Archive for July, 2009

  • Rob Spectre
  • 31
  • Jul
  • 09

It shouldn’t have to come to this.  Lessons should be learned the fourth or fifth time.  The extreme regulation being forced out of Washington is disproportionate even to the outrageous sums used to pull back from this economic crisis.  No one, including the most left-leaning, bleeding heart Democrat, would want the government setting pay guidelines for anyone in the private sector as it constitutes a moral hazard perhaps even greater than trillion dollar bailouts.

But even after melting down Earth’s first global economy, Wall Street is not fucking learning.

The House vote today to regulate executive pay packages shouldn’t have been necessary.  After the extraordinary lengths to which the American taxpayer has been compelled to save our financial system from catastrophe, one would expect humanity from the beneficiaries of such unprecedented sacrifice.  The party should have been over with the first bailout check.  The largesse should have ceased when they came begging to us for salvation.

But, it didn’t.  CBS reports that investment banks that received bailouts during last year’s meltdown awarded bonuses that grotesquely exceeded profits.  That even while receiving TARP dollars, firms like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup paid between 2 and 3 times more in bonuses than they received in net income.  While we took the consequences of their Wild West derivatives trading in the mouth, they handed out more than they were taking in literally twice over.

Another outrage on top of a demon’s resume of economic war crimes  already divulged in the months since America bailed out Wall Street, this latest discovery is the steamer that broke the toilet.  These bonuses are more than the mere product of a gaggle of pathological fuckups. They are the work of pure assholes; conscious perversions of our generosity for personal profit.

Every taxpayer’s impulse for a measured government response should now be abandoned.  Every lawmaker’s instinct for limiting state interference in a free market should now be surrendered.  We are done with being tempered in our reaction to the financial industry’s continued exploitation of our money for individual gain.  These fuckers have persisted their fuckery to such an obscene degree that legislation is the only available curb.

Even for the frightening precedent it sets, even for the antipathy for capitalism it represents, Congress has got to nerf Wall Street pay.  These dickholes just aren’t learning how to be human beings on their own.

That this is even necessary may be the most damaging part of Wall Street’s irresponsibility.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 30
  • Jul
  • 09

I love going to the record store.  I love the dust and the poorly vacuumed carpets.  I love the pretentious customer service and the clearance bins.  I love the way the staff gushes about a new album on the rare occasions they agree.  I love how which record store you go to says something about you and how your shopping bag dares the criticism of your consumers.  But most of all, I love the subtle surprises in a well curated selection, as much a reflection of the record store owner as the currents of popular music.  I even love the stoner weekend warrior with a photographic memory of the store’s stock of 45s.

And, in our lifetimes, the record store will die. And it will never come back.

Not because of piracy, though it didn’t help.  Not because of the music industry, though it certainly hurt.  But because humans are less able to upsell than machines; because an algorithim can better direct a listener to new music they will love than a clerk.

EMI sent notices earlier this month that they will be bailing on the independent record store.  They will distribute their records solely in big box retail chains like Wal-mart and Best Buy, deleting a significant roster from the indie, hole-in-the-wall, beautifully unprofitable record stores of America.

Of the corporate music labels, EMI is perhaps the biggest blow to indie stores.  Much of their top-tier sellers – Radiohead, Beastie Boys, The Decemberists – were broke by small indie store clerks.  Acts like Gorillaz, Sigur Rós, and Corinne Bailey Rae have been mainstays of top ten racks and shift manager picks, and will now simply be absent from indie store shelves.

This development comes two years after EMI successfully pioneered selling DRM-free music on the Internet and two weeks after their CEO admitted that the company “has lost touch” with their consumers.  The move reflects the growing outward image of a company going continually online, moving to where music customers now live – the Internet.

EMI discontinuing small store sales is not just a cost-cutting measure – this is a concession to the superiority of the music recommendation engine.  The iTunes Genius, the eMusic Recommendation, and the Music Genome Project have all proven far more powerful at merchandising than even the most plugged-in record store shelf.  While a good clerk knows what the kids are looking for, these algorithms draw on everything the kids ever listened to.

Going to a store and falling in love with a new band solely through the insight provided by another human being – it’ll be something we’ll tell our grandchildren about.  It makes Pandora seem a remarkably prescient name.

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  • Robert Taylor
  • 29
  • Jul
  • 09

It is hard to comprehend the righteous enthusiasm some Americans have for using the government to punish or ban things that they find “offensive” or “immoral.” So it didn’t surprise me to see near universal applause when President Obama’s signed last month’s bill giving the FDA the power to regulate tobacco.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act now gives sweeping powers to the FDA. Anyone involved in manufacturing, preparing, compounding, or processing tobacco has to register with the FDA and submit to FDA inspections, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The FDA will also restrict tobacco advertising and advertising on labels, a blatant unconstitutional restriction of free speech. All of these new measures will be funded, of course, by taxes on manufactures, importers, and the cigarettes themselves.

Objections to this type of government control is not an endorsement of the harmful and deadly effects of smoking. Smoking is a bad habit and a personal choice, and the  way to combat vices is through education and information, not with the corruptible power of the state. Liberals defend freedom from government only in private and social issues, and conservatives tend to only praise economic freedom, seeing no philosophical contradiction. These equally inconsistent ideologies have spent the last century playing a tug-of-war with each other over the reins of the massive US government, and depending on who is in charge, the vice hunting begins.

The enthusiasm behind this bill, and the tax raises on cigarettes that are gaining popularity, is disconcerting since it represents a regressive step in fighting the insanity of US drug laws and other prohibitions. A majority of Americans now think that marijuana should be decriminalized, and some states are standing up for themselves and making their own drug laws. Authorizing the FDA to regulate tobacco makes the repeal of victimless crime laws that much harder.

President Obama promised a different and encouraging approach to federal drug policy, but is again showing his reptilian political ability to say one thing and do the other. The raids on medical marijuana facilities have increased, including one a few months ago here in San Francisco. Our prisons are already bursting with millions of non-violent drug users. Will the hypocritical Puffer-in-Chief’s tobacco tyranny result in the criminal punishment of smokers?

An overreaction? Maybe. But consider that the beginning of the road for the federal ban on marijuana started with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. It effectively taxed marijuana at extremely high levels, and slowly but surely the government grabbed more and more control and regulation over “illicit” drugs until they were completely criminalized by Nixon’s junta.

The prohibition or taxation of a substance that is deemed “dangerous” or “harmful” has had, and continues to have, incredibly destructive repercussions that are even worse than the drugs themselves. Modern drug prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, creates a black market where bloody organized crime steps in to supply the demand, forces police to waste valuable resources locking up drug offenders, and actually increases drug use and addiction.

The road to hell is paved with government’s good intentions, and no matter how noble it may sound to regulate harmful substances for the benefit of the children (and don’t forget that nauseating, all-inclusive “society”), social problems, like smoking, are best handled by families, communities, churches, charities, guilds, and the thousands of other voluntary associations that existed when Americans didn’t live under a nanny state.

My fundamental objection to the regulation of tobacco, and drug prohibition, ultimately lies in the principal that our bodies and our property do not belong to the state. These prohibitions and massive regulations are counterproductive and costly, yes, but the real crime is how much of our individual liberty gets trampled by the government’s refusal to mind its own business.


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  • Rob Spectre
  • 29
  • Jul
  • 09

Racism used to be a serious charge.  Even five years ago, it was a despicable sin, the kind that ended political careers and terminated celebrity status.  It was something that neutered our language and censored our output; the last thing that you couldn’t do on television and get away with it.  “Playing the race card” became popular verbiage, an allusion to the accusation’s power on the public stage.

Photo: Glenn Beck

Photo: Glenn Beck

But in the topsy turvy Bizarro America where a man with Hussein in his name is president and the Supreme Court is short four testicles, racism has become a cartoon instrument of cheap publicity applied with slapstick care.  No sooner did Sonia Sotomayor get nominated for the Supreme Court than Rush Limbaugh spat out the allegation, calling her “racist” for suggesting she and women like her might have life experience greater than rich white men.

Ever the sheep, Glenn Beck yesterday followed a similar script.  Citing Barack Obama’s “stupidly” comment about the officer who arrested Henry Louis Gate Jr. in his own home as evidence, Beck – straight-faced and as genuine as his kind gets – called the President of the United States a racist.

Nevermind the president is half-white.  Nevermind most of the staff who work for the president are white.  Nevermind most of his Cabinet is white.  Nevermind his Vice-President is white.  Despite the vanilla surrounding Barack Obama, all it took was calling a cop arresting an innocent man in his own home stupid to provide Glenn Beck with all the confidence necessary to call the man a racist.

It would be easy to dismiss Beck as an idiot.  To compare this latest outrage with his history of histrionics and resolve him as the Paris Hilton of political commentary – an opinion that is famous only for its circular celebrity.

But I don’t buy it.  Limbaugh, Beck, Liddy, and the rest of the right-wing “opinion makers” are guilty of crimes more insidious that idiocy.  These hooligans are grown men well aware of what they are doing and are choosing to do it anyway.  They equate racism with instant ratings and free press, a justifiable means to achieve an end of profit.

Despite their sloped foreheads and stupid looks, these apes know a tool when they use it.  They are assigning a new definition to the well-worn cliche – “playing the race card” is a quick buck with instant gratification.  A TV-dinner controversy: just add stupid.

These monkeys are making the charge of racism dangerously fashionable.  And they shouldn’t be fed by our attention.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 28
  • Jul
  • 09

Last month, TechCrunch reported that one of their editors had been viciously interrupted mid-meal by a baboon in Rwanda.  The horrowing experience struck fear in the heart of the blogosphere, implying that no gonzo journalist abroad was safe from simian on hominid violence.

But while TC’s Sarah Lacy only lost breakfast, our intrepid photographer Daniel Austin nearly lost his face.  As he continues producing brilliant work for his weekly (d)SPOT on tour in Southeast Asia, he recently had a harrowing experience with an irked monkey.

Warning: this is not for the faint of heart.

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