John Oliver On Ayn Rand

John Oliver Demands to Know How Ayn Rand Is ‘Stil…: http://youtu.be/oSk-C7W0L28

John Oliver and the the staff of Last Week Tonight are truly brilliant.  In a little over three minutes they completely and hilariously take apart conservatives strange worship of Ayn Rand.  It is a thing of beauty!

The Greed of Beyonce

The other night in the hotel I caught part of Beyonce’s HBO special and ever since I have been trying to figure out why it was so vile.  It is true that is was style without substance, that it was music without musicians, that it featured politics of the shallowest kind, and that it was more Las Vegas show than concert.  But even none of these things really get to the core of why it was so awful. 

The part of the concert I saw was championing feminism.  But that was it’s explicit premise.  Implicitly it was really championing materialism of the worst kind.  If you believe in yourself you too can be rich and successful and this is the height of human achievement.  This was really nothing but Joel Osteen without pants. 

Earlier this year I saw Buffy Sainte-Marie.  She spoke about how the way we treat others, and not money, should be our defining purpose.  There was something not only powerful about her, but subversive as well.  You felt as if you were seeing a great spiritual warrior for good. 

Buffy Sainte-Marie was, once upon a time, blacklisted by President Johnson for her brave political stances.  Beyonce has been invited into all of the halls of power, even the White House,  because at the end of the day she rubber stamps the status quo. 

During the concert I saw there was a giant sign behind Beyonce that put up words pertaining to feminism.  Subliminally it was saying the same thing as Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko:  Greed is good. 

What is Selling Out These Days?

As I creep slowly up the music business food chain and have thought about the state of the music business, I have had to think about what the term selling out means.  I grew up when the music business was healthy.  I also grew up following the punk and independent music scene quite closely.  There were people who “sold out” and who “didn’t sell out”.  It meant various things to various people, and was never clearly defined, but it was more so than today.  Lou Reed made a Honda commercial, but I don’t think anyone could ever accuse him of selling out.  Meanwhile a band like Fugazi never even allowed themselves to be interviewed in magazines that had booze or tobacco ads.  Johnny Rotten, John Lydon, did a butter ad a couple years ago, but he claimed this was only to get Public Image Ltd, a very avant garde band, back to making records.  Sometimes things stick to artists and sometimes they don’t.   Really I think you have to measure someone’s whole career and determine if they have artistic integrity.

Back in the renaissance,  in Italy, there was a rich and powerful family named the Medici family.  They funded the arts heavily.  They were patrons of such artists as Michaelangelo.   Basically in one way or another artists need their Medici family.  It is preferable if this is done through funding through the general public, as lots of small patrons cannot really force an artist to compromise their vision. 

However, what do you do in an age when no one is buying records the way they once were?  Art costs money to make.  Bills still need to be paid. 

You see more and more artists making corporate partnerships in order to survive.  More and more artists also appear in commercials as mainstream radio has been neutered almost completely.   This makes me uncomfortable because large corporations often act unethically.  Part of the purpose of art is to speak truth to power.  It becomes harder to do, though it is not impossible, if an artist is funded by that power.  No one will accuse John Lydon anytime soon of biting his tongue.  But he was well established by the time he made a commercial.  I do think that the relationship between corporations and artists is corrupting,  if not to every artist, then at least in the industry overall.  If it is hard to pinpoint exactly who has been corrupted,  it does seem like there is less art speaking truth to power than during the 60’s or the punk rock era. 

I don’t have the answer to these questions.  I just think it is worth thinking about.  I do think that it is important that individuals support artists with their own money through buying of records, supporting radio stations that don’t have corporate playlists, etc.  In a capitalist society you vote with your money.  If you want art that means something you need to be willing to pay for it.  I am still a person that buys almost all of my records, because I view it as investing in an art that means something to me.  Music has, if not literally saved my life, definitely kept me sane.  I want there to continue to be artists that aren’t afraid to speak their mind and to expose their soul. 

Bibi the Thug

Watching Benjamin Netanyahu on TV right now.  I despise that man.  I wish we would tell Israel we won’t give them one dime until they get rid of that crooked war monger.  He is as much an impediment to peace as anyone else.  He is a thug and not to be trusted.  We talk about our interests in this country all the time, that we must do what we can to protect our way of life.  As long as someone like him is in control of Israel, and we support them, we are doing damage to our interests and endangering our way of life.

The Unknown Known and the Meaningless Language of Donald Rumsfeld

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My last post featured John Oliver on drones.  In that video Oliver talks about a government memo in which the word imminent is robbed of all meaning.  Recently I watched the Errol Morris documentary The Unknown Known, which is a documentary about Don Rumsfeld.  A better title would have been The Man Who Wasn’t There.  Rumsfeld talks in a bureaucratic language that robs everything of meaning.  He speaks almost entirely in euphemisms.  The more you watch of this movie, the less you know.

That does not mean that it is without value.  While you start the movie thinking it is going to be a movie trying to hold Rumsfeld accountable for the mistakes, namely the Iraq War, that he made while in government, it becomes that almost seems more to be about the manipulation of language.

Having just read Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, I couldn’t help but think but to compare Rumsfeld to Eichmann.  Now let me be clear, I am not comparing Rumsfeld’s crimes to Eichmann, or saying that they have an exact personality match.  However, both seemed to be characters in bureaucracies that used a kind of empty language that masked the horrible realities of their actions.  Both men also seem to be very shallow thinkers.

Rumsfeld, in this movie, rarely seems to reflect deeply on what he has done.  He has kept an amazing amount of records.  He dictated so many memos that he called them “snowflakes”.  He doesn’t seem to be consciously misleading Morris.  It is more that he answers the questions directly, but in a way that is devoid of any deeper meaning.  It is an interesting movie with an extremely frustrating subject.

John Oliver On Drones

This is an absolutely excellent on The United States drone program.  While most news is entertainment posing as news, this is news posing as entertainment.  You will see a far more in depth discussion on our drone program than you will see on almost any cable news channel.  It just happens to be delivered by someone that can pepper the information he is delivering with some great jokes.  Our use of drones is one of the moral and ethical dilemmas of our time.  The fact that we are not having a greater discussion on this is troubling.  I have admitted to supporting Obama in the past.  This is one issue that he is terrible on and should be held accountable for.

Care Downwards

I apologize to those of you that subscribe for getting this twice.  I accidentally deleted and wanted to repost it.  

I was recently talking to someone that worked for a large company that was laying people off.  They told me those who had been with the company the longest were getting laid off first, because they made the most money.  You know, the people that had been loyal to the company?  Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common.

Today I am staying at a hotel where the woman at the front desk is kind as could be.  She is very helpful, and I realized how rare it is that someone takes pride in their job and leaves an impression through great customer service.

These large companies often do not give a fuck about you.  However, usually if you are in a business, you are dealing with people who have problems and needs that depend on you.

I worked in sales and customer service for years.  I think people should follow a policy of “caring downwards”.  People that are dealing with the general public are often dealing with working stiffs just like them.  One should try to be kind and help these people, because often these people are frustrated, they sometimes have little money, and quite frankly could use the help of someone that cares.

However, while you are doing that you should stick the company in anyway that you can, without getting fired of course. (Although sometimes getting fired is a blessing.)  These companies, again, do not care about you, and will get rid of you as soon as they see fit, especially now that so many unions have been neutered.

When I worked in those professions I would always side with the customer when possible.  When you work with the general public in a sales or customer service context you usually have a certain leeway in how you treat problems.  Management does not want you asking a manager every time a customer has a complaint.  Not only are managers often lazy, but this is a money saving practice.  Every time you call a company it costs them money, this is why most companies try to shake you with long automated prompts.  The longer the call and the more people you talk to, the more expensive the call is to the company.  When I worked at a wireless company I had a certain amount of money I could credit a customer before going to a manager.  When possible I would always credit the customer as I knew not only did the company not give a shit about me, but they were trying to nickel and dime good honest working people as much as possible.  And trust me when I say this is a fact and not an opinion.

I want to make it clear that I am mostly talking about large corporations and not small businesses where personal interaction with top management is a much more personalized affair.

So I would like to spread that thought, like fairy dust, throughout the land:  Care downwards and stick upwards…

Football, Loss, Manipulation, and Absurdity

I am in New Orleans tonight.  We have the night off.  I watched my Philadelphia Eagles get beat.  The stabbing of friends and strangers was debated mentally.  The thing is, I know that football is a game and that it is silly to get emotionally involved in it, but old habits die hard.  George Carlin said something along the lines, pointing out the absurdity of football, in that there is nothing better than watching 300 pound millionaires beat the shit out of each other.

I know some people prefer college, because the game is more “pure”, but I prefer the opposite.  I love the military jet flyovers, the fireworks, the surgically enhanced cheerleaders, the absurdity and spectacle of it all.  If you are going to get emotionally involved in something absurd, why go halfway in?

I am able to get into it and hold the thought in my mind at the same time that it is a completely ridiculous spectacle that has no real bearing on my life.  Modern life constantly forces you to hold two opposing opinions at the same time.

I mentioned this a long time ago on my blog, but while watching and paying attention to sports we must be aware of manipulation.  I don’t just mean the commercials or the half assed patriotism at the beginning or halftime of games.  (Taking your hat off before a sporting event does not make you a patriot.  There’s not much commitment in that is there?)  Let me give you an example.  One of the ways that Rupert Murdoch pushed his conservative agenda through his papers was that he would always include a really big sports section.  White working class males would then buy his papers.  He would then make sure that those papers would include his political propaganda.  He was using sports as a way in to people’s lives and thoughts.  If you want to read more about this read Michael Wolff’s The Man Who Owns the News.

Anyway, that’s enough thinking for now, back to stewing over my loss…

A Few Last Thoughts on the Sex Pistols

Before I move on to other topics, I wanted to just mention a few other brief thoughts that I had while reading John Lydon’s (Johnny Rotten) book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs:

1.  I found the level of violence directed at the Sex Pistols to be interesting.  They were under constant threat of violence, especially after releasing their single God Save the Queen.  Lydon was actually stabbed outside of a studio.  Imagine that being directed at a band now.   Imagine any young band with a sizable following actually taking any stances that got under people’s skin now, without just doing something for pure shock value.  I’m sure if I thought long and hard I could come up with someone, but the pickings are slim.  There are bands that seem to have provocative politics, but they are delivered in such a way as to not be very obvious or effective.

2.  I found it interesting that although the Johnny Rotten character came authentically out of John Lydon’s own personality, Lydon claims that certain things he did were based on Richard III, especially Laurence Oliver’s portrayal.  There were also other things that became signatures of Lydon that were just because of pure luck, or bad luck.  Most people remember the stare that Lydon had on stage.  This was due to poor eyesight that he acquired because he had meningitis as a child.

3.  Steve Jones is a very underrated guitar player.  His tone is amazing and his solos are very memorable.  One of my favorite guitar solos ever is his solo on EMI.  It’s amazingly simple, the kind of thing that a beginning guitar player could learn, but the sound of it and the phrasing make it seem as if an explosion is going off.

4.  Also notice that for being a so called punk band, the Sex Pistols tempo is often quite slow, comparatively to other punk music.  Anarchy in the U.K. is actually mid tempo.  It’s sense of danger comes from the lyrics, the singing, and the attitude of the playing.

5.  A great album like Never Mind the Bollocks could only come about, at least most of the time, through a true band.  This is due to a group of individuals that had different influences that complemented each other. None of the members ever created an album that sounded just like it on their own.  It was the different personalities coming together at that one place and time.  Often people in bands, or any collaborative effort, don’t take into account how even the lesser members of a project can influence something in a positive way.  It is often the differences between people that create a wider palate and make a work more interesting than any one person can.  Anyone that thinks the Sex Pistols were the creation of McLaren are way off and the music alone is the proof.

No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs and Human Perception

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I recently read John Lydon’s autobiography of his time in the Sex Pistols, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.  Lydon is of Irish stock and the title refers to a sign that used to be hung up on certain establishments in England.  The book was excellent as Lydon (Johnny Rotten) was always much smarter than his detractors claimed.  However, one of the most interesting things about the book wasn’t even the content, but the way that it was structured.

Lydon is smart enough to realize that events are subject to people’s perspective.  Rather then claim he has the definitive take on everything he has other people give their views on seminal events, including those that contradict him.

Earlier in the book he talks about how history can’t be completely trusted.  He knows the lies that were written about him in the press, so why should people believe everything that is written about a larger more controversial figure like Napoleon?

So while he tries to be as honest as he can about what he saw and how he perceived events, he again also includes a multitude of other opinions.  Many of these were written down specifically for the book.  However, even when it comes to the lawsuit that was between him and former manager Malcolm McLaren, he includes all of the opposing depositions, including McLaren’s.

This is not only brave of Lydon to do, as he allows himself to be presented in less than favorable light at times, but also shows that he understands how human perception can color events.  Getting to the absolute truth of an event can be impossible.  One might think that having conflicting perceptions would actually make finding the truth even harder.  But actually, if you are open to looking at things from different angles, you can actually get closer than you can just depending on one source.

This book actually came out in the 90’s.  I think the way it is presented is even more relevant now, especially with how unreliable our mainstream media is.  The only way that one can have some idea of what is going on is to try to read as much as possible and piece things together for themselves.