The Decline of Western Civilization

That’s the name of a documentary made in 79-80 about the LA punk scene. It is mostly concert footage of various bands like X, The Germs, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, etc. but also includes a fair number of interviews of fans, promoters, and musicians too. I’ll admit to always thinking of the UK first when I thought about punk. A lot of that probably has to do with bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, etc. getting a lot of press and footage. There were also celebrities like John Lydon, Sid Vicious, and Joe Strummer that are well known to me. I had seen the occasional Black Flag or Dead Kennedys album in high school, but I never heard any of that stuff until I went to college. Even then, I was in a school full of New Yorkers, so people looked to east coast bands like Ramones, Talking Heads, Bad Brains, and later bands like the Pixies and Mission of Burma for most of their musical influences.

So most of this music was new to me. A few observations:

1) The west coast seemed to be very much like the British punkers as far as what low lifes they were.

2) There wasn’t much talent involved in the scene. With the possible exceptions of Greg Ginn and Billy “zoom” there wasn’t a lick of talent in the entire film. To be fair, the film was really documenting the emergence of the hardcore scene which put more of a premium on raw emotion, energy, and violence.

3) Speaking of violence, there was plenty of it. Yes, the music was high energy, but there really wasn’t any reason why it had to generate violence. The hardcore music tended to attract the violent element. There were plenty of news stories back then of riots and Nazi gang activity. There are videos on youtube of Henry Rollins (a later singer for Black Flag) getting into fist fights with audience members. In this film, Fear mocked their San Francisco audience until a woman got up on stage and tried to accost the lead singer. She ended up being tossed around, and at one point being kicked back into the audience by the lead singer, only to get up time and again to get at him. A general melee ensued. There was another notable moment when Alice Bag stared down a guy in the audience that was trying to start something with her on stage. A rough scene to be sure…

4) At the end of the day, I wasn’t so sure what it was all about. People seemed to be angry, but it wasn’t clear what they were mad about. Some of the interviews of the fans managed to cement my overall view of the LA area. Violent, white, racist, and with an anger that they seemed to see as a right. This is probably what disturbed me the most in the film. Some of the lyrics show legitimate political or personal grudges, but a lot of it seemed like anger management issues, and the crowd ate it up.

 

Over all, I’d say that the LA hardcore scene was an interesting time in music history, but I don’t really feel any desire to seek out any albums from those groups with the possible exception of X. It seems as though after hearing a few songs I can say, “Yeah, I get it…” I think I might look up some more of the San Francisco groups from that era like the Dead Kennedys, The Avengers, The Mutants, and various “queercore” groups have piqued my interest. They seemed to have a good combination of politics and musicianship. Enough to make the music interesting in its own right, nit just as part of a scene.

Ireland

I’m just left shaking my head over what’s going on in Ireland. We all saw the financial meltdown coming, but now the government is falling apart at the seams as well. What’s scary is that we still have Spain and Portugal to go in Europe. Scarier still is who holds the majority of Portugal’s debt. That would be Spain…

What kills me is that there wasn’t anything unusual going on in any of those countries. There were no wars or any other thing that was threatening the countries, they just had a badly constructed financial industry and things went south. The fact that the fallout of bad financial dealings is bringing down governments is even more amazing. Whatever you think caused this mess, it is clear that the governments, and by extension the tax payers in those countries, were far too involved for their own good. The fact that the taxpayers had no choice points out the on going issues of political power and money interests.

Many people look at what’s happening and yell that this proves that there needs to be more regulation, that the government needs to be more involved. It’s clear to me that the governments were too involved, that in their efforts to prop up politically connected groups and/or attempt to stave off the suffering that was going to occur because of the issues, they took everyone down with them. What isn’t clear to me is how having more government involvement will stop this from happening again. It seems to me that if the government tried to minimize the exposure to the problems, fewer people would be involved in the fallout. At the very least, the people directly involved would feel it more keenly.

I really hope that we aren’t seeing our future in Europe. On a national scale, we are in bad shape financially, we are going deeper and deeper into debt and we have ballooning liabilities in the form of medicaid and social security. Things on the state level look even worse. California is a leading indicator, but there are plenty of states that have unfunded liabilities well beyond what the taxpayers can pay. We will see what the future brings, but I’m afraid that too much central planning by the Fed, not allowing debt to be removed via deflation, and continued spending does not bode well for us. Let’s see how the PIGS countries fare. Even better, let’s see how the countries bailing out the PIGS countries fare. What are the odds that any of these places (including the US) will actually reform the relationship between the banking system and the national treasury such that a downturn doesn’t cause massive, system-wide collapse?

Rapping economists Rd. 2 (RE2?)

If you haven’t seen it yet, you have to check out the original Keynes vs Hayek rap battle:

 

 

They covered a lot of ground. Animal spirits, circular flow, human action, cheap credit, inflation, etc. I really think they did a great job explaining economic macroeconomic ideas in a catchy manner. Well, there’s a new, updated version coming out soon and there was a preview of it at a talk given by the Economist magazine. The discussion afterwards is illuminating too…

 

 

I think they did an even better job of getting to the political aspect of the differences between the two economists. The issue of who decides what should be done for everyone is addressed, as is the frequent claim that free market types would be fine doing nothing while everyone suffers. I can’t wait for the finished  second video to come out, hope it’s soon!

The Beatles

As you may have heard, the Beatles are now available in the iTunes store. It’s a pretty big deal from a business perspective, I’ve heard that last year the Beatles were the second highest selling artist. That’s pretty amazing considering how long ago they broke up…

They’ve been playing the Beatles non-stop in the store for the past couple of days. I’m actually enjoying it quite a bit, though ask me next week and see if I say the same thing… It’s amazing, I know the words to all of the songs, I find myself mouthing the words even when I’m not really listening to the music. They are deep, deep inside my head. Listening to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” made me recall my very first experience with audio equipment, and I guess the first time I played music on my own. It was with my father’s reel to reel tape machine. He had Sgt. Pepper’s on tape. I think the first real song I ever knew all the words to was “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” I think the only Beatles albums I haven’t listened to a zillion times are Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Days Night, and Beatles for Sale. Rest assured, I know all of the radio hits by heart…

 

It is amazing to see how long their music has kept going. I don’t think it’s all boomers that are responsible for that either. Their hits are the very definition of iconic. I do notice they aren’t playing songs like “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” “Revolution No.9,” or even “Run for Your Life,” but we are getting some decent variety in the store and people seem to be enjoying it for the most part. They’ve had a great run, let’s see if they can go another 40 years!

Richard Nixon, Laugh In, and political campaigns

Here’s a great piece talking about the impact of Nixon’s “Sock it to me?” utterance on Laugh In. I had no idea that the writing for Laugh In was so supportive of the Nixon administration, and conversely, I didn’t know how much Nixon hated the Smothers Brothers. This blog piece has some great clips in it, including the above mentioned gag. There is also a bit of Nixon playing piano on the Jack Parr show, and a clip of some of the ending jokes from laugh in. I’ve only ever seen bits and pieces of Laugh In. I’m sure that a lot of it would look dated now, but it does look like they had a good time…

 

 

The Comedy Writer That Helped Elect Richard M. Nixon – WFMU’s Beware of the Blog: “”

(Via .)

Outsourcing

I promised a separate post on outsourcing, and here it is. I started to think about this a little more carefully in the context of income disparity. Outsourcing was the one thing I could possibly think of where someone in the top 1% could benefit at the expense of someone else. I do not believe that outsourcing is responsible for the numbers I have seen thrown around when it comes to middle class wages and I’ve come to the conclusion that even if it was responsible, it wouldn’t bother me.

 

I’ll start out by admitting to something that isn’t all that popular. I am at a loss as to why an American worker deserves a job any more than anyone else. Outsourcing doesn’t cause the loss of jobs, it causes a shift in who has the job. Most of the outrage over outsourcing really boils down to who they think deserves a job. I’m not going to pass judgment on that, certainly not from so far away. I will point out that phrases such as “They can’t compete,” should explain why outsourcing is done at all…

Anyway, if outsourcing is responsible for the 7% or so that the middle class’s wages have supposedly gone down in the US, it’s only fair to look at the increase in wages in other countries that outsourcing is responsible for. If you look at the countries most closely tied to outsourcing, India, China, Vietnam, etc. you will see an unambiguously positive rise in wages over the last 30 years. Those wages have gone up much more than 7%. This is why I’m not so worried about outsourcing in general. People were employed and products were made at lower costs. Some workers were made worse off, some were made better off, everyone else benefits from lower costs.

Is there a moral aspect to this? I dunno, it’s difficult to parse this stuff out in general. Yes, people here in the US lost their jobs. Of course they could just have easily lost their jobs to machines. On the other hand, other people got jobs and had their wages go up. Someone else could have made money on all of this, but not necessarily. Many things were outsourced just so the company could stay in business.

Bottom line is this, to complain about a 7% drop in wages in isolation to the rest of the world is a bit short sighted. In any case, I gave some other reasons why, if wages did go down over the last 30 years, it probably isn’t due to outsourcing and isn’t that big a deal anyway.

 

New favorite Safari extentions

Here are some great extensions to add to Safari to improve your browsing experience. You can get them here. If you’re on a Mac, you should definitely take a look at that page.

 

1) Youtube5 will automatically switch all youtube videos from flash to html5. This makes your computer run much cooler and have much better battery life.

2) Feedly turns your google reader feed into a magazing type of layout. A much more attractive way of viewing your RSS feeds.

3) Macrumors minimal makes macrumors look soooooo much better. For some of us, that site is a must read every day…

4) Facebook improved cleans up facebook removing the ads and a lot of the other garbage.

5) Add to Google reader allows you to add a RSS feed to your google reader list just by clicking on the RSS button in the URL bar.

All of these add great features and/or clean up the sites I visit all the time. I keep checking to see what new extensions are released and will let you know if I find any other good ones to have,,,

Love and Rockets (comics)

Just finished up three of the 7 volumes of the Love and Rockets collection I recently purchased. When the comics were originally published, the issues would have stories from both Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. These reprints have separated them out, so I’m unable to read them in the original order they were published. I decided to read the Jaime stories first since that’s the story arc I was most familiar with.

There is a lot of progression as the series goes on. It starts out very… comic booky. There are scantily clad women, dinosaurs, rockets, and generally silly plots. It starts out set in some sort of fictional place. As the series goes along, the plot becomes more serious (mostly) and the world turns into ours. The two main characters are Maggie and Hopey, and we follow their ups and downs throughout their adventures across the country.

As the series went on, the stories became more involving. There are all sorts of romantic twists and turns, a punk rock undercurrent, and lots and lots of character development.  I gotta say, I became more and more amazed at Jaime’s artwork as the comic progressed. His ability to set a mood without words is downright cinematic. Check out a few of these panels…

 

seqL&R21_page2.jpg

 

I love the expressions, the action (in a freeze frame no less), the pure graphic elements. I can’t get enough of the shape of the neck of the guitar to the left. I also love how it is a reflection of the background to the right of the panel. The blankness of the left side says a lot about the plot as well as the characters at that point. This sort of thing was done on every page, just amazing… Check out this title page:

 

girl-from-hoppers-03.jpg

 

How’s that for graphic awesomeness? I’d be proud of any still from a movie I shot that was that perfectly composed.

 

There are some problems though. There’s a little too much gratuitous nudity and sex for my tastes. There are some times when it makes sense in there, but more often than not, it’s just for titillation. Another thing that I wish was developed more in discussions about the strip is just how sad all the characters are and it is tied directly to the decisions the characters make. Willful unemployment, drunkenness, uncontrollable anger, promiscuity, all lead to broken people. Most of the people I’ve seen writing about this series seem to have the attitude of “It’s too bad that things didn’t work out” but I’m glad that Jaime made the consequences fairly severe. The end of this series has the two main characters reunited in the back of a police car (for assault) driving towards the station.

I’m reading the volume that collects the oddball stuff that isn’t directly tied to the two main story arcs. So far, my favorite character in there is Errata Stigmata. I eyed a story of hers revolving around her youth trying to deal with he stigmata condition. She gets taken to a convention called “Stigmatacon” and things proceed to happen. Looking forward to that. Once I’m done with that book, I’ll tackle Gilbert’s volume.

 

 

And even more income disparity stuff

So I’ve been trying to say that the top 1% income earners aren’t by default crooks, and I’ve even tried to say that it’s no big deal if over the past 30+ years the top 1%’s incomes have gone up dramatically while hourly wages have gone down by 7% or so. Keep in mind, I’m not too sure of those numbers, but I’ll take it for granted that they are right. What could I possibly think would cause that and still be OK with it?

I’ve been trying to think about what the top 1% of earners could do directly that would cause their incomes to go up AND for folks beneath them to have lower salaries. The only thing I can think of is outsourcing. I am going to set that aside for a moment, I’ll do another blog post on it. It requires a bit more thought than I want to dedicate in this post.

Ok, so what’s an alternative story? It’s in two parts. First, what has changed in the last 30 years that could allow someone’s income to grow so much? Globalization. If you were a corporation, athlete, or author in the US in 1976, how big was your possible customer base? 200 million? 300 million? These days, it is closer to 3 billion. Not only has globalization allowed products and services into more markets, there are now many more people that can afford to buy things than ever before. The last 30 years have seen tremendous gains in Eastern Europe, Latin and South America, Africa, South Asia, and especially eastern Asia. People tend to think of things like cars and computers when they think of selling to other countries, but things like Clorox, condoms, cigarettes, soap, clothes, books, entertainment like sports, and gas have been exploding in popularity all over the world.

When you have markets that large, there are going to be vast sums of money involved. People involved in providing products and services to that many people are going to make a lot of money. How many customers does a big international company like Clorox or Exxon have? How many does a plumbing company have? You see where I’m going? The plumbing company (or just the plumber) could be doing just fine while his neighbor down the street could be making millions selling widgets worldwide. That’s a big income discrepancy. I do think a lot of the discrepancy results in comparing jobs that have very different ceilings when it comes to profit potential.

There are more companies doing business worldwide, or manage the money of people that do business worldwide, and that’s going to lead to more money for those people. Most professions do not allow you to make a killing, but that does not mean that the ones that do are bad.

Ok, what about the other end of the spectrum? If the top 1% aren’t causing wages to go down in real terms, what has? I think a lot of it can be explained with a single word, immigration. how many immigrants have come to the US in the last 30 years? I have no idea, but I’m sure it’s a lot. here’s the thing about averages, they can be thrown off by enough data points being added to the pool. If we take the average immigrant over the last thirty years, I think it’s reasonable to assume that they make less than your typical American when they first show up. If that’s the case, it is also likely that they have brought the average down even if no one else got worse.

Think about that for a second, if we are faced with a statistic that claims that hourly wages have fallen 7% over the past 30 years, what does it actually tell us? The average does not tell us how any person measured in 1976 is doing now. It doesn’t tell us how immigration has affected people that were already working here.

I’m not going to claim that these explanations explain everything, but I do think they are likely to explain a lot. I like to see reasons that don’t involve class warfare. It’s also nice to see how it’s possible that these groups of people could all be doing better. I am always suspicious of aggregates, especially when they aren’t carried over across time. The top 1% of income earners today weren’t the same as they were last year let alone 30 years ago. People that were poor back then are now doing better, and people that were fantastically wealthy before have dropped down as well.

There’s no need to worry about income discrepancies if my story is mostly true, and I think it is. There’s no reason to look for bad guys, and there’s no reason to look for ulterior motives based on what income bracket you fall into. Let’s spend our energies wondering why people in the bottom percentiles are there instead of gnashing our teeth over how much money some folks make.

Income inequality again

A friend of mine posted a link to a NYT opinion page entitled “Our banana republic,” and in it the author says:

Our Banana Republic – NYTimes.com: “In my reporting, I regularly travel to banana republics notorious for their inequality. In some of these plutocracies, the richest 1 percent of the population gobbles up 20 percent of the national pie. But guess what? You no longer need to travel to distant and dangerous countries to observe such rapacious inequality. We now have it right here at home”

 

Did you see what he did there? There are plutocracies that have big income disparities, we have big income disparities, therefore the rich here are just as bad as the rich there. True, he doesn’t come out and say it, but it is a clear inference he wants readers to make.

Now if he had gone on to explain how our government is funneling taxpayer money into the pockets of our top 1% and that these thieves should be brought to justice, I’d be sympathetic but skeptical. I do think that happens, and I do think those folks and the politicians that enable it should be held accountable, but I don’t think it’s as widespread as it is in those plutocracies. I am interested in hearing any evidence about that though…

No, the author didn’t make that argument. What he did was to point out the recent income disparity here in the US, infer that the people making a ton of money are somehow bad people, and then bring up “evidence” that when some people get rich, the people below them wreck themselves trying to catch up and suffer higher divorce rates. Seriously, he essentially says that the people not making as much in the top 1% mess themselves up, and the rich are to blame. I’m assuming that the author’s solution is to narrow the discrepancy to avoid those bad things. I’m also assuming his suggested cure is to either take the money away or prevent people from making that much money to begin with.

It reeks of the worst social engineering hubris I can imagine. Some people do not cope well when they see others doing better than them and so we are morally justified to take money away from folks because some others don’t like it. Give me a break. Taking money from people should be the last option, not the first. I’ve covered this ground before but I’ll say it again, just because some people make (much) more money than others does not mean there is a problem. If, like those plutocracies, the top 1% is actually stealing from everyone else, then fine, let’s go get the rich. Well how else are they getting that rich Isaac? Glad you asked, another blog post to follow…