Four letters, starts with a C

I’m certainly not the only one to notice that a good portion of the media has been having a tough time using the word “Muslim” lately. It used to be that you’d hear the media use the phrase “Islamic fundamentalist”, but this seems like it has given way to the unqualified “terrorist” or the even more abstract “terrorism”, where only the act of, say, a car bombing is important, not the fact that it might have some sort of religious motivation.

I suppose the reason for this is that much of the media wants to avoid looking like they are tarnishing an entire faith it calling attention to a “bad element’s” connection to it. I can understand, and even sympathize, with this desire. After all, in its more peaceful forms, Islam is no dumber or dangerous than any other religion. I think, however, that the media are going about it all wrong and have a suggestion to help them out, first made four years ago in a drunken rant I wrote a few days prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. At the time, the suggestion was made as a strategy the government should adopt. I’m now thinking that I had the right idea but the wrong target back then.

The idea is fairly simple. Media outlets should start calling any Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group what it is: a cult. This instantly separates these groups from the types of Muslims the media is anxious to avoid offending. Plus, a “cult” is a physical group with a finite number of members and, therefore, is significantly easier to defeat than an abstract concept like “terrorism”.

I encourage everyone reading this to start using the c-word in reference to these fanatics.

Now I’m a deviant

After my previous mention of some artwork I liked, I realized that the internet is a perfect vehicle for amateur artists to strut their stuff but that there didn’t seem to be many venues to gain exposure, other than standard artist-run website or the blogosphere. I thought about creating a site where members could share their art but, as in so much on the net, I’ve been beaten to the punch.

Deviant Art appears to have a huge amount of traction in attracting both professional and amateur artists to posting their stuff. Like anything else, a good deal of the posted art isn’t that good, but some of it is amazing. The site takes a little getting used to, as it isn’t clear exactly how it works at first, largely because they use the word “deviation” to mean “artwork that someone posted”. I’ve grown a bit addicted to cruising through this site. I particularly enjoy something I call “favorite hopping”, where you pick an artist at random look at their gallery. You then look at their list of favorites (each artist can build their own list of the art of other people they like) and find a piece you like. Examine that artist’s gallery and favorites. Repeat. You can see some really neat stuff. (Some of the art contains nudity and adult themes, so may not be work safe, though I think there is a filter you can turn on to avoid that kind of stuff if you want.)

Just for the heck of it, I’ve created an account and posted some photo work I’ve done. Most of the variants of “wordman” were taken for account names, so I’ve used the name crop.

Another more thing

Everyone and their mother is sounding off on Apple’s announcements yesterday. Who am I to buck a trend? I won’t bore you with the details of the announcements, as these have been covered elsewhere. I’m only going to mention the two things that struck me about the announcement that I haven’t seen mentioned much.

First, big media is apparently even more afraid of Apple than I thought. Apple is looking to change video distribution, but the best content providers will allow is music videos and some TV shows, and even that only using one-quarter the pixels of standard TV resolution. You can bet Apple was looking to score deals for more impressive content, this being the year of high definition and all, but couldn’t convince anyone to play. Interestingly, this makes Apple weaker on the music front in some respects, giving media companies more leverage for better iTunes music deals. I suspect this is going to get a bit ugly, and this might be why Wall Street was in a selling mood after the announcement, in spite of a monster quarter for Apple. The fact Pixar and Disney are parting ways won’t help, either.

Secondly, there were signals before, but the introduction of Front Row is the first crystal clear sign that Apple is looking to enter the media center market. Their incremental entry strategy is a bit puzzling. I think the reason for it, and the reason they didn’t use yesterday’s announcement to introduce media center hardware, is that their media center box will be based on an Intel CPU. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the first Apple box to do so. It may turn out that this box is just a rev of the Mini, if Apple is only interested in playback and not DVR (which seems likely, given my first point). I’ve been eagerly waiting to put a Mac under my TV, so I’ll probably be first in line to get such a box. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see the inevitable clamor of people trying to get the new Apple remote to work with older boxes.

Unmined gold

I have very little acumen for business or music but, if I did, I’d be seriously thinking about starting a company that provides all the services for musicians that major labels do except manufacture and distribution of the final product. That is, this company would be employed by musicians to provide studio time, image management, promotion and tour coordination. The musician would be on her own to find a distribution outlet for their music (though, naturally, would owe the new company a cut of sales). If you were the first company set up this way, you stand to gain a significant portion of the world’s musicians as clients within two to five years, though probably not some of the very biggest musicians.

The reason this would work is Apple and iTunes. Large record companies have serious problems with Apple’s success. Some of them complain and threaten to stop providing their artists music to Apple. Some, like Sony, refused to do so in the first place. It seems likely, though, that the large media companies are playing a waiting game until current iTunes contracts expire in 2006. Meanwhile, artists prevented by their corporate overlords from making their existing music available on iTunes are getting antsy and are creating new material specifically for iTunes and iTunes only. Others are releasing entire albums via bittorrent.

Big media companies have shown a determined, nearly pathalogical, desire to maintain their bloated empires by any means necessary. There is no reason to expect they will suddenly become enlightened to the new possibilities of technology, but will, instead, try to sandbag Apple at the expense of both their artists and the music-appreciating public. This will provide a great deal of incentive for artists to ditch their labels. Some will strike out on their own. Most, however, will probably hold onto the “big label” idea, in spite of its drawbacks, because Apple and iTunes alone doesn’t provide them with everything they need to become superstars.

This is where this new company fits in. It enables musicians to embrace iTunes without losing the promotion and other machinery they need. It will completely eliminate any incentive that musicians might have to stay with a big label. The key to this is that, once it becomes clear what is happening, at least one and probably most of the big labels may eventually be forced into retooling to work like this as well. If that happens, it won’t happen quickly. Still, to be successful, this new company needs to strike very quickly, as widely as possible. Preferably, it would start now, before big media kills their iTunes deals. The company also needs to use the agility provided by its small size in ways the media giants can’t.

If you attempt to build such a company, best of luck to you. And invite me into the IPO.

Phallus fondue

Given that I’ve been on a lounge kick recently, it should come as no surprise that I’ve been listening to Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine. His shtick is to take modern songs and “loungify” them. One flaw with this kind of thing is that after you get past the gimmick, most of the music doesn’t stand up to repeated listening. For example, when Pat Boone was in a metal mood, his version of Crazy Train got the air time, but only his incredible version of Holy Diver did he really make his own, and therefore the only track of his still on my play list.

In general, I love unusual covers (like Tori Amos’ version of Smells Like Teen Spirit), so bear that in mind while I list the Richard Cheese tracks that have the legs to have been on my playlist for about of month, which is a long time for me:

Honorable mention: the following tracks are a cut above the others, but have some flaw that gets them tossed off the play list:

  • Longview, from I’d Like a Virgin. The steel slide-guitar and down-tempo of this Green Day tune give this version a cool sipping margaritas on the beach feel, but it’s lacking something I can’t quite put my finger on.
  • Welcome to the Jungle, from Aperitif for Destruction. Imagine the opening guitar part of this Guns ‘N’ Roses song being done on a piano. Totally amazing. The rest of the song, however, doesn’t work as well for me.
  • Hot For Teacher, from Tuxicity. Again, masterful piano work in duplicating the Van Halen introduction, but pedestrian thereafter.

Foreclosing the fourth estate

Imagine the local network news casters are telling you that a storm is coming. This might require imagining yourself as someone who still watches the local news, which may be a stretch, but bear with me. Can you picture your local news people? The male anchor with good teeth and hair and the hot, yet professional, woman of indeterminate ethnicity joke with each other, then put on their “grim face” as they talk about the “Storm of the Century”. Custom made graphics woosh in each time they cut to another story about it. The Wacky Weatherman gesticulates wildly in front of a superimposed map, showing a spiral storm cloud off the coast. Reporters out in the street stand in the rain and warn of heavy winds and describe the storm as the coming apocalypse. The news offers a brief snippet of the governor calling the storm “the real deal” and that “as of right now”, your area “is definitely the target for this hurricane” and suggests you might want to think about going to higher ground, and take “small quantities of food for three to four days”. The local news shows shots of people leaving and interviews of people staying. They assure you that they’ll be there covering it all, so stay tuned.

Do you leave?

I wonder how many people in Louisiana and Mississippi looked at the dire warnings on the news and decided to stay because the local news always makes dire warnings about even insignificant weather. If this happened to even one person who got killed, it’s yet another indication (if you needed one) of the media’s collossal failure to fulfill their basic purpose. As John Stewart observes:

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy. It serves to inform the voting public on matters relevant to its well-being. Why they stopped doing that is a mystery.

I’m breaking my own rules by bitching about this without a solution to suggest, but I’m at a loss on how to fix this. Do we just stop watching until they shape up? I’ve been trying that for years and it doesn’t seem to be working. If anything, reducing the number of viewers used to thinking for themselves just makes it worse. Do we just beg them to stop? The blogosphere is starting to marginalize the press in some ways, but this is a mixed blessing, as most blogs check facts more loosely than television and most follow no editorial standard at all. Maybe the point of the blogosphere is really that of fact checker for mainstream media. It’s proving that it does that job really well. Will this turn the media back into something trustworthy? Was it ever trustworthy?

Looking back at how the press covered Katrina before it hit has been enlightening, and I recommend it. You can see a map showing predictions of flooding scenarios, for example. You can see the director of the National Hurricane Center describing the coming Katrina as “really scary” and “a worse-case scenario”. (I’d be curious to see how local TV covered that.) You can see New Orleans main newspaper’s June 2002 story about New Orleans washing away if hit by a big hurricane. You can see Bush follow three paragraphs about Katrina, in which he urges people to seek safe ground, with a dozen about Iraq. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but it’s good to see how the world looked before something bad happened, to see if you could recognize the signs of it if it happened again.

The man from room five

Though tempted to call this post “riding the hype train” or “anticipating sound and fury”, I thought I might be able to manipulate at least some of the hype in a worthwhile way before the noise gets too loud. In the 1980s, writer Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd produced a comic book decidedly not for children called V for Vendetta. It has been reproduced in trade paperback and become a cult hit with adult fans, having even been well annotated. In his introduction to the trade paperback, artist David Lloyd sets the tone for the work:

“The Nine o’Clock News” followed “A Question of Sport.” Or, at least for 30 seconds it did, before the television was switched off and cheeky, cheery pop music took its place.

I looked over at the barman. “Just half this time,” I said. As he filled the glass, I solemnly asked him why he’d switched off the News. “Don’t ask me-that was the wife,” he replied, in a cheeky, cheery manner.…

…I finished my drink and left, almost certain the TV would be silent for the rest of the evening. For after “The Nine o’Clock News” would have come “The Boys From Brazil,” a dim film with few cheeky cheery characters in it, which is all about a bunch of Nazis creating 94 clones of Adolf Hitler.

There aren’t many cheeky, cheery characters in V FOR VENDETTA either; and it’s for people who don’t switch off the News.

In a few months, a film based on this comic will be released, created by the same guys that made the Matrix. You are going to hear a lot about this movie pretty soon, and not just because it looks to be a stylistic blockbuster. There will be screaming about it on CNN and (especially) Fox News, because its hero blows up buildings in London in an attempt to destroy the (now fascist) government. Given the bombings in London right now, this is probably going to send the right wing into a tizzy. Add to that the tagline from the marquee (“people should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people”) and you can pretty much hear the “think of the children” pining already.

Before all that starts, I’m asking (hell, begging) you to read the original comic. It has its warts, but remains powerful in spite of (or, perhaps, because of) being written twenty years ago. Keep your kids away, though. It’s not that kind of party (“think of the children!”).

By the way, Alan Moore, easily one of the top three comic writers of all time, has a history of entrusting his work to filmmakers that mess it up and has disassociated himself from this film.