmy Buffett – Margaritaville
Two-part banning. Any song that needs the audience to create and interject the only entertaining parts themselves is wasting valuable airtime that would be better utilized airing heavy-handed PSAs. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will be given a seasonal pass.

They call it a "handlebar" moustache for a reason...

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Reinforces gay stereotypes through campy operatics and bombastic multi-tracking. The moustache doesn’t help. Oh, and apparently they killed a guy. With a gun.

Three Dog Night – Joy to the World
Having just rolled out of the Happy Holiday season, do we really need to be exposed to thinly-veiled Christianity pimping?

Def Leppard – Pour Some Sugar on Me
Diabetes currently affects nearly 98% of the 75% of the American population with weight problems ranging from “charmingly obese” to “morbidly obese.” A listener might be compelled to literally “pour some sugar” on an unsuspecting diabetic sending them into shock or irreversible coma.

Plus, the drummer is still under investigation for the murder of Mrs. Richard Kimble.

Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks
Causes undue panic, especially in Holland and other easily submerged countries. Let’s not even get into the Dutch tradition of jamming fingers into dikes.

Package deal: must also remove Stairway to Heaven and a track to be named later (probably Whole Lotta Love) as we’re all pretty fucking sick of hearing them.

Pink Floyd – Money
They clearly say “bullshit.” Do we really need another reason? (Ok, here’s one: quite possibly the worst song in Pink Floyd’s catalogue and I’m including the ones that are 15 minutes of dicking around while Syd Barrett looks for his remaining brain cells.) Won’t somebody please think of the children who aren’t even listening to this because they’re off in their rooms masturbating to the Suicide Girls while Lil Wayne’s nasal profanities help them figure how to treat a lady?

Elton John – Crocodile Rock
Bob Seger – Old Time Rock & Roll
Billy Joel – It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me
Pointless nostalgia written by men who were relics by the time they wrote the songs, setting off a recursive wave of pointless nostalgia for a mostly purloined era they were very minimally a part of. Part of a much larger rose-tint job that sanctified so-called “classic rock” as the last “honest” music genre, directly resulting in Eagles’ concert tickets starting at $450. Willfully excludes younger generations in a unctuous display of white, upper-class exclusionism.

Jagger pitches woo.

Rolling Stones – Under My Thumb
Pure, unapologetic misogyny. At least Eminem had the decency to wrap up the four minutes of rape and murder fantasies in Kill You with “Just kidding, ladies. You know I love you.” If only Mick Jagger could have been as sensitive.

AC/DC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Advocates murder as a universal solution to the problems of everyday life. Narrator utilizes predatory pricing, negatively affecting mom-and-pop hitmen. Will allow track to remain in airplay on the condition that You Shook Me All Night Long be removed from every jukebox/DJ bag in the world.

Tesla – Signs
Reinforces the dubious theory that long-haired hippies are positive contributors to society and tireless champions of the common man. Much like vampires, the moment you welcome them into your house they become a malevolent and destructively lazy force, moving in to your couch and hoovering down every snack in arm’s reach, all the while talking cocaine big about societal change and critiquing your cereal choices.

Imagine me/Working for you.” Sorry. Can’t do it. And I’ll bet you can’t either.

(Yes, I realize Tesla didn’t write this song but I’ll bet you haven’t heard the original on the radio in over 20 years.)

Aerosmith – Dude Looks Like a Lady
Steven Tyler’s rough approximation of The Crying Game creates an atmosphere of apprehension in men who are 90% sure that the lady they’re getting drunk is actually a lady.

A plea bargain arrangement allows for Dude… to stay in the rotation provided everything released after Permanent Vacation is removed from the playlist, thus freeing listeners’ ears from Aerosmith’s repertoire of single entendres and lazy ballads. Listeners are still welcome to imagine that Liv Tyler will look exactly like Steven Tyler once she ages into the shaky dignity that was Katherine Hepburn’s later years.

Van Halen – Hot for Teacher
Irresponsibly promotes inappropriate sexual relations between students and teachers, disguising the fact that nearly all of these trysts end in tears, litigation and a general increase in the male participant’s  reputation. (Cocksmithing +2)

This will also spare listeners from further diminishing returns from this increasingly one-trick pony (albeit one that has been ridden by three different jockeys).

During the full moon, Bryan Adams slowly transforms into Anthony Michael Hall.

Bryan Adams – Summer of ’69
If you can somehow manage to stretch your credulity enough to allow that Adams graduated high school at age 10, you’re still left with the rather shifty bit of sexual innuendo that he apparently layered on after the fact. (That fact being his birth date: November 5, 1959.)

Now, rather than being a blatant easy-to-rhyme fantasy, it’s actually a song about mutual pleasure. Neither kids nor their parents should be further exposed to the childish giggling at the mention of “69” nor the accompanying mental images conjured thereby, whether straight (“Ourobouros”), lesbian (“fur trading”) or gay (“recumbent bicycle built for two”).

Van Morrison – Brown Eyed Girl
Vanal references. And I’m pretty sure the old buggerer says something about “going down on the old man with the transistor radio.”

-CLT

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The Stabbing Knife Vol. 5: Doubleheader Edition

January 15, 2011

Don't sweat it, Roberto. I'm completely made of Tuesday.

If it’s completely true that snitches get stitches then it’s doubly true that self-righteous idiots who attempt to sand down the world’s rough edges through censorship get the business end of Roberto’s stabbing knife. And it’s been awhile, so we’re having a doubleheader. On to the wetwork.

We’ve all heard the phrase “One person can make a difference,” and we’ve all nodded thoughtfully while thinking, “Bullshit.” Just like the eternally optimistic phrase “Every vote counts” allows us to feel like our voice matters in the political arena, the sad truth is that one person has no chance in hell to make significant changes, especially in well-established institutions with years of history behind them.

And then something like this happens.

An anonymous (to us, anyway) complainant has singlehandedly gotten Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing removed from radio airplay in Canada. As many of you are probably thinking, what the fuck for?

This anonymous complainant (hereafter “AC” for the sake of my fingers) was offended by the use of the word “faggot,” which pops up three times as the narrator critiques the hair metal dominating MTV at the time. If you’re not familiar with the lyrics, I’m not going to run them down for you here. Perhaps you can get in touch with AC as you are apparently the only other English-speaking person alive who has not heard this overplayed rock radio staple several hundred times in their life.

A homophobe and his headband rarely part.

Having heard this track 26 years after it was released, AC sprung into action. Assuming the role of spokesperson for the entire gay (or “gey,” as I assume it’s spelled in Canada) community, AC fired off a letter to the offending station demanding they remove the song from airplay.

“A song was aired, “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits, and included the word “faggot” a total of three times.  I am aware of other versions of the song, in which the word was replaced with another, and yet OZ FM chose to play and not censor this particular version that I am complaining about.

I find this extremely offensive as a member of the LGBT community and feel that there is absolutely no valid reason for such discriminatory marks to be played on-air.”

At first, they blew her off, albeit in a very kindly fashion, running down the reasons for keeping it in the rotation and citing precedent.

“In this specific case, the song in question has been played countless times in its original form, from its #1 release in 1984 to the present day, and continues to be aired on stations across the country in this form.  As this selection has been aired continuously for 25+ years, and the original version is regarded by many as an historically successful and essential rock hit in that form with these particular lyrics, management chose in this specific instance to retain the authenticity of this selection.”

“We understand the concerns you have raised regarding this particular selection and do apologize for any undue stress caused to you as a listener by the lyrical content of this selection, but based on the above reasoning, we have operated with the understanding that in this specific case, no editing of the material is warranted.”

That should have been that.

The C stands for "Capitulation."

Not good enough. AC was still perturbed and fired back, using a lot of words but mainly pointing out than anything less than removal or censorship of the track would be unsatisfactory.

“I am highly dissatisfied with the response I have received.  I do not feel the argument in favour of the unabridged version of the song was valid, and it is certainly not strong enough to justify playing such words on the radio.  This word carries an unavoidable connotation of hate.  By airing it unapologetically on the radio, this station is indirectly propagating hate.  Although I can see the value in a timeless classic rock song in its original form, I cannot help but feel that it does not overshadow the importance of ending discrimination.”

The CBSC, not wanting to be seen as “propagating hate” or not being really on board with “ending discrimination” through continued airplay of a 26-year-old song, consulted and decided in her favor, issuing a lengthy missive explaining their reasons for removing the track.

So, apparently, one person can make a difference.

Now, before you get all inspired and head out to start a carpool or become a locavore or write your Congressman in an attempt to rid hotels you don’t even patronize of PPV porn, take a good, long look at what this is.

This isn’t justice. This isn’t David triumphing over Goliath. Hell, this isn’t even the local repertory theater’s production of Pay It Forward.

This is myopic, narcissistic bullshit.

This is saying, “This song offends ME. Change it. Fuck everyone else.”

It’s not that I think Money for Nothing is a classic work of art or that using the word “faggot” is ok in all circumstances. But maybe, just maybe, this instance is alright because FOR FUCK’S SAKE, THE SONG HAS BEEN OUT FOR 26 YEARS AND YOU WANT TO CENSOR IT NOW??

For Christ’s sake (or so they say), the Parents Television Council is always trying to censor this or that offending bit of culture but at least they’ve got some sort of quorum and the signed petitions and email carpet-bombing to back it up. I don’t agree with them ever but at least it’s not just one person wheedling away with a 2-year-old’s sense of entitlement, moaning “I don’t like this! Changeitchangeitchangeitchangeit!!!”

Dr. Alan Gribben is unaware that his moustache is on slightly crooked.

This is no different than Twain scholar Alan Gribben who’s working tirelessly to crank out a version of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, free of the troublesome word “nigger,” which has coyly been replaced with “slave.” (Also on the chopping block: “Injun” and “Half-breed.”) Once again, lots of history but at least in this case he’s not the first person to censor or ban this book.

“The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the “n” word (“My mother said it’s only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people”) and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. “My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it.”

His main issue seems to be that it makes him “uncomfortable,” especially now that he’s relocated to the South. If he can’t handle using this in its historical context then he probably shouldn’t be teaching. Obviously it’s too much to expect that he might provide his students with the historical background or engage them in a discussion of how hearing/reading this word affects them.

No, I guess it would just be simpler to jack Tom Sawyer’s brush and whitewash the shit out of an American masterpiece. Even worse, he’s teaching a new generation that if something offends you, you should get rid of it no matter its history or context or importance to other people who aren’t you.

In this era of self-victimization thousands of people are running around with a chip on their shoulder and hot tears of self-righteous humiliation in their eyes. Why should something that offends them need to disappear? Are these self-appointed guardians of our culture really that selfish?

If you think that you might be offended by the word “faggot” leaking out of your speakers in the near future, just shut it off or dial away when you hear the very distinctive opening of Money for Nothing. And if you think you might not be able to handle the word “nigger” in print then just fucking read/teach something else, you projecting bastard.

Stabbity-stabbity-stab-stab-stab.

Quick postscript: Reaction to the ban of Money for Nothing has been pretty much completely negative. Here’s a typical take from an actual gay man, Scott Thompson (Kids in the Hall):

“Shakespeare would be rolling over in his g-word,” said Thompson, the 51-year-old actor/comedian best known for his work with the Kids in the Hall troupe.

When you ban a word, you make the word more powerful. All this banning that’s going on just makes (the hate) go deeper and deeper into the soul, where it festers. Let it it out. I want to know what you really think. I can handle it.

“It makes me feel like we’re five years old and need to go potty. The n-word, I guess, is number 1 and the f- word is number 2.”

Check on previous victims here:
ASCAP
Steve Dahl
Garth Brooks
Bono

-CLT

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<(<0)

January 14, 2011

As Downey Jr. tries to sober up for the day's shoot, McCarthy attempts a new expression called "pensiveness."

[This is a followup piece to the Top 50 post involving  Lazer Crystal, specifically how much their music sounds like the perfect soundtrack to drugging it up 80s-style. Unfortunately, this film gets both the music and the drugging it up completely wrong. So, rather than the nihilistic depravity of Ellis’ novel, we get Andrew “Jiminy Cricket” McCarthy and Poison covering KISS.]

Adapting the “unfilmable” Bret Easton Ellis to the big screen has always been a challenge. The first attempt was so poor it’s amazing that Rules of Attraction or American Psycho even got greenlit, much less critically acclaimed.

There are a number of reasons why Less Than Zero failed spectacularly, none of which are named Robert Downey, Jr. or James Spader:

The Political Climate
Of all the behind-the-scenes tinkering that went on, it was the attempt to appease the national anti-drug climate that did the most damage. The conversion of the protagonist into a sympathetic, moral character pleased nervous studio execs and the First Lady herself but was completely at odds with Ellis’ coke-fueled tale of amoral hedonism.

(Specifically, this was the era of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign which posited that only reason kids were doing drugs was because no one had mentioned it was ok to turn down offers from drug pushers.

Speaking of which, drug “pushers” only exist in the fevered waking dreams of PTL/PTC members and the sordid cartoon tales of Jack Chick. The infamous Chick tracts in particular paint everything and everyone in ridiculously broad black and white strokes. Drug pushers are nihilistic wraiths of pure evil and the users themselves fare even worse, being prone to prostitution, theft, homicide, child abuse and suicide, all within 15 2-frame pages. Definitely something everyone should check out at least once.

Chick was right about one thing: hippies are idiots.

Ever since the government began placing various substances on various schedules, it’s been a seller’s market. No dealer really has to push his product. The shit practically sells itself. Just ask Rick Ross, whose massive amount of blow must have sold itself while he was in prison. As a guard.

[Notable exception: the Recession of 2008 when drug dealers were cold-calling previous customers hoping to drum up some sales. This lack of interest would seem to indicate that a lot of people can actually just use drugs rather than only abuse them. If you can stop scoring just because it no longer fits in the budget then you don’t really have a problem. Some people drove less. Some people bought more generics. And some people, apparently, bought less coke.]

/digression)

The Soundtrack
While it is very much a snapshot of the charts (Poison, Public Enemy, Aerosmith, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.), it is not in any way a good soundtrack, having more in common with Patrick Bateman’s avidly mainstream music collection than anything cutting edge or, indeed, fitting. Had the movie been made with any intelligence, we might have found some irony in the tracklisting. As it is, it reeks of calculation and demographic gladhanding, much like the film’s staunchly anti-drug message.

McCarthy tries (and fails) to produce more charisma than his tie.

Andrew McCarthy
McCarthy grabbed the starring role based on his work as the lead in Mannequin,a phrase that has never been deployed since. Bringing with him all the tabula rasa charisma that allowed him to portray a showroom dummy, McCarthy blands up the action with his tiring sincerity and an acting range that stretches from emotionless to a mild brow furrow when called upon to express something other than “warm body.”

Jamie Gertz adds nothing herself except some additional repressed awkwardness. The combination of these two leads’ sexual magnetism (we’re adding negatives at this point) adds a disturbing layer of self-consciousness to their sex scenes, coating these set pieces with a sheen of nervous sweat.

Nothing says "hot" like two people who look like that have no idea what the fuck they're doing.

It doesn’t help that the movie tries to have it both ways, pouring inordinate amounts of shoehorned morality all over the insincere hedonism. The principals go at it like two valedictorians attempting to slum it on Frat Row, conjuring images of your parents getting juiced and banging each other on the balcony of their Disneyworld hotel room.

McCarthy and Gertz never acted so hard in their lives, an effort which shows through clearly during these “passionate” moments. It creates a sense of empathetic embarrassment in the audience with their every sweaty maneuver being somehow less erotic than coke fiend Downey’s desperation mens room blowjobs. It all becomes like a trip to an American nudist colony where your initial enthusiasm is quickly dampened by the realization that the people who most want to run around naked are also the people who you most want to see with way more clothes on.

All in all, this travesty was enough to cause Bret Easton Ellis to disown it, distancing himself from the half-assed “message movie” that rose malformed from his breakthrough piece of narcissitic nihilism.

(Interestingly enough, Ellis’ sequel to Less Than Zero, Imperial Bedrooms has given him hope of a cast reunion. Unfortunately, he wants McCarthy and Gertz as well:

“Easton Ellis is hoping that a movie would reunite Spader, McCarthy, Jamie Gertz and others – and, after Robert Downey Jr.’s well-chronicled substance-abuse difficulties and subsequent triumph over them, feels that the recent Oscar-nominee could bring something special to a second turn as Julian Wells.”

Hellfire.)

-CLT