Tuesday, February 05, 2008subscribe to demonbaby

I Suppose I Should Probably Endorse A Presidential Candidate

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[Currently Listening To: The Duke Spirit - Neptune]

You know our electoral process is some kind of fucked when most of the really interesting Presidential candidates have already dropped out or been swept under the rug before you even get a chance to vote. But that's a discussion for another day. Today is Super Tuesday, and although I'm probably preaching to the choir here, I feel it's worth dropping in my two cents, and saying that I feel very good about voting for Barack Obama. Oh, and I think you should too.

There are a lot of reasons Obama's an excellent choice for President. If you're a Democrat, you probably already know that. But if you're still planning to vote for Hillary, consider one very basic reason to switch to Obama: He has, unequivocally, the best chance of winning against a Republican adversary. It's looking more and more like John McCain will be the Republican candidate, and while I'd take a thousand John McCains over one Mike Fuckabee, he's still a war cheerleader, against net neutrality, is massively pro-life, and even supports the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. Oh, and did I mention he's a Republican? If that sounds eye-rollingly partisan, it's not, exactly. As dumb as it is, we do still have a two-party system in the United States, and I believe it's extremely important that we send a message to the Republican party, and more importantly, the world, to let them know that no matter who the Republican candidate is and no matter how much he separates himself from the Bush administration, we will not reward that political party for the disastrous eight years they just subjected our country to. At a time when our relationship with the rest of the world ranges from tenuous to FUBAR, no choice we make would send a message that we're ready to stop being such ignorant tools quite like a win for Obama. It may seem obvious, but symbols are hugely important, and a young, inspiring, black anti-war President with the middle name Hussein sends one hell of a fucking message. It's an olive branch to all the countries saner than ours who have watched with dropped jaws as the world's greatest nation got hijacked by a corrupt, war-mongering, right-wing hillbilly half-wit, and then we re-elected him. It's the world sighing in relief that they don't have to worry about us suddenly bombing Iran back to the stone age and starting another disaster of a war. Even if Obama doesn't live up to his promises of change, he will change the way people think about Americans from day one, because we will have finally stood up and announced, as a people, that we're not just ready for a new President - we're ready for the polar fucking opposite of George Bush.

So why, then, is Obama such a better choice than Hillary? The brilliant Lawrence Lessig makes a very clear, reasonable case for Obama here, which I encourage you to listen to as it sums up my own feelings better than I could. But what he doesn't address is the reason not to vote for Hillary even if you think she would make the best President: her electability. I don't particularly dislike Hillary Clinton, although The Ultimate Online Archive of Unflattering Hillary Clinton Photos makes her incredibly entertaining to make fun of. My favorite is this one - Hillary's terrifying "psychotic woodchuck" face and Natalie Portman's nipples in the same photo makes my penis very confused. Anyway, a lot of people irrationally despise Hillary. She is extremely polarizing, and for one reason or another, she's become the great Republican terror. This Huffington Post editorial makes a strong case for what I've been saying all along: the Republican hatred of Hillary will unite them and energize them against her - choosing her as the Democratic candidate is the best thing the Republicans could ask for. The right wing isn't exactly excited bout McCain, but they're insane at the very thought that Hillary Clinton might be President. They'd rather have gay sex in a church while performing abortions with a crucifix than vote for Hillary. Obama has a wider appeal, particularly to independents and even some Republicans. He's the best hope we have, and unfortunately with the stakes as they are, that's really the only reason any Democrat should need. Thankfully, I also think Obama would make the best President, so I don't have to feel like I'm just voting for the lesser of two evils.

And now, here's the cynicism you've been waiting for: I hope I'm wrong, I really hope I do, but I fear that as strong as Obama is, in the end our country just can't ignore its centuries-old hard-on for old white men. We're still a nation of bigots, and as that lovable, backwards-ass fifty one percent of our population who chose to re-elect Bush steps into the voting booth, thinking in spite of themselves that maybe Barack Obama would make a great President, they're going to pause, and look at the familiar old white man with his POW story and his love of unborn fetuses, and they're going to remember that they really don't like black people all that much... and say hello President McCain. I hope I'm wrong. I really do. But as much as I believe Obama should be our President, and as convinced as I am that he has a better chance of winning than Hillary, I fear that when all is said and done, our stupid, stupid country just isn't ready for that much change.

Prove me wrong, America.


Thursday, January 17, 2008subscribe to demonbaby

Please Stop Making Fun Of Scientology. No, really.

[Currently Listening To: David Bowie - Low]

"No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" - Article 6 of the United States Constitution

I realize I'm way behind with the final installments of the Demonbaby Awards, but I had to break for a moment to get something off my chest. You see, there's a funny little video going around the internets today. You might have seen it. It features Tom Cruise, the notoriously wacky Scientology overlord, waxing schizophrenic about... well, I'm not even sure what about. The clip is apparently from a Scientology indoctrination video, and the "Church" of Scientology has been furiously ordering removals of it from YouTube due to "copyright violations," and threatening to sue Gawker for hosting it. Here's the video, in case you haven't seen it:

It's wonderfully, utterly batshit insane. He's a fucking lunatic, and he's selling a dangerous scam masquerading as a cult masquerading as a religion. And since they're trying so very hard to keep it out of your tubes, I urge everyone to take a few moments to download the Quicktime version here or here or here or here and upload it to YouTube as many times as you can.

Anyway, the thing about Scientology is that outside of its brainwashed devotees, everyone knows it's crazy, and everyone makes fun of it. Its looney sci-fi overtones make for a delightfully easy target, and the tyranny with which its guardians protect it makes it an even more appealing punching bag. But here's my problem: Relatively speaking, Scientology isn't that crazy. No, really. It isn't. You see, here in the good ol' United States, more than half of our citizens (depending on which poll you look at) happily ignore centuries of overwhelming and exhaustively-researched scientific evidence suggesting human beings have evolved into their present form over millions of years, and instead choose to believe that we were plunked down on the earth fully-formed by a mythical being in the sky, because an old book of parables written by primitive people says so. Americans also believe overwhelmingly in miracles, heaven, hell, and that Jesus is God or the son of God. They like to think they believe all this because of some righteous faith in their soul that sin-laden secular heathens like myself could never understand. In reality, it's because as children they were indoctrinated into believing that The Bible is a book of absolute truths, and The Bible says that God created man in His image, and they'd no sooner want to believe they've been wrong their whole life than I'd want to believe that maybe Saved By The Bell was never actually funny at all, and I was just a twelve year old with bad taste. Come on, Screech had some great one-liners... right?

When I was about four years old, I loved stickers. I loved stickers so much that I stuck them everywhere. Every fucking where. It drove my family crazy. They told me I was no longer allowed to put stickers on walls or furniture or my toys, or I'd be in trouble. So fuck it, I thought, I'll put stickers on myself, and one day I stuck them all over my body. I even stuck one on the end of my tiny little four year old ding-ding, covering up that important hole that pee comes out of. I thought it was funny, and to a four year old, who doesn't even really know what a penis is, having a sticker on the end of it is pretty fucking funny. That is, until I had to pee, and it dawned on me that I'd clogged up the pipes, so to speak, and trying to remove the sticker was painful beyond imagination. At that terrifying moment of realization, the young mind produces one and only one result: Bawling. Loud, desperate, tear-streaked bawling. I had to tell my Mother about the horrible mistake I'd made, and she and my Grandmother had to soak me in warm water to loosen up the glue on the sticker so it could be painlessly removed. Why, you ask, am I telling you this, short of my masochistic desire to frequently embarrass myself on the internet? The point here, really, is to illustrate how fucking dumb I was when I was four years old. How dumb we all were. How we were little sponges, eager to learn, looking to the guidance of our parents and our teachers to tell us how the world worked. And at the same tender age that I covered my pee hole with a sticker, I began attending Sunday school at my local Catholic church. At Sunday school my spongy, impressionable brain was told over and over again that God created the earth, and He created Adam and Eve, and He created me, and He loved me, and Jesus loved me, and all I had to do was love Him back and be a good person and I'd get into Heaven. What a wonderful thing to believe as a child. There's a big bearded guy in the sky watching over me, and He loves me no matter what, and He'll help me through thick and thin, and when my goldfish died he went to a magical place in the sky with the rest of his goldfish family and swam in God's big beautiful goldfish bowl, and someday when I died I'd be there too, and it'd be even better than my life on earth. I bet there are tons of stickers in Heaven, and you can put them anywhere! WOW!

Why wouldn't I believe all that? It sounds great, and hell, I also believed that a magical fairy covertly paid me for my baby teeth, and that a giant bunny rabbit got off on hiding eggs all over my house to celebrate the resurrection of the son of God. Besides, adults were telling me all this stuff, and adults knew lots of things I didn't, like why you shouldn't put stickers over your pee hole. But I guess indoctrination is a delicate process, because somewhere along the way, it was too much for me. Later in life it pushed a little too hard, and I stopped buying into it. I think it was when I stopped going to Sunday school and started attending regular mass, and Catholicism revealed itself as being more about guilt than love, and church was the most boring fucking thing I could have ever imagined. I started asking questions my Mother couldn't answer. I started drawing mean caricatures of our priests on the collection slips and leaving them in the Bibles for people to find. I started to call bullshit on the whole ordeal, and my poor Mother, her own faith having grown fragile over the years, could no longer defend it. And that was that. I got out. Most people in that situation aren't so lucky, and hence, America is overwhelmingly populated by people who believe in Santa Claus. He may be skinny and shirtless and pinned to a cross, but he's still Santa Claus.

If I have children and, as their sole voice of guidance in their crucial formative years, tell them that Tommy Lee was an earthly vessel of the almighty Creator, and His autobiography Tommyland contained the universal truths for all mankind and the keys to salvation, and anyone who felt otherwise was simply a misguided soul destined for eternal damnation lest they be awaked to the sacred truths of Tommy Lee... Well, I'd end up with a pretty fucked up kid, but by the time he'd reached adulthood with these superstitions drilled into his brain day after day, you'd have a damned hard time convincing him his beliefs were wrong.

The problem here is that because Christianity is old and widely-believed, we're meant to inherently accept its fairy tales as somehow more credible than Scientology's fairy tales, when really, they're the same fucking thing. So why is it okay to make fun of Scientology in a country that takes Christianity so seriously? Why is it common knowledge that Scientology is a cult that scams people out of money and uses devious tactics to lure people into its teachings, but no one wants to admit the same things about Christian churches? Why is Tom Cruise a lunatic for saying whatever the hell he said in that video, but we'll gladly elect a President who thinks the earth was made in seven days? Why is poor Dennis Kucinich lampooned for saying he saw a UFO, but we're perfectly comfortable with all the other Presidential candidates worshipping an omnipotent being? If you get right down to it, UFOs have far more scientific basis than omnipotent beings.

I wish religion was, like anal beads and Everybody Loves Raymond, something that people practiced privately, in their homes, and it was an individual matter that rarely intruded on my life. Because theoretically, I really don't care what you believe in. I don't give two shits if you worship Jesus or Allah or Brett Favre or The Force or little fucking forest gnomes. In theory, it makes no difference to me whether your idea of a religious experience is saying ten Hail Marys, or nailing your balls to a wooden plank while defacating. It should be no concern of mine. But these fucking fundamentalist Christians have unfortunately made it my business and everyone's business, and because of their insistence on meddling with science and politics, I now have to try and figure out who's the least superstitious Presidential candidate. I wish it would never even occur to me that the prospective leader of the free world might, in the 21st century, reject a basic foundation of science. But alas, this is the dumb, credulous kindergarten class known as America, where, much to the snickering bemusement of Europe and the rest of the developed world, our political leaders have to show up on TV kneeling in front of a cross at Sunday mass to even be considered a candidate for Commander in Chief. And that, sadly, makes religion an important issue - because religion has begun threatening science, and if we start tearing away at science, we risk losing what little sense of reason and logic our country still has left to hold onto.

In case you hadn't noticed, we're in the early stages of an insulting sham of a Presidential election process right now. But as flawed as the system might be, it's still going to result in a new leader of our fragile empire, and no matter who you vote for, on either side of the political fence, you're voting for someone reared on a theology no less absurd than anything Tom Cruise believes in. In this election there are arguably more important issues - like trying to undo eight years of imperialistic insanity and fiscal irresponsibility. But I think a person's ability to weigh out religious beliefs against scientific facts says a lot about their character and informs all their decisions - and since every Presidential hopeful has to have a cross up their ass, I like to at least know which of them are drinking more of the Kool-Aid than others. This time around the thirstiest seems to be Mike Huckabee, a Republican front runner and former Baptist minister. Aside from crediting divine intervention with some of his political success, he has vocally supported creationism and thinks it should be taught in science class alongside evolution. He also carries the proud right wing tradition of using religion as an excuse for close-minded bigotry, calling homosexuality "an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle." And naturally, he's anti-abortion, anti-stem cells, anti-gay marriage/civil unions - all the ignorant, Bible-inspired goodness you've come to expect from the Christian right. Most recently Huckabee has said that "what we need to do is amend the constitution so it's in God's standards rather than trying to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other..." So, um, by "God," do you mean the Islamic concept of God, Mike? That one? Oh, oh, I'm sorry, you meant the Christian God. The, um, the good one, right? Sorry, my bad.

Surprisingly, the only other major candidate to actually say outright that he doesn't accept evolution is - *gasp* - the beloved Ron Paul. Here is the awkward clip where Paul, a devout Baptist, sent shivers down the spines of his many left-leaning, secular supporters by saying "I think it's a theory, the theory of evolution and I don't accept it as a theory." Ooooh, snap! How's the "theory" of gravity working out for you, Dr. Paul? He also said he didn't think it was an appropriate question to be asking Presidential candidates. Well, it certainly the fuck shouldn't have to be asked, any more than "what's two plus two?" But when we live in a country where so many people actually reject a basic foundation of science, and want to indoctrinate future generations with that kind of thinking, it's a staggeringly appropriate question. Of course, Paul's devotees would probably retort with something to the effect of "Ron Paul would let the states decide how to handle discussion of evolution in their schools, so it doesn't matter what he thinks." Except that going to school is mandatory, and public schools are provided by the state, so incorporating intelligent design into a public school curriculum equates to incorporating religious teachings, and that violates the long-standing restraining order filed by State against its creepy stalker, Church. It's okay though, if President Paul lets the states make that call, I'll just move back to New York and help build a wall to protect us when the next generation of public schooled kids from Arkansas comes around trying to burn down the secular den of sin that is Manhattan.

The rest of the candidates - all of the Democrats and a few of the Republicans (McCain, Giuliani, and Romney), appear to be, whether they even know it or not, "theistic evolutionists." This means they believe in evolution, but also believe in God, so they inherently believe that God had some involvement in the process of evolution. Their varying thoughts on intelligent design in public schools are outlined here. Certainly this is far from the only thing, or even the first thing, you should consider when deciding which candidate to support, but it's something that isn't being talked about much right now, and it shouldn't be forgotten. Fringe Democratic candidate Mike Gravel is the only candidate with the balls to say something truly awesome about the intelligent design issue, and sadly his candor is one of the many reasons why he'll never be President: When asked if creationism should be taught in public schools, he said "Oh, God, no. Oh, Jesus. We thought we had made a big advance with the Scopes monkey trial... My God, evolution is a fact, and if these people are disturbed by being the descendants of monkeys and fishes, they've got a mental problem. We can't afford the psychiatric bill for them. That ends the story as far as I'm concerned." Couldn't have said it better myself, Mike.

The other reason all this is important is because Presidents nominate Supreme Court judges, and it was a Supreme Court judge who famously kept intelligent design out of public schools - at least for now. A President who can't accept fundamental science over his own superstitions, or at least adapt his beliefs to things we know to be true, is not someone who should be picking Supreme Court judges. We've made that mistake, and I think we'd be wise not to make it again. To quote Bill Maher: "Maybe a President who didn't believe our soldiers were going to Heaven might be a little less willing to get them killed."

Last week on his HBO show, Bill Maher responded to the controversy over Hilary Clinton "crying" by asking, somewhat rhetorically, "are we a serious country?" No, Bill, of course we're not. We're a silly, lazy, simple-minded, easily-manipulated country, ready to believe anyone who tells us what we want to hear and any ideology that presents the easiest path from point A to point B. No wonder Kirk Cameron believes bananas are proof that God created the earth. No wonder a douchelord televangelist like Joel Osteen can become so massively successful by telling his millions of believers to just kick back, relax, turn on Everybody Loves Raymond, and let God take care of things. Yup, just believe in God, and everything will be fine. Wow, life is that easy? Sign me up!

Personally, I don't believe in UFOs like Mr. Kucinich, and I don't believe in God like Dr. Paul. But I don't not believe in them either. I believe in science, and thus far, science can neither prove nor disprove either one of those things, so my mind is open. Of course, at this point science has rather drastically disproven the history of mankind as written in the Bible, and that's where things have gotten a bit awkward. With the vastness of the universe and the complexity of life, I suppose believing in some kind of higher power is in our nature. We're too aware for our own good, and we can't stand the horrible, empty feeling that comes with not knowing why we're here, how we got here, or where we're going. It's discomforting to think that we'll never be able to understand all the secrets of the universe. So we make up stories that take care of those concerns very neatly. These stories answer all your questions, they appease all your worries. All you have to do is believe, and the best part is that if you don't like something about the stories you've been told, you can write your own book of slightly different stories and tell other people that your stories are the right ones. You have the truth now. And if that helps you sleep at night, then I'm happy for you, and please, carry on, but don't try to pretend that you have an answer I don't. No one has the answer, and in that sense, Scientology is as real or as unreal as Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, or Tommy Leeology, or hell, even science. But at least what science offers that religion doesn't is the ability to question, and reason, and re-evaluate, and allow its ideas to, well, evolve based on new information. If factual evidence shows up tomorrow suggesting that our species actually evolved from the fecal matter of giant space turtles, then science will evolve with those new facts, and rewrite the rules based on new evidence. That's the reason the earth is no longer flat, and it's something an unwavering belief in a book of stories can never offer. So please, if you're going to laugh at Scientology and call Tom Cruise a brainwashed lunatic, be sure to play fair and save some venom for all the other religions and their brainwashed lunatics. And, well, I'll just let XKCD conclude this rant more efficiently than I ever could:

Edit: Oh, shit. I wrote all that before seeing Kirk Cameron's definitive proof that evolution isn't real. Fuck! Everything I stood for, debunked so effortlessly, and with such perfect teeth! Well, back to the ol' drawing board...

Digg it, bitches!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007subscribe to demonbaby

When Pigs Fly: The Death of Oink, the Birth of Dissent, and a Brief History of Record Industry Suicide.

[Currently Listening To: Music I Didn't Pay For]

For quite a long time I've been intending to post some sort of commentary on the music industry - piracy, distribution, morality, those types of things. I've thought about it many times, but never gone through with it, because the issue is such a broad, messy one - such a difficult thing to address fairly and compactly. I knew it would result in a rambly, unfocused commentary, and my exact opinion has teetered back and forth quite a bit over the years anyway. But on Monday, when I woke up to the news that Oink, the world famous torrent site and mecca for music-lovers everywhere, had been shut down by international police and various anti-piracy groups, I knew it was finally time to try and organize my thoughts on this huge, sticky, important issue.

For the past eight years, I've worked on and off with major record labels as a designer ("Major" is an important distinction here, because major labels are an entirely different beast than many indie labels - they're the ones with the power, and they are the ones driving the industry-wide push against piracy). It was 1999 when I got my first taste of the inner-workings of a major record label - I was a young college student, and the inside of a New York label office seemed so vast and exciting. Dozens of worker bees hummed away at their desks on phones and computers. Music posters and stacks of CDs littered every surface. Everyone seemed to have an assistant, and the assistants had assistants, and you couldn't help but wonder "what the hell do all these people do?" I tagged along on $1500 artist dinners paid for by the labels. Massive bar tabs were regularly signed away by record label employees with company cards. You got used to people billing as many expenses back to the record company as they could. I met the type of jive, middle-aged, blazer-wearing, coke-snorting, cartoon character label bigwigs who you'd think were too cliche to exist outside the confines of Spinal Tap. It was all strange and exciting, but one thing that always resonated with me was the sheer volume of money that seemed to be spent without any great deal of concern. Whether it was excessive production budgets or "business lunches" that had nothing to do with business, one of my first reactions to it all was, "so this is why CDs cost $18..." An industry of excess. But that's kind of what you expected from the music business, right? It's where rock stars are made. It's where you get stretch limos with hot tubs in the back, where you get private jets and cocaine parties. Growing up in the '80's, with pop royalty and hair metal bands, you were kind of led to think, of course record labels blow money left and right - there's just so much of it to go around! Well, you know what they say: The bigger they are...

In those days, "piracy" was barely even a word in the music world. My friends and I traded MP3s in college over the local network, but they were scattered and low-quality. It felt like a novelty - like a digital version of duping a cassette tape - hardly a replacement for CDs. CDs sounded good and you could bring them with you in your DiscMan, and the only digital music you could get was as good as your friends' CD collections, anyway. It never occurred to any of us that digital files were the future. But as it turned out, lots of kids, in lots of colleges around the world, had the same idea of sharing MP3 files over their local networks, and eventually, someone paid attention to that idea and made Napster. Suddenly, it was like all those college networks were tied together, and you could find all this cool stuff online. It was easier and more efficient than record stores, it was powered by music fans, and, well, it was free. Suddenly you didn't have to pay 15 to 18 bucks for an album and hope it was good, you could download some tracks off the internet and check it out first. But you still always bought the CD if you liked it - I mean, who wants all their music to be on the computer? I sure didn't. But increasingly, more and more people did. For college kids, Napster was a Godsend, because you can all but guarantee two things about most college kids: They love music, and they're dirt poor. So it grew, and it grew, and it started to grow into the mainstream, and that's when the labels woke up and realized something important was happening. At that point they could have seen it as either a threat or an opportunity, and they, without hesitation, determined it to be a threat. It was a threat because essentially someone had come up with a better, free distribution method for the labels' product. To be fair, you can imagine how confusing this must have been for them - is there even a historical precedent for an industry's products suddenly being able to replicate and distribute on their own, without cost?

For quite a while - long after most tech-savvy music lovers - I resisted the idea of stealing music. Of course I would download MP3s - I downloaded a lot of stuff - but I would always make sure to buy the physical CD if it was something I liked. I knew a lot of musicians, a lot of them bewildered at what was happening to the industry they used to understand. People were downloading their music en masse, gorging on this new frontier like pigs at a troff - and worst of all, they felt entitled to do so. It was like it was okay simply because the technology existed that made it possible. But it wasn't okay - I mean, let's face it, no matter how you rationalized it, it was stealing, and because the technology existed to hotwire a car didn't make that okay, either. The artists lost control of distribution: They couldn't present albums the way they wanted to, in a package with nice artwork. They couldn't reveal it the way they wanted to, because music pirates got the albums online well before the actual release date. Control had been taken away from everyone who used to have it. It was a scary time in unfamiliar territory, where suddenly music fans became enemies to the artists and companies they had supported for years. It led to laughable hyperbole from bands like Metallica, instantly the poster-children of cry-baby rich rock stars, and the beginning of the image problem the industry has faced in its handling of the piracy issue. But still, at the time, I understood where they were coming from. Most musicians weren't rich like Metallica, and needed all the album sales they could get for both income and label support. Plus, it was their art, and they had created it - why shouldn't they be able to control how it's distributed, just because some snotty, acne-faced internet kids had found a way to cheat the system? And these entitled little internet brats, don't they realize that albums cost money to create, and to produce, and to promote? How is there going to be any new music if no one's paying for it?

On top of that, I couldn't get into the idea of an invisible music library that lives on my computer. Where's the artwork? Where's my collection? I want the booklet, the packaging... I want shelves and shelves of albums that I've spent years collecting, that I can pore over and impress my friends with... I want to flip through the pages, and hold the CD in my hand... Being a kid who got into music well past the days of vinyl, CDs were all I had, and they still felt important to me.

It's all changed.

In a few short years, the aggressive push of technology combined with the arrogant response from the record industry has rapidly worn away all of my noble intentions of clinging to the old system, and has now pushed me into full-on dissent. I find myself fully immersed in digital music, almost never buying CDs, and fully against the methods of the major record labels and the RIAA. And I think it would do the music industry a lot of good to pay attention to why - because I'm just one of millions, and there will be millions more in the years to come. And it could have happened very, very differently.

As the years have passed, and technology has made digital files the most convenient, efficient, and attractive method of listening to music for many people, the rules and cultural perceptions regarding music have changed drastically. We live in the iPod generation - where a "collection" of clunky CDs feels archaic - where the uniqueness of your music collection is limited only by how eclectic your taste is. Where it's embraced and expected that if you like an album, you send it to your friend to listen to. Whether this guy likes it or not, iPods have become synonymous with music - and if I filled my shiny new 160gb iPod up legally, buying each track online at the 99 cents price that the industry has determined, it would cost me about $32,226. How does that make sense? It's the ugly truth the record industry wants to ignore as they struggle to find ways to get people to pay for music in a culture that has already embraced the idea of music being something you collect in large volumes, and trade freely with your friends.

Already is the key word, because it didn't have to be this way, and that's become the main source of my utter lack of sympathy for the dying record industry: They had a chance to move forward, to evolve with technology and address the changing needs of consumers - and they didn't. Instead, they panicked - they showed their hand as power-hungry dinosaurs, and they started to demonize their own customers, the people whose love of music had given them massive profits for decades. They used their unfair record contracts - the ones that allowed them to own all the music - and went after children, grandparents, single moms, even deceased great grandmothers - alongside many other common people who did nothing more than download some songs and leave them in a shared folder - something that has become the cultural norm to the iPod generation. Joining together in what has been referred to as an illegal cartel and using the RIAA as their attack dogs, the record labels have spent billions of dollars attempting to scare people away from downloading music. And it's simply not working. The pirating community continues to out-smart and out-innovate the dated methods of the record companies, and CD sales continue to plummet while exchange of digital music on the internet continues to skyrocket. Why? Because freely-available music in large quantities is the new cultural norm, and the industry has given consumers no fair alternative. They didn't jump in when the new technologies were emerging and think, "how can we capitalize on this to ensure that we're able to stay afloat while providing the customer what they've come to expect?" They didn't band together and create a flat monthly fee for downloading all the music you want. They didn't respond by drastically lowering the prices of CDs (which have been ludicrously overpriced since day one, and actually increased in price during the '90's), or by offering low-cost DRM-free legal MP3 purchases. Their entry into the digital marketplace was too little too late - a precedent of free, high-quality, DRM-free music had already been set.

There seem to be a lot of reasons why the record companies blew it. One is that they're really not very smart. They know how to do one thing, which is sell records in a traditional retail environment. From personal experience I can tell you that the big labels are beyond clueless in the digital world - their ideas are out-dated, their methods make no sense, and every decision is hampered by miles and miles of legal tape, copyright restrictions, and corporate interests. Trying to innovate with a major label is like trying to teach your Grandmother how to play Halo 3: frustrating and ultimately futile. The easiest example of this is how much of a fight it's been to get record companies to sell MP3s DRM-free. You're trying to explain a new technology to an old guy who made his fortune in the hair metal days. You're trying to tell him that when someone buys a CD, it has no DRM - people can encode it into their computer as DRM-free MP3s within seconds, and send it to all their friends. So why insult the consumer by making them pay the same price for copy-protected MP3s? It doesn't make any sense! It just frustrates people and drives them to piracy! They don't get it: "It's an MP3, you have to protect it or they'll copy it." But they can do the same thing with the CDs you already sell!! Legal tape and lots of corporate bullshit. If these people weren't the ones who owned the music, it'd all be over already, and we'd be enjoying the real future of music. Because like with any new industry, it's not the people from the previous generation who are going to step in and be the innovators. It's a new batch.

Newspapers are a good example: It used to be that people read newspapers to get the news. That was the distribution method, and newspaper companies controlled it. You paid for a newspaper, and you got your news, that's how it worked. Until the internet came along, and a new generation of innovative people created websites, and suddenly anyone could distribute information, and they could distribute it faster, better, more efficiently, and for free. Obviously this hurt the newspaper industry, but there was nothing they could do about it, because they didn't own the information itself - only the distribution method. Their only choice was to innovate and find ways to compete in a new marketplace. And you know what? Now I can get live, up-to-the-minute news for free, on thousands of different sources across the internet - and The New York Times still exists. Free market capitalism at its finest. It's not a perfect example, but it is a part of how the internet is changing every form of traditional media. It happened with newspapers, it's happening now with music, and TV and cell phones are next on the chopping block. In all cases technology demands that change will happen, it's just a matter of who will find ways to take advantage of it, and who won't.

Unlike newspapers, record companies own the distribution and the product being distributed, so you can't just start your own website where you give out music that they own - and that's what this is all about: distribution. Lots of pro-piracy types argue that music can be free because people will always love music, and they'll pay for concert tickets, and merchandise, and the marketplace will shift and artists will survive. Well, yes, that might be an option for some artists, but that does nothing to help the record labels, because they don't make any money off of merchandise, or concert tickets. Distribution and ownership are what they control, and those are the two things piracy threatens. The few major labels left are parts of giant media conglomerations - owned by huge parent companies for whom artists and albums are just numbers on a piece of paper. It's why record companies shove disposable pop crap down your throat instead of nurturing career artists: because they have CEOs and shareholders to answer to, and those people don't give a shit if a really great band has the potential to get really successful, if given the right support over the next decade. They see that Gwen Stefani's latest musical turd sold millions, because parents of twelve year old girls still buy music for their kids, and the parent company demands more easy-money pop garbage that will be forgotten about next month. The only thing that matters to these corporations is profit - period. Music isn't thought of as an art form, as it was in the earlier days of the industry where labels were started by music-lovers - it's a product, pure and simple. And many of these corporations also own the manufacturing plants that create the CDs, so they make money on all sides - and lose money even from legal MP3s.

At the top of all this is the rigged, outdated, and unfair structure of current intellectual property laws, all of them in need of massive reform in the wake of the digital era. These laws allow the labels to maintain their stranglehold on music copyrights, and they allow the RIAA to sue the pants off of any file-sharing grandmother they please. Since the labels are owned by giant corporations with a great deal of money, power, and political influence, the RIAA is able to lobby politicians and government agencies to manipulate copyright laws for their benefit. The result is absurdly disproportionate fines, and laws that in some cases make file sharing a heftier charge than armed robbery. This is yet another case of private, corporate interests using political influence to turn laws in the opposite direction of the changing values of the people. Or, as this very smart assessment from a record executive described it: "a clear case of a multinational conglomerate using its political muscle to the disadvantage of everyone but itself." But shady political maneuvers and scare tactics are all the RIAA and other anti-piracy groups have left, because people who download music illegally now number in the hundreds of millions, and they can't sue everyone. At this point they're just trying to hold up what's left of the dam before it bursts open. Their latest victim is Oink, a popular torrent site specializing in music.

If you're not familiar with Oink, here's a quick summary: Oink was was a free members-only site - to join it you had to be invited by a member. Members had access to an unprecedented community-driven database of music. Every album you could ever imagine was just one click away. Oink's extremely strict quality standards ensured that everything on the site was at pristine quality - 192kbps MP3 was their bare minimum, and they championed much higher quality MP3s as well as FLAC lossless downloads. They encouraged logs to verify that the music had been ripped from the CD without any errors. Transcodes - files encoded from other encoded files, resulting in lower quality - were strictly forbidden. You were always guaranteed higher quality music than iTunes or any other legal MP3 store. Oink's strict download/share ratio ensured that every album in their vast database was always well-seeded, resulting in downloads faster than anywhere else on the internet. A 100mb album would download in mere seconds on even an average broadband connection. Oink was known for getting pre-release albums before anyone else on the internet, often months before they hit retail - but they also had an extensive catalogue of music dating back decades, fueled by music lovers who took pride in uploading rare gems from their collection that other users were seeking out. If there was an album you couldn't find on Oink, you only had to post a request for it, and wait for someone who had it to fill your request. Even if the request was extremely rare, Oink's vast network of hundreds of thousands of music-lovers eager to contribute to the site usually ensured you wouldn't have to wait long.

In this sense, Oink was not only an absolute paradise for music fans, but it was unquestionably the most complete and most efficient music distribution model the world has ever known. I say that safely without exaggeration. It was like the world's largest music store, whose vastly superior selection and distribution was entirely stocked, supplied, organized, and expanded upon by its own consumers. If the music industry had found a way to capitalize on the power, devotion, and innovation of its own fans the way Oink did, it would be thriving right now instead of withering. If intellectual property laws didn't make Oink illegal, the site's creator would be the new Steve Jobs right now. He would have revolutionized music distribution. Instead, he's a criminal, simply for finding the best way to fill rising consumer demand. I would have gladly paid a large monthly fee for a legal service as good as Oink - but none existed, because the music industry could never set aside their own greed and corporate bullshit to make it happen.

Here's an interesting aside: The RIAA loves to complain about music pirates leaking albums onto the internet before they're released in stores - painting the leakers as vicious pirates dead set on attacking their enemy, the music industry. But you know where music leaks from? From the fucking source, of course - the labels! At this point, most bands know that once their finished album is sent off to the label, the risk of it turning up online begins, because the labels are full of low-level workers who happen to be music fans who can't wait to share the band's new album with their friends. If the album manages to not leak directly from the label, it is guaranteed to leak once it heads off to manufacturing. Someone at the manufacturing plant is always happy to sneak off with a copy, and before long, it turns up online. Why? Because people love music, and they can't wait to hear their favorite band's new album! It's not about profit, and it's not about maliciousness. So record industry, maybe if you could protect your own assets a little better, shit wouldn't leak - don't blame the fans who flock to the leaked material online, blame the people who leak it out of your manufacturing plants in the first place! But assuming that's a hole too difficult to plug, it begs the question, "why don't labels adapt to the changing nature of distribution by selling new albums online as soon as they're finished, before they have a chance to leak, and release the physical CDs a couple months later?" Well, for one, labels are still obsessed with Billboard chart numbers - they're obsessed with determining the market value of their product by how well it fares in its opening week. Selling it online before the big retail debut, before they've had months to properly market the product to ensure success, would mess up those numbers (nevermind that those numbers mean absolutely nothing anymore). Additionally, selling an album online before it hits stores makes retail outlets (who are also suffering in all this) angry, and retail outlets have far more power than they should. For example, if a record company releases an album online but Wal-Mart won't have the CD in their stores for another two months (because it needs to be manufactured), Wal-Mart gets mad. Who cares if Wal-Mart gets mad, you ask? Well, record companies do, because Wal-Mart is, both mysteriously and tragically, the largest music retailer in the world. That means they have power, and they can say "if you sell Britney Spears' album online before we can sell it in our stores, we lose money. So if you do that, we're not going to stock her album at all, and then you'll lose a LOT of money." That kind of greedy business bullshit happens all the time in the record industry, and the consistent result is a worse experience for consumers and music lovers.

Which is why Oink was so great - take away all the rules and legal ties, all the ownership and profit margins, and naturally, the result is something purely for, by, and in service of the music fan. And it actually helps musicians - file-sharing is "the greatest marketing tool ever to come along for the music industry." One of Oink's best features was how it allowed users to connect similar artists, and to see what people who liked a certain band also liked. Similar to Amazon's recommendation system, it was possible to spend hours discovering new bands on Oink, and that's what many of its users did. Through sites like Oink, the amount and variety of music I listen to has skyrocketed, opening me up to hundreds of artists I never would have experienced otherwise. I'm now fans of their music, and I may not have bought their CDs, but I would have never bought their CD anyway, because I would have never heard of them! And now that I have heard of them, I go to their concerts, and I talk them up to my friends, and give my friends the music to listen to for themselves, so they can go to the concerts, and tell their friends, and so on. Oink was a network of music lovers sharing and discovering music. And yes, it was all technically illegal, and destined to get shut down, I suppose. But it's not so much that they shut Oink down that boils my blood, it's the fucking bullshit propaganda they put out there. If the industry tried to have some kind of compassion - if they said, "we understand that these are just music fans trying to listen to as much music as they can, but we have to protect our assets, and we're working on an industry-wide solution to accommodate the changing needs of music fans"... Well, it's too late for that, but it would be encouraging. Instead, they make it sound like they busted a Columbian drug cartel or something. They describe it as a highly-organized piracy ring. Like Oink users were distributing kiddie porn or some shit. The press release says: "This was not a case of friends sharing music for pleasure." Wh - what?? That's EXACTLY what it was! No one made any money on that site - there were no ads, no registration fees. The only currency was ratio - the amount you shared with other users - a brilliant way of turning "free" into a sort of booming mini-economy. The anti-piracy groups have tried to spin the notion that you had to pay a fee to join Oink, which is NOT true - donations were voluntary, and went to support the hosting and maintenance of the site. If the donations spilled into profit for the guy who ran the site, well he damn well deserved it - he created something truly remarkable.

So the next question is, what now?

For the major labels, it's over. It's fucking over. You're going to burn to the fucking ground, and we're all going to dance around the fire. And it's your own fault. Surely, somewhere deep inside, you had to know this day was coming, right? Your very industry is founded on an unfair business model of owning art you didn't create in exchange for the services you provide. It's rigged so that you win every time - even if the artist does well, you do ten times better. It was able to exist because you controlled the distribution, but now that's back in the hands of the people, and you let the ball drop when you could have evolved.

None of this is to say that there's no way for artists to make money anymore, or even that it's the end of record labels. It's just the end of record labels as we know them. A lot of people point to the Radiohead model as the future, but Radiohead is only dipping its toe into the future to test the waters. What at first seemed like a rainbow-colored revolution has now been openly revealed as a marketing gimmick: Radiohead was "experimenting," releasing a low-quality MP3 version of an album only to punish the fans who paid for it by later releasing a full-quality CD version with extra tracks. According to Radiohead's manager: "If we didn't believe that when people hear the music they will want to buy the CD then we wouldn't do what we are doing." Ouch. Radiohead was moving in the right direction, but if they really want to start a revolution, they need to place the "pay-what-you-want" digital album on the same content and quality level as the "pay-what-we-want" physical album.

Ultimately, I don't know what the future model is going to be - I think all the current pieces of the puzzle will still be there, but they need to be re-ordered, and the rules need to be changed. Maybe record labels of the future exist to help front recording costs and promote artists, but they don't own the music. Maybe music is free, and musicians make their money from touring and merchandise, and if they need a label, the label takes a percentage of their tour and merch profits. Maybe all-digital record companies give bands all the tools they need to sell their music directly to their fans, taking a small percentage for their services. In any case, the artists own their own music.

I used to reject the wishy-washy "music should be free!" mantra of online music thieves. I knew too much about the intricacies and economics of it, of the rock-and-a-hard-place situation many artists were in with their labels. I thought there were plenty of new ways to sell music that would be fair to all parties involved. But I no longer believe that, because the squabbling, backwards, greedy, ownership-obsessed major labels will never let it happen, and that's more clear to me now than ever. So maybe music has to be free. Maybe taking the money out of music is the only way to get money back into it. Maybe it's time to abandon the notion of the rock star - of music as a route to fame and fortune. The best music was always made by people who weren't in it for the money, anyway. Maybe smart, talented musicians will find ways to make a good living with or without CD sales. Maybe the record industry execs who made their fortunes off of unfair contracts and distribution monopolies should just walk away, confident that they milked a limited opportunity for all it was worth, and that it's time to find fortune somewhere else. Maybe in the hands of consumers, the music marketplace will expand in new and lucrative ways no one can even dream of yet. We won't know until music is free, and eventually it's going to be. Technological innovation destroys old industries, but it creates new ones. You can't fight it forever.

Until the walls finally come down, we're in what will inevitably be looked back on as a very awkward, chaotic period in music history - fans are being arrested for sharing the music they love, and many artists are left helpless, unable to experiment with new business models because they're locked into record contracts with backwards-thinking labels.

So what can you and I do to help usher in the brave new world? The beauty of Oink was how fans willingly and hyper-efficiently took on distribution roles that traditionally have cost labels millions of dollars. Music lovers have shown that they're much more willing to put time and effort into music than they are money. It's time to show artists that there's no limit to what an energized online fanbase can accomplish, and all they'll ever ask for in return is more music. And it's time to show the labels that they missed a huge opportunity by not embracing these opportunities when they had the chance.

1. Stop buying music from major labels. Period. The only way to force change is to hit the labels where it hurts - their profits. The major labels are like Terry Schiavo right now - they're on life support, drooling in a coma, while white-haired guys in suits try and change the laws to keep them alive. But any rational person can see that it's too late, and it's time to pull out the feeding tube. In this case, the feeding tube is your money. Find out which labels are members/supporters of the RIAA and similar copyright enforcement groups, and don't support them in any way. The RIAA Radar is a great tool to help you with this. Don't buy CDs, don't buy iTunes downloads, don't buy from Amazon, etc. Steal the music you want that's on the major labels. It's easy, and despite the RIAA's scare tactics, it can be done safely - especially if more and more people are doing it. Send letters to those labels, and to the RIAA, explaining very calmly and professionally that you will no longer be supporting their business, because of their bullish scare tactics towards music fans, and their inability to present a forward-thinking digital distribution solution. Tell them you believe their business model is outdated and the days of companies owning artists' music are over. Make it very clear that you will continue to support the artists directly in other ways, and make it VERY clear that your decision has come about as a direct result of the record company's actions and inactions regarding digital music.

2. Support artists directly. If a band you like is stuck on a major label, there are tons of ways you can support them without actually buying their CD. Tell everyone you know about them - start a fansite if you're really passionate. Go to their shows when they're in town, and buy t-shirts and other merchandise. Here's a little secret: Anything a band sells that does not have music on it is outside the reach of the record label, and monetarily supports the artist more than buying a CD ever would. T-shirts, posters, hats, keychains, stickers, etc. Send the band a letter telling them that you're no longer going to be purchasing their music, but you will be listening to it, and you will be spreading the word and supporting them in other ways. Tell them you've made this decision because you're trying to force change within the industry, and you no longer support record labels with RIAA affiliations who own the music of their artists.

If you like bands who are releasing music on open, non-RIAA indie labels, buy their albums! You'll support the band you like, and you'll support hard-working, passionate people at small, forward-thinking music labels. If you like bands who are completely independent and are releasing music on their own, support them as much as possible! Pay for their music, buy their merchandise, tell all your friends about them and help promote them online - prove that a network of passionate fans is the best promotion a band can ask for.

3. Get the message out. Get this message out to as many people as you can - spread the word on your blog or your MySpace, and more importantly, tell your friends at work, or your family members, people who might not be as tuned into the internet as you are. Teach them how to use torrents, show them where to go to get music for free. Show them how to support artists while starving the labels, and who they should and shouldn't be supporting.

4. Get political. The fast-track to ending all this nonsense is changing intellectual property laws. The RIAA lobbies politicians to manipulate copyright laws for their own interests, so voters need to lobby politicians for the peoples' interests. Contact your local representatives and senators. Tell them politely and articulately that you believe copyright laws no longer reflect the interests of the people, and you will not vote for them if they support the interests of the RIAA. Encourage them to draft legislation that helps change the outdated laws and disproportionate penalties the RIAA champions. Contact information for state representatives can be found here, and contact information for senators can be found here. You can email them, but calling on the phone or writing them actual letters is always more effective.

Tonight, with Oink gone, I find myself wondering where I'll go now to discover new music. All the other options - particularly the legal ones - seem depressing by comparison. I wonder how long it will be before everyone can legally experience the type of music nirvana Oink users became accustomed to? I'm not too worried - something even better will rise out of Oink's ashes, and the RIAA will respond with more lawsuits, and the cycle will repeat itself over and over until the industry has finally bled itself to death. And then everything will be able to change, and it will be in the hands of musicians and fans and a new generation of entrepreneurs to decide how the new record business is going to work. Whether you agree with it or not, it's fact. It's inevitable - because the determination of fans to share music is much, much stronger than the determination of corporations to stop it.


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Wednesday, June 27, 2007subscribe to demonbaby

Can We Please, As a Culture, Just Move On?

[Currently Listening To: The Duke Spirit - Cuts Across the Land]

The title of this post is lifted from this XKCD strip - a commentary on the strange male preoccupation with penis size. I've never really understood it myself, but Idunno, maybe that's just because I have a huge cock. Anyway, today the concept of moving on as a culture applies to the media, and the focus of our national attention. Right now, CNN's front page is furiously ejaculating over its much-balyhooed post-jail interview with Paris Fuckbag Hilton. You know, the one Larry King conducted earlier today after scrapping a previously-scheduled interview with Michael Moore about some kinda important shit. I don't know what burning questions Mr. King ended up asking, because I'd rather watch an interview with my balls, but I'm sure it was a rousing hour of highly intellectual banter. You know what? Fuck you, Larry King. I hope you have trouble sleeping tonight because you realize you hit the rock bottom of journalistic integrity when you failed to tell your employers to go fuck themselves if they expected you to pretend to care about anything Paris Hilton has to say. You probably didn't, though - what do you care? It's more ratings, right? It's what people want. I think that makes Larry King and the highly respectable news team at CNN a fine choice for our second semi-occasional Embarrassing New Low Award:

At least someone on TV news had enough of all this (although since MSNBC is featuring that clip instead of being embarrassed by it, it's probably just a marketing ploy to take some wind out of CNN's sails).

The point is that we need to stop. All of us. We, as a culture, are being sedated with bullshit, day in and day out. And like Miss Hilton snorting blow off a toilet seat, it's easy and accessible and it's destroying us, but we can't get enough. In a world as fucked as ours, no one should be talking about Paris fucking Hilton. Not for any reason, ever. We shouldn't be praising her, we shouldn't be making fun of her, we shouldn't be criticizing her or reading about her or watching her shitty amateur porn videos. Not me, not you, and certainly not any entity presenting itself as a "news" organization. There are so many people in this world who are doing important things. There are people doing incredible, world-changing things every day, and you never hear about them. There are people who are doing unimaginably terrible things every day, and you never hear about them. Every day brilliant people are making new scientific discoveries, and creating new inventions. Every day truly evil people people are murdering thousands, and profiting from it. Every day powerful people are making new laws, enacting new policies, all of it affecting the world. Every day regular people are creating entertainment, running companies, teaching children, making sandwiches, and cleaning floors. Billions upon billions of people who are, in some way, positive or negative, contributing to society. Paris Hilton is not one of those people - the only thing unique about her is how astonishingly little she adds to the world. To devote so much of our national discourse to someone so devoid of value, at such a significant time in world history, is a crime - pure and simple.

Rich, powerful people - the one percent of the world's population who control 80 percent of its wealth - they love Paris Hilton. Dick Cheney and his big man-sized safe of evil secrets love Paris Hilton. They love Paris Hilton, and American Idol, and Britney and Lindsay and OJ and the Superbowl, and any of the other million things that our flaccid media uses to keep the fleeting national attention span distracted with issues of ABSOLUTELY NO FUCKING SIGNIFICANCE WHATSOEVER. To keep us content, complacent, uninformed, and unmotivated to change. Al Gore recently wrote a whole book on the subject. In his words:
"We are at a pivotal moment in American democracy. The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, has reached levels that were previously unimaginable. It's too easy and too partisan to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes.

Reasoned, focused discourse is vital to our democracy to ensure a well-informed citizenry. But this is difficult in an environment in which we are experiencing a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time--from the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson trials to Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith."

Gore perhaps doesn't chide the American public quite enough for their role in all this, saying that reason is "under assault by forces using sophisticated techniques such as propaganda, psychology, and electronic mass media." That's true, but it starts with us, as a society. As the people who consume this crap. It exists because we keep eating it up. We have to start by not giving one tenth of a shit what Paris Hilton has to say about anything - and even if you're talking about how much she sucks or laughing at her, you're still part of the problem, because you're still keeping the discourse going. Hell, I'm part of the problem by even writing this blog entry, but I'm vowing, right now, that even to make a statement, I will never talk about Paris Hilton ever again. I will never read about her, write about her, or allow myself to be exposed to anything relating to her whatsoever, and I suggest you do the same. Since no one's ready to start a revolution yet, we can at least take our own baby steps. Next time you see Paris on TV, change the channel. Next time you encounter a news article or a blog post about her, just move right along. When you inevitably see the Larry King interview featured on YouTube, resist the urge to click. Next time someone at the water cooler says "did you see what Paris Hilton did?" ask them if they know who their senators are. Don't even lecture them, just change the subject. Don't even talk about people talking about her too much. Don't even talk about not talking about Paris Hilton. Let's all, as a culture, just move on. But before you give your brain a Paris colonic, contact CNN and tell them that you're never, ever going to watch their network again, because you're tired of shallow entertainment masquerading as news. Tell them if their entire broadcast day was one tenth as insightful as one episode of The Daily Show's fake news broadcast - they'd have a good start. And while you're at it, drop an e-mail to the editors of People Magazine and give them a nice list of all the good things a person could do for the world with $300,000 - $300,000 of course being the amount People agreed to pay for photos of Paris Hilton to accompany a print interview.

Don't get me wrong - I love mindless entertainment and trashy pop culture as much as the next guy. I just finished laughing in jaw-dropped awe at R Kelly's latest masterpiece, a magnificent work of "urban poetry" which quells any fears I might have had that the next installment of Trapped In The Closet would fail to live up to the glory of the original. But when so much utterly inconsequential bullshit starts to become what America considers "news" that the entire national consciousness consistently ignores giant, glaring problems... well, we have a giant, glaring problem - and rich hotel heiresses being forced to serve jail time starts to seem less like sweet vindication and more like a symptom of a culture gone terribly awry.

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Friday, November 10, 2006subscribe to demonbaby

Don't Get Too Excited, Part Two: We're Still A Nation Of Bigots

[Currently Listening To: Psapp - The Only Thing I Ever Wanted]

(note: this is a continuation of yesterday's entry)

As the world continues to celebrate this week's small but welcome return to common sense in American politics, and liberals everywhere are filled with hope for the future, let us not forget something very important: The American people haven't changed. Sure, a few more of us have finally acknowledged that the Iraq war is a cataclysmic disaster and something needs to be done about it, but beyond that, we're still the same nation bitterly divided between intelligent, rational people and closed-minded simpletons. How else do you explain seven more states voting to ban gay marriage on tuesday? Yes, amidst Democratic victories there were seven losses for common sense, as voters in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin all decided to actively take away legal rights from a specific group of people.

Strip away whatever you might think about homosexuality for a moment, and really think about that: 20 of the 50 United States - the home of the free, the land of equal rights and opportunity - now have passed laws for the specific purpose of taking away the rights of certain people, purely because they are scared. They're scared of what they don't understand, because their superstitious little brains have been sealed off to other types of identity by a misguided interpretation of a very old book. No, not all homophobia is derived from religious beliefs, but you can be damned sure that Christianity is the driving force behind our country's growing gay discrimination.

I'm not gay, and I'm not some sort of gay rights activist - but this particular issue infuriates me, because it's rooted so wholly in ignorance. There is not one single valid reason in the entire universe why gay people should not be allowed to have every single legal right that straight people do, and to think otherwise is to be wrong. Period. I don't usually say this, but you're simply, unequivocally WRONG if you think that way.

Now, sometimes people will try and pretend that these laws aren't discrimination, because marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman, and we should not redefine it, and if gay people want to have their own marriage but call it something else, that's all well and good. Well, there are a number of problems with that reasoning, but here's the main one: Marriage isn't just some fun little thing that people do when they're in love. It's not just vows and rice and rings and gift registries at Bed Bath & Beyond. It's a legal commitment, recognized by the government, which gives you special rights, tax cuts, etc that couples who are not married do not have access to. So, if you want to save the word "marriage" for the straight couples - if that's really so important - then at the very least you have to introduce a new form of marriage specifically for gay couples that is a recognized legal commitment with the exact same privileges of straight marriage. It's funny how none of these gay marriage bans have managed to include that part of the deal. And that is where these laws should be exposed as pure discrimination, but because fundamental Christian beliefs are aggressively embedded into this country's moral consciousness like termites in the walls of a decaying house, there just aren't enough people who get it.

Not that I should be surprised. We are, after all, a country with a long history of bigotry. We used to burn women we thought were witches. We used to own slaves. Until 1920, women couldn't vote. And merely a generation ago we were still restricting peoples' rights simply because of the color of their skin. These days, most everyone recognizes that it was pretty fucked up to have laws preventing black people from voting, or make them sit on the back of the bus, etc. But have we really learned anything? Apparently not, because legal discrimination is still taking place all across the country. It's institutionalized homophobia. Sexual apartheid. It's state law saying, in no uncertain terms, "you are a second-class citizen for being gay."

My parents are divorced, so it's easy for me to see that straight people suck at marriage just as much as gay people would. The conservatives, however, will portray the "sanctity of marriage" as something that needs defending. And they're right, it does - only it needs defending from themselves, not gays. With over half of U.S. marriages ending in divorce, and thirty percent of all straight women having reported physical or sexual abuse by their significant others - it seems to me that straight people are doing plenty to ruin the sanctity of marriage on their own.

What makes this all simultaneously funny and infuriating is the increasing evidence that Christian Conservative America - the very source of the ongoing organized attack on gay rights - is secretly home to more steamy gay sex than a San Francisco bath house. These poor bastards let themselves be tormented with their sexuality rather than simply acknowledging that it's just the way they are, and there's nothing wrong with it, and maybe the Bible is a book of parables from a thousand years ago not meant to be taken quite so seriously. You really see how powerful and dangerous religious indoctrination can be when it pits people even against themselves. This recent editorial on the closeted conservatives subject suggests that "One sure measure of any society's psychological well-being lies in its attitude to homosexuality." If that's the case - and I genuinely believe that it is - then America needs a lot of therapy.

Ultimately, there's no difference between a gay marriage having the same rights as a straight marriage, and a black person using the same drinking fountain as a white person. And the fact that more than half of our country can't recognize that makes me wonder if we've made any progress at all since the 1960's. Keep in mind that rallying Christian Conservatives against gay marriage has been one of the key successes of Karl Rove's manipulative strategy with the Bush campaign - and clearly, despite letting some Democrats slip into congress, people are still by and large on Bush's side with this one. You can expect him to use that boon to his advantage as much as possible over the next couple years, because it's all he has left. Things may yet get a lot worse for equal rights in this country before they get better.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006subscribe to demonbaby

Don't Get Too Excited, Part One: We're Still Careening Head-First Towards The End Of Civilization As We Know It

[Currently Listening To: Mojave 3: Puzzles Like You]

Right at this moment, liberals - and anyone with any degree of common sense - are feeling pretty damned good about the big political smack-down that just occurred in the States. We got a one, two, three punch: On tuesday Democrats won the majority in the House Of Representatives. Yesterday, in a stunning show of defeat (and a smart pre-emptive move), President Bush finally dismissed his beleaguered butt-buddy Donald Rumsfeld. And today, it's official: Democrats have control of the Senate, as well, which means a potentially significant roadblock for the Bush agenda during his final two years. And, well, yeah, it does feel pretty good. It's exciting to see smart, cultured, reasonable people celebrating for once. For some reason I think about that scene at the end of Star Wars right after the Death Star explodes, and everyone is cheering as a giddy Luke Skywalker jumps out of his X-Wing cockpit and excitedly embraces Princess Leia, and he totally wants to make out with her because he doesn't know she's his sister yet. That's how it feels right now: Like the Rebellion has struck a mighty blow to the Evil Empire. Sure, the Empire's far from defeated, and yeah, the Republicans will build another Death Star, but damnit, it's a good first step.

But wait. Don't get too excited. Remember what happened after that Star Wars celebration? That's right: The Empire struck back. Shit got heavy. We're a long ways away from that stupid Ewok victory song at the end of Return Of The Jedi.

While the Congressional victories seem promising, let's also remember that at this point, Bush was all but campaigning for the Democrats with the way Iraq's been going. At a certain point even the dumbest of red state war-mongers have to realize Dubya's blown it on an epic scale, and even a handful of them translating that realization into a vote for the other side is enough to ever-so-slightly tip the scales of a sharply divided nation. But while the Democrats are having their big victory party - I'm picturing Barack Obama and Sean Penn doing tequila shots at Al Gore's house while Hilary Clinton and Cindy Sheehan get high and end up making out in a back room and things are super weird the next morning - there's still plenty to be concerned about. This election still brought its usual round of losses for common sense that shouldn't be ignored.

Here in California, we were once again given the option of not having The Terminator as our Governor, and we once again responded with a resounding "duurrrrr, I like him, I done seen him on da tee-vee!" Granted, Ah-nold hasn't turned out to be quite as bad as a Bush-friendly Republican movie star former steroid user with a speech impediment could have been, but come on, we're still talking about the most populated state in the country being run by this guy:

There are these idiotic shirts they sell all over California - they even sell them at the airport, so that visitors to the state will immediately get a great first impression of what we're all about. They look like this:

For real. They're everywhere. People love that shit. And the best part is that the shirts are so fucking dumb they've managed to mis-spell an invented word. THERE IS AN R IN "GOVERN," FUCKWITS!

Californians also rejected proposition 87, a seemingly no-brainer initiative that would raise taxes on oil companies, and use the money to research alternative fuels. Now, I'm not going to bore you with the pros and cons of this initiative, but here's what it came down to: On one side, you have people like Bill Clinton and Al Gore and a number of other big names with environmental interests fighting to tax oil companies for funding alternative fuel research. On the other hand, you have the oil companies, scum of the earth that they are, who stand to lose four billion dollars if the proposition passes, and don't want alternative fuels to be developed anyway because it threatens their massive empire. So what do they do? They spend 100 MILLION DOLLARS on an aggressive propaganda campaign to convince voters it's a bad idea. Their most recent TV ad shows an earnest-looking firefighter - yes, a firefighter, the post-911 trump card of righteousness, telling you that you should vote against prop 87 because it will somehow hurt firefighters and teachers, and it would lead to "a future we can't afford." Watch the ad here while it's still up, and enjoy how fucking manipulative it is. There are no facts at all, just pure, unadulterated propaganda. Almost better are the radio ads, which feature staged conversations between average people saying "they're going to RAISE gas prices?? that's the last thing we need!" - click here to listen, and keep in mind that this is presented by the very companies who are making hundreds of billions of dollars in profit even while gas prices rise. Also notice how they sneak the oil company names in at the very end.

When you see ads like that, you can't help but think about how effective they must be on the idiot masses, and you can't help but wonder why political ads are even allowed in the first place. You can just imagine Joe Normal sitting on his couch, seeing those ads and thinking "Gas is expensive! Need gas to drive my SUV! Gas taxes are bad! NO ON 87!" Nevermind that he should be driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Nevermind that if we don't solve our dependance on oil we're going to be completely, irreparably fucked in our collective asses, sans lube, in the very near future. To be fair, the "Yes On 87" campaign wasn't completely honest either - they tried to pretend that the proposition had measures in place to prevent the oil companies from passing their tax burden on to consumers. Because "tax" is a four-letter word in politics, even if there's a good purpose behind it. And we all know that prop 87 would for sure have raised gas prices. But you know what? Good. To my mind, gas prices should be raised through the fucking roof. Raise them and keep raising them. Get them up to five dollars a gallon so maybe we can finally end this idiotic, short-sighted trend of everyone driving gigantic, gas-guzzling vehicles. Get them up to ten dollars a gallon so people will finally get mad. People need to start rioting in the streets. People should set their cars on fire and let the economy fall quickly to pieces, so the government has to do something. We should all bust out the torches and storm the fucking oil companies, go all Castle Frankenstein on their asses and demand that they be shut down. Demand that all their profits be siezed and used to develop useful public transportation and alternative fuels. Put everyone involved in Halliburton and the rest of the war-profiteering oil industry on trial for raping the public, along with every elected official who sold their soul to help it along. Sell all our cars to China and let those fuckers dig their own grave while we all get around in the world's most advanced, nationwide public transportation system. As if that would ever happen. You know why solar power never took off? Because the energy companies couldn't figure out how to charge us for sunshine. It's the same reason we'll never be driving cars that run on water - there just isn't enough money to be made from it.

Where's our revolution? Where's that 1960's change-the-world spirit that should be our collective reaction to where we're headed right now? In the 90's Bill Clinton got a blowjob and we nearly impeached the fucker. Our current President lies to us repeatedly and gets thousands of Americans killed as a result, and we re-elect him?? This guy sent thousands of our citizens to die in a war that has spiraled out of control and claimed hundreds of thousands of victims while simultaneously fanning the flames of anti-American sentiment around the world - and our big outrage is that we finally, barely elect enough Democrats to get a slight majority in Congress? That's not something to be too excited about. I guarantee you, if George Bush came on national television during halftime at the Superbowl and announced he was prohibiting the second half of the game from being aired on TV, there would be fucking rioting in the streets. It would make the LA riots look like cuddle party. Every asshole in the States would be toppling cars and getting tear-gassed by cops and martial law would be declared, and you know what? I bet the second half would be on TV before halftime even ended, because millions of angry people rioting in the streets tends to make shit happen. People shouldn't be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people. Too bad people are too self-centered to look into anyone's future but their own immediate ones. They've got their Superbowl. They've got their SUV. Nevermind that their eight hour work day is now a twelve hour work day because the freeways are so congested, or that the commute costs them $15 a day in gas - just as long as Deal Or No Deal is waiting for them on the television at home, sedating them with mindless entertainment.

Two weeks ago a report came out from the World Wildlife Fund which should have been much, much bigger news than it was. I was honestly stunned that it wasn't a huge news story - it barely caused a blip. The report, discussed here, concludes that humanity's "ecological footprint" - the amount of natural resources needed by each person - has more than tripled in the last forty years, and by 2050 we will need two planets' worth of natural resources every year to sustain our current way of life. And that's only assuming our resources won't have already run out by 2050, which they likely will. Oh, and if all of the world lived like Americans, we'd need five planets worth of natural resources a year to sustain us.

Think about that. 2050 is likely within my lifetime, and likely within many of yours, and most certainly your children. By that time, we will probably have depleted our world of natural resources. That's some serious shit. That's, like, Mad Max, end-of-the-world shit. It's going to be like Waterworld, except without all the water, and admittedly probably still not as bad as having to sit through that movie. And that's to say nothing of what global warming will have done to us by then. Just a couple days ago, an editorial in The Guardian by a guy who looks like Henry Gale with AIDS, commented on western society's apathy towards anything that doesn't directly affect them right now, and very wisely said, "It will take bodies in the streets before we see serious global action to stop catastrophic climate change." Yeah. Except by then it will be too late.

We aren't going to stop using natural resources until it's too late. We aren't going to do anything about global warming until it's too late. We aren't going to stop using too much oil until it's too late. That's not me being cynical so much as it's me being realistic. Preventing the WWF's dire predictions for 2050 would mean a drastic overhall of the way we think and live. It would mean massive changes to industry and the economy, and not for the better. It would mean everyone shutting off their consumerist mentalities and living more subdued lives. It would mean you don't get to drive a fancy car, and you don't get a 99 cent double cheeseburger, and you don't get to shop at Wal-Mart. It would mean accepting that maybe life isn't about picking which box has a million dollars in it so you can buy yourself happiness. Maybe it's about love and compassion and being happy with what you have. About enjoying life for what it is. About working together for the betterment of our species and all species. About being part of nature instead of working against it. Thinking outside yourself and what you've been led to believe you need. More this, more that. It's all an illusion. But no one's going to do that. I'm not going to do that. I still want the newest iPod and the biggest TV and I don't want to have to think about where all my garbage goes when I throw it away. Just like everyone else. And we're going to keep it up until there are bodies in the streets and we all let out a collective "oops!" Global warming isn't a debate because it may or may not exist - it's a debate because it does exist, and there's a lot of money to be lost if we start doing something about it. Humanity is a virus that feeds on greed, and we're going to destroy our host. We're a cancer, and global warming is earth's chemotherapy - its final desperate, agonizing attempt to flush us out before we kill it off.

Stephen Hawking has said that the human race will not survive another 1000 years unless we colonize other planets. 1000 years? Oh Stephen, you lovable, drooling little genius - I've always admired your optimism... And how you talk like a robot. I think that's neat.

Okay, I didn't mean for this to turn into such a cynical, hopeless rant. I promise by next week I'll be back to poop stories.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006subscribe to demonbaby

Demonbaby's Election-Day Hideous Patriotic T-Shirt Extravaganza!

[Currently Listening To: The Clientele - Strange Geometry]

Today is mid-term election day across the United States - a day where barely a quarter of all Americans exercise their most treasured right: Democracy. Well, sort of. Faulty voting machines, rampant propaganda, and rigged elections aside, the American freedom to choose our leaders at the very least sounds great on paper.

Democracy is also a key ingredient in that unique American arrogance that makes us so well-loved around the world. Americans love to tout their country as the best on earth - the ol' "USA is number one!" mantra has been a patriotic favorite for decades. The problem, though, is that the post-WW2 American glory has long since faded, and we're not number one anymore. At least not in anything positive. I mentioned this on the ol' MiniBlog a couple weeks ago, but it's worth re-itterating here: Despite Americans' firm believe that they're the best at everything, the facts tell a very different story. Let's see how the United States stacks up against the rest of the world in a variety of categories:

Literacy: #62, tied with superpowers Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. [source]

Belief In evolution: #33 out of 34 surveyed countries. OUCH! [source]

Unemployment: #45, lagging behind Madagascar. [source]

Reading, science, and math abilities of high school students: #24 out of 29 surveyed countries. [source]

Press freedom: #53 and falling. [source]

Infant mortality rate: 2nd worst in the world! [source]

If that's all a little bit defeating, fear not - there are still some categories we rank number one in: Obesity, national debt, waste production, and oil consumption, to name a few. So I suppose it's still okay to wear that "USA is #1" t-shirt - just be sure you know what it means. And I say all of this not because I hate my country, but because I love my country - the red state myth that criticizing America makes you unpatriotic is about as ass-backwards as anti-gay Evangelical leaders who like their crystal meth with a side of bung.

There's nothing wrong with a little patriotism, but blind patriotism is a scary and dangerous thing. There's far too much of it in this country, and for some reason, blind patriotism seems to be strongly united with bad white trash fashion. For Halloween I was going to get a fat suit and dress up as a typical apathetic overindulgent American: grease-stained American flag t-shirt, sports-related hat, sweat pants, McDonald's food, and one of those obscene new 7-11 X-treme Big Gulps (52 ounces?? are you fucking kidding me??). I ended up not having enough time to get the costume together, but while I was trying I happened upon a wonderful discovery. Come with me now, as we explore's overwhelming selection of terrible patriotic t-shirts. What you are about to see are all actual t-shirts found in the inventory of the world's largest online retailer. I'm not going to link to each individual product because that would be a pain in the ass, but if for some reason you would actually want to purchase one of these horrendous things, you can find them all via the link above. Now, let's begin...

The most common patriotic shirts you'll find are of the foolproof eagle-flag combo variety. At the end of the day, you really can't go wrong with a majestic bald eagle soaring over the stars and stripes when you want to say "I love America!" in the most gaudy way possible. And don't worry, you have a lot of options:

But here's something interesting about the American Bald Eagle: He gets really pissed off sometimes. Like when terrorists threaten America's freedom, or abortion doctors kill babies, or when, God forbid, fags are allowed to get married! The American Bald Eagle really hates that, and it makes him turn into the Angry American Bald Eagle:

Here's one I find peculiar:

It appears to be a massive bald eagle watching over the World Trade Center. Which begs the question... Where the hell was that giant fucking bird on September 11th? I'm thinking he would have come in handy.

But if a giant bald eagle isn't quite enough to say "Proud To Be An American," how about a shirt that actually says, "Proud To Be An American"?

Ah, there we go! But what if this is a t-shirt for your baby, and it marks their all-important first "Proud To Be An American" t-shirt of what will assuredly be many, many "Proud To Be An American" t-shirts throughout their life? Well then you need the "My First Proud To Be An American T-Shirt" t-shirt:

But then, maybe your American pride has something else mixed in with it... maybe a... Southern stride? Fear not, there's a shirt for you:

Nothing says "I'm a hick" quite like the ol' confederate flag. It's nice to accompany your patriotism with a not-so-subtle reminder that our great nation was founded on the blood of slaves.

Another way to say "I'm a hick" is with aggressive, testosterone-fueld, pro-America slogans on your t-shirt:

Or, even better, by celebrating the impeccable lack of foresight on the part of our founding fathers when they wrote the second amendment:

Here are some especially painful selections for the patriotic frat boy:

And here are some choices for those days when you want to cleverly remind the world that you love the American flag without actually displaying an American flag:

There's even an "ironic" American flag t-shirt - hipsters take note:

Now, you'd think the bald eagle would pretty much have the patriotic animal market all to himself, but apparently there are a lot of other animals who love their country. It would seem, for example, that adorable little kittens are as American as apple pie:

There is also a strange series of large, angry animals tearing through t-shirts with the American flag flowing behind them. Here are the Monster Gator and Monster Boar:

And here, amazingly... is the MONSTER COCK:

...Not to be confused with monsters OF cock, which admittedly has about as much to do with America as an angry giant rooster.

Ultimately, though, this may be the most appropriate patriotic animal t-shirt:

Last but not least we celebrate the increasingly less-separated church and state with some Christian patriotic t-shirts:

Ah, Jesus and the founding fathers - two great tastes that taste great together! Look at the flag in this one - scary:

Look, here's the twin towers with their useless giant eagle guardian again:

"In God We Trust - September Eleventh, Two Thousand One." You know, I would have to say that God really didn't have our back on that particular day. Why do religious people love to thank God when something good happens, but never blame him when something bad happens?

Here's a good one - "Support Our Troops WITH PRAYER":

Uhhh... I hate to break it to you, but that strategy isn't working too well. Maybe try supporting them with body armor. Or, for that matter, competent leadership.

After seeing how popular these God-awful patriotic t-shirts are, I decided I was going to try my hand at making some patriotic t-shirts of my own. But how could I improve upon such a fine-tuned genre? What could I possibly bring to such a very large table? Well, there's always room for Americans to be more ignorant and offensive, right? Of course there is!

My new line of X-TREME PATRIOTISM T-SHIRTS gets to the core of what the red-state dimwits who wear all this tacky shit are really thinking. Why say something vague like "These Colors Don't Run" when you could say this:

See? Right to the point! And do you know why Americans have such poor reading skills? Because why would we need to read books when we have TELEVISIONS, stupid!!

And why simply imply that God wanted us to invade Iraq, when you could show Jesus himself right on the front lines, ridding the world of evil-doers?

Now that is how you make a motherfucking patriotic shirt, motherfucker! Go America!

I also figured, while I was at it, I'd make some patriotic t-shirts that were a bit more honest in their assessment of American glory - and so I present the Realistic Patriotism t-shirt line:

And yes, thanks to the magic of CafePress, you can actually purchase these shirts! Get them while you still can, before CafePress inevitably removes them for being blatantly offensive. Click the images below to view the various colors and styles available for men and women. All proceeds go to the More Video Games For Rob fund, a non-profit organization devoted to helping me never get anything productive accomplished.

P.S. - Before you send me hate mail, please spend some time studying the definition of the word satire.

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Monday, September 11, 2006subscribe to demonbaby

Memories And Ruminations Of 9/11, And Why It Still Matters

[Currently Listening To: Calla - Televise]

an actual t-shirt purchased in chinatown days after 9-11

I honestly hadn't given much thought to the anniversary of 9/11 - in a way, the whole thing has become soured to me, having been used so shamelessly as a political tool and a weapon of fear thousands upon thousands of times since it actually happened. Media tributes seem like desperate rating grabs (or even thinly-veiled political propaganda), and the absurd posturing of Bush and his weird Christian Zombie wife laying wreaths at ground zero seem like desperate popularity grabs. I'm sure that somewhere - amongst those who lost friends and loved ones on that fateful day - there is a great deal of sincerity and emotion buried within the 9/11 media exploitation, but it is certainly not coming from our evil android Vice President Dick Cheney, seen here looking like he was coached for hours on how to appear to be showing emotion. Call it cynicism, but I don't buy for a minute that the phrase 9/11 brings anything but joy to the neocons of the Bush administration. After all, it's been their weapon of choice in garnering support for a variety of insidious and absurdly unrelated campaigns, most notably the Iraq war. So yeah, 9/11 had lost a lot of power to me. Buried in politics and treaded on recklessly by administrative mis-steps in the five years since, I'd become cynical about the whole thing.

Then, this morning, I read a good op-ed piece on which really captured the way I think people should be thinking and feeling in regards to the 9/11 anniversary. It took me back to the weird sensation in the air the weeks following the attacks, and the opportunity to unify the nation and the world that we so tragically squandered.

In September of 2001 I had just gone back to school in New York after a long tenure down in New Orleans (yeah, I have a peculiar habit of living in tragedy-prone cities - I'm half expecting Hollywood to finally sink into the Pacific now that I'm living here). I had just moved into my Brooklyn apartment, so it was little more than a couple empty rooms with some boxes and a bed. I had no TV, no internet, no phone. I didn't even have a cell phone - I was stuck in the 90's with my pager. For someone who is usually so connected I practically have wires coming out of me, it was a curious little period of disconnectedness for me, where the world could literally have been falling apart right outside my window and I'd have no idea.

I was meant to go to a meeting in Manhattan on the morning of the 11th, but I overslept and was awoken by the abrasive buzzing of my pager. It was text from my Mother: "are you okay?" She'd paged me a few days prior and I had never called her back, so I figured it was her usual Motherly paranoia, and ignored it. I got dressed and ready to head out to my meeting, and received two more pages from my Mother. I was getting annoyed, ready to scold her for worrying too much when I don't get back to her right away - just as soon as I could get to a payphone (yeah, payphones, remember those?). I went outside, onto my little ghetto Brooklyn street, and I specifically recall how strange everything seemed. There was an eerie quiet to the city, interrupted periodically by the passage of ambulances and fire trucks zooming down my avenue (a main Brooklyn artery). An unusual amount of people were out in the street sort of aimlessly; shopkeepers out of their stores, people gathered together around radios and televisions. At the time, though, I didn't pay any of it any notice - I was late for my meeting, and I had just gotten a page from a coworker down in New Orleans asking "dude are you okay?" I was incredibly annoyed at that, certain my Mother was having a weird paranoid moment and was calling my work to ask if they'd heard from me. Determined to call her and tell her to chill the fuck out, I found that every single payphone was being used. I made my way down the street, and it was starting to feel like a scene from a comedy, the absurdity of not a single payphone being vacant when usually they're just collecting dust. I was thinking to myself, what the fuck is going on today? As more ambulances flew by and I hurriedly passed a couple shops where people were huddled around televisions, I briefly heard something about terrorism and bomb threats, and I thought, ah, okay, there was a bomb threat in the city or some shit, whatever. I finally found a vacant payphone and - after numerous attempts ending with "all circuits are busy," I got through to my Mother at work. As soon as she answered, I snapped at her: "Mom, what?? I'm fine, you have to chill out when I don't call you for a few days!" Her response was a long pause, followed with, "...You don't know?" And right then, right at that moment, I did what I somehow had not managed to do the entire time I'd been outside: I looked up. Above me, a thick black plume of smoke was spreading like a shadow across New York. It wasn't like "Oh, something's on fire," it was like "Oh my God, the world is ending." It was a big, ugly, menacing tower of smoke.

From there everything just got weirder and weirder - pieces started to fall into place, and I made my way to a rooftop of my school where I had a clear view of the former World Trade Center. Everyone has seen pictures, and pictures, and more pictures of that smoke pouring out of the buildings, blanketing the city, but if you didn't actually see it in person no photo can describe how massive and scary it was - how weird and uncertain and fragile the mighty city of New York had suddenly become under the weight of that smoke. The day carried on in kind of a fragmented blur. I remember standing in front of an electronics shop where dozens of people were watching the news on the televisions in the window, CNN playing the footage of the collapsing buildings over and over again. I had a class scheduled for noon and no one even showed up. At my three o'clock class, the teacher was there but at a loss for words. After five minutes he dismissed us. As dusk fell, the city was unanimously scared and uncertain. Every television report we'd heard discussed at length the possibility of a follow-up attack. Everyone was on edge. I did all I could do - I sat on the roof of my school with a small group of friends, drinking Brooklyn Lager and not really saying much while we watched that incredible smoke light up with the glow of the setting sun. For such a terrible thing, it was actually incredibly beautiful at that moment. I took this picture:

click to enlarge

It was difficult sleeping that night. Sirens continued blaring around the clock, and paranoia had a strange way of waking me up every time something sounded like a plane passing overhead - wondering if the sound of a great explosion would be soon to follow. Normally I'd be listlessly watching the news and reading websites until all hours of the morning, desperate to glean every ounce of knowledge about the situation I could. But in my black hole of connectivity - without even a radio to tell me if another attack had occurred - I could do nothing but lay there in bed, antsy and uncertain, trying to fall asleep.

When the subways reopened I took the first opportunity to venture into Manhattan and see everything close up. The entire city south of Canal Street was closed off, so I stood there at a police barricade, alongside confused tourists and mourning locals, watching the utter chaos of police and fire trucks, and that dreadful smoke still flowing steadily. The ground was covered in a layer of dust and ash. As the days pressed on, the atmosphere in New York was without exaggeration one of the strangest, eeriest, most incredible things I've ever experienced. With life basically frozen for everyone, my classes were canceled and my job was on hold, so I spent a few days just wandering the city and soaking everything in. No one really seemed sure what to do, for a while. No one wanted to just stay at home, but no one could work. Businesses were open, but only out of a need for familiarity. No one was buying anything, and nothing was getting accomplished. People were just sort of vacantly going through the motions of regular life, while everyone's thoughts were on the same thing. Every surface in Manhattan was covered with these horrible "MISSING" flyers - handmade papers duplicated on Xerox machines with pictures of people who were unaccounted for after 9/11. They would say things like "My brother Tom Stevens, last seen on the 32nd floor the morning of 9/11, please call if you have seen him." They felt so hopeless and tragic, those flyers - and they were everywhere - a constant, sobering reminder of the event's ongoing human impact. Union Square Park - my favorite Manhattan gathering place - became one of dozens of open memorials around the city that went on for months. I took this picture there, two weeks after 9/11:

click to enlarge

Meanwhile, the sense of unity and nationalism in New York was rising. Like never before, everyone was together in grief and compassion. Everyone you passed on the street felt like family - suddenly you had something huge and powerful in common with millions of strangers - something bigger than all of your differences combined. It was the first time I'd experienced the unprecedented warmth and humanity that swells up in people amidst a tragedy. New York's famously callous attitude had melted away, at least for a moment - it soon returned, in the form of a focused and unified anger. Everyone wanted revenge.

As the blame for 9/11 fell into place - squarely on Osama bin Laden - there was much ado about how bad we all wanted his head on a plate. Walking down the street in Brooklyn at any given point you were bound to hear someone spouting their own colorful opinions about America's new #1 enemy. T-shirts like the one pictured above (and the far more exploitative one at the top of this entry) sprung up as quickly as the American flags had, with the cheap Chinatown souvenir industry anxious to capitalize on the unified aggression. Everyone gathered to watch how Bush was going to respond. Are we going to war? Certainly there's going to be some retaliation, right? Why haven't we invaded Afghanistan yet? Let's kill those fuckers!

This was a crucial moment in American history, because the entire world was united with us. This is a time when France - fucking France - even proclaimed, "We are all Americans." Republicans and Democrats, Americans and Europeans - we were one, with a common enemy, and there was no question that retaliation was necessary, it was just a matter of when and how.

It's also important to remember that few people hated Bush at this time. Sure, he was a bumbling idiot who'd stolen the 2000 election, but he hadn't done anything yet to light the fire of opposition that would ultimately engulf him. In fact, 9/11 was the first significant thing to happen in his presidency, and he initially seemed to be handling it very well. It's important to remember that in those days following 9/11, everything was stacked up in our favor. It's important to remember that because it underscores how badly we blew it. Five years later, many thousands more have died, the world views us as arrogant war mongers, we have incited a rise in terrorism and anti-American sentiment, freedoms of our citizens have been stripped away, we are less safe than we were before 9/11... and we still haven't even caught the man who was once so squarely in our crosshairs.

The Salon article discusses this far more eloquently than I can, so I suggest you read it and observe a very important point that the mainstream media tends to strangely ignore: While the oft-quoted number of American casualties on 9/11 - 2,873 - is a staggering number, it shouldn't ever be quoted without an addendum of the 2,700 Americans who have been killed fighting the needless Iraq war. They're all victims of 9/11, but for different reasons - and the latter group is never given the same respect and honor as the first, because Bush solemnly honoring the victims of the World Trade Center is good for his image, but acknowledging the victims of the war he started certainly isn't. So of course there is no memorial for those victims - no television events to remember their sacrifices. Rather, images of soldiers' coffins draped with American flags have been aggressively shielded from the media. God forbid the truth make our fearless leaders look bad. Oh, and we haven't even mentioned the almost 50,000 innocent Iraqis reportedly dead. Certainly, their deaths are not as important as the people who died in those towers, right?

The point is that while we are being bombarded with patriotic exploitation as we're asked to remember the people who died on 9/11 - let's not forget 9/11's real impact, and the many, many more people who have died as a result of our arrogant country abusing 9/11's emotional power.

In October of 2001 - roughly three weeks after 9/11 - I had the opportunity to tour ground zero, while it was still being searched and gutted, well before it was open to the public. From the balcony of an adjacent skyscraper, the view of the wreckage below was staggering. Seeing it in person transcended the images on television so much more than I could have expected. The only experience in my life I can compare it to is seeing the destruction in New Orleans first-hand. I took a picture from that balcony, looking down on the former World Trade Center:

click to enlarge

When we came down from the skyscraper and stood on the ground, dwarfed by twisted spires of warped structural beams and mountains of rubble, we walked onto a hastily-constructed wooden platform where the families of those who had died in the towers had been allowed to stand and view ground zero. There, the bereaved who had come before us had carved their thoughts and prayers into the platform's wooden guard rails. Messages like "To my fiance Karen, rest in peace, I love you so much," and "I miss you Daddy," were among hundreds of gut-wrenchingly sad goodbye notes scrawled on that wooden beam, each one more heart-breaking than the last. It flooded us with the deeply personal sadness of the whole thing, and brought tears to our eyes. It was clear that the world was going to change - we only hoped it could be for the better.

Five years later, television will attempt to tug at your heart strings with stories of tragedy and mourning. Politicians will attempt to tug at your patriotism with stories of why we fight. But few places will discuss the real impact of 9/11. We should all remember what we lost that day - but the most patriotic thing any of us could do is acknowledge all of what we lost - and ask if it was really necessary.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006subscribe to demonbaby

PSA: The End Of The Internet As You Know It.

[Currently Listening To: The Radio Dept - Pet Grief]

Once again, I've gone way too long without updating this blog. I've been busy with new work projects, and also decompressing after a long time away from home.

Anyway, I'm updating today to help spread the word about something that is going to affect all of us very soon. I really hate to get preachy, but this is important. I've been reading about it in various places around the internet for a while now, but it's really starting to show up a lot, and people need to be informed about it.

Basically, the internet as we know it is in jeopardy. What makes the internet so revolutionary is that it levels the playing field - everyone has an equal chance to create something important, or to make money, or to have their views heard. This is the only form of media with such freedom and possibility, but it may be coming to an end.

To explain it briefly: In a country controlled by corporate empires, nothing happens by chance. When you turn on MTV and see the same three shitty hip-hop videos played over and over again, it isn't because MTV thought the music was good. It's because the big record labels have paid MTV to feature their artists. When you go to the book store, the books featured in the window aren't there because they're good books - they're there because a publishing company paid for preferred shelf space. It's not about a quality product, it's about the biggest marketing budget. This system occurs almost everywhere, from movie theatres to grocery stores, and it keeps big companies in control of distribution, and makes it hard for the average person to accomplish anything unless they go through the corporate middleman. The internet effectively removes that middle man, and evens the odds for everyone. It has a lot of companies - record labels, for example - terrified because their traditional means of controlling the marketplace are no longer applicable.

So now, the big telecommunications companies - the ones who provide you with high-speed internet access - are lobbying for the removal of a rule known as Network Neutrality, which ensures that communications providers give the same quality of service to all of their customers - it's the reason you can't pay more for better phone service. With Network Neutrality gone, companies like AT&T would be free to choose which websites run better than others on your internet connection, based - of course - on which companies pay them more. It would set up a tiered internet where bandwidth is allocated based on who can afford it. Big company websites would run fast and smooth, because they paid for it. Meanwhile, the rest of the internet is left with the junk bandwidth, causing small, non-profit sites like blogs or Wikipedia or yes - GASP! - even Population Paste, to slow to a crawl.

There are a lot of theories about where this is ultimately going - including an interesting idea that what it's really about is censorship and government control, and even that Rupert Murdoch's ever-growing MySpace empire is a trojan horse for the new controlled-access internet. Some of this might be a little far-fetched (or maybe not), but the guaranteed end result of Network Neutrality's removal is that all of us will be paying a lot more for all of the online services we currently enjoy for free.

For a more detailed article about the situation, go here. If you'd like to help do something about it, the best thing is to spread the word. This whole movement is happening largely under the nose of the general public because no one would ever support it. The only people who want this to happen are the telecommunications companies and the politicians they pay to ensure the laws fall on their side. So post about this on your blogs, or your LiveJournals, or your MySpace or whatever. Learn more about it, tell everyone you know. If this issue gets into the spotlight a bit more, it will put pressure on lawmakers to stop it from happening.

At the end of the day I'm not much of an activist, but the internet is a huge part of my life and I'd like to know I did some small part to help prevent it from being destroyed by greed. You can sign a petition that will go to congress - I know petitions usually don't mean much, but it certainly can't hurt.

And really, I promise I'll write a non-preachy update in the next few days. I genuinely apologize for for making you think for a few minutes - please get back to watching mindless videos on YouTube and refreshing your MySpace to see if anyone left you a comment.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005subscribe to demonbaby

The Valleys Of New Orleans

[Currently Listening To: The Veils - The Runaway Found]

I haven't updated my blog in such a long time I've started receiving death threats. Relax, people! Go do something productive with your lives. It's just that I've been busy, traveling like crazy, and I don't like to update this page unless I have the time to do it right. More updates are coming soon. Promise. In the meantime...

new orleansA few days ago I was in New Orleans, one of the four cities I have called home at some point in my life. It's the first time I'd been down there since Katrina hit, and I was anxious to see how the city was holding up. In the French Quarter, where we stayed, things almost felt normal. Very little damage was evident; shops were open, Bourbon Street was lively on saturday night... But beyond that, it was a ragged ghost town. Miles and miles of neighborhoods closed and abandoned, deemed uninhabitable for months. Places and parts of town I knew like the back of my hand, now completely unrecognizable. Garbage and debris everywhere. Almost everything closed, almost everyone gone. It is clear that despite its disappearance from news headlines, New Orleans has a very long way to go before it gets back to normal - if it ever does.

We had the opportunity to tour the ninth ward, the most heavily-damaged area of the city, still closed to the public. The scale of devastation was unimaginable, spanning miles and miles. It transcended anything you've seen on TV, anything you've imagined. I took quite a few pictures while I was down there, and they've been posted online in hopes of giving people a better idea of what's really still going on down there, nine weeks after the hurricane. Take a look, and pass the link on to some friends:

New Orleans: 10_28_05

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Thursday, January 27, 2005subscribe to demonbaby

Bad Indie Rock Vs. George Bush (Guess Who Wins?) Also: Conor Oberst Is A Vagina.

Since MySpace has begun posting group bulletins on its homepage, and since apparently I'm a member of about eighty different anti-Bush groups, I have begun to notice a daily barrage of "Bush sucks!" blabber posted by pseudo-activist 21 year olds whose idea of "protesting" involves little more than preaching to the MySpace choir by passing around anti-war catch phrases to their digital friends. Among these posts, one in particular caught my attention. One that is so laughably pathetic, I couldn't help calling your attention to it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bush Agenda has new enemy, and it's...

This guy:

That's right. We're saved. Today, as I was reading the news from Iraq, wondering if there was any hope left, I stumbled upon the following MySpace bulletin from a stunningly mediocre New York indie band called Rockets And Cars:

Protest Bush!

If you are against the Bush agenda, check out our site, and listen to the song "The Protest." We wrote it in response to the Iraqi invasion early in 2003, hoping it would help rally up national resistance, and help turn America into a more democratic state. Well, Kerry lost, and we still have no voice. Hopefully this song will catch on, and incite some resistance against Bush's stupidity.

We walk the city streets every day, and play what we see.

The Beatles promised you a revolution. We're carrying out phase I.

Rockets and Cars

Yes, oh yes. Hope has arrived. I'm not sure if it's the brazen arrogance or the hilarious delusion that offends me most about this bulletin, but it definitely holds no shortage of either. Yes, you self-righteous, fire-crotched, tiny leather jacket wearing dipshit; if there was ever a way to "rally up national resistance," it's through another shitty song by yet another derivative New York® band that no one listens to. Certainly, if there was ever a way to turn the heads of Bush loyalists, the message should come from a group of snotty little "ironic" hipster twats shouting a fourth rate Clash song which effectively paints a protest rally as a social event where trustfund babies can smoke cigarettes, watch their favorite local bands play, show off their new anti-Bush shirt that they spent all afternoon silkscreening from a faded, 15 year old rock tee they paid $60 for at Search & Destroy, and regurgitate half-truths they saw on "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "The Daily Show," which was as much effort as they put into researching the situation. I'm sure the Republicans are trembling in their loafers.

But who knows, maybe I'm just being cynical. Maybe, as they suggest, "the song will catch on, and incite some resistance against Bush's stupidity." That's a good point. I'm sure the crowd at The Continental at 8:00 on monday night who are only suffering through your band because they they thought happy hour was still going on - I'm sure they're really on the fence about Bush, and your song playing in the background as they try to shout over it to order a drink is really going to open their eyes. I'm sure both of the people who bought your record were huge Republicans until they heard those inspired words of yours: "I'll see you down at the protest." Ah, now that's the voice of a disaffected youth! And John Lennon, were he with us today, God rest his soul, would be nothing short of elated to pass on his vision of a revolution to such a worthy group of well-informed activists and - might I add - talented musicians.

What all of this brings to mind is the general misconception throughout MySpace - and youth in general - in regards to protesting, what it is, and what makes it effective. Young people like to think that having an obvious and often ill-informed opinion and sharing it with like-minded individuals makes them activists. Guess what? It doesn't. Posting a bulletin to your fellow anti-Bush MySpacers with some funny quotes about Republicans does not mean you've contributed to a social movement. Starting the 900th "BUSH SUCKS!!!111" MySpace group does not qualify as civil disobedience. Passing around a chain-letter petition of names of people who oppose the war in Iraq is not a progressive form of dissention. It's not even remotely effective. And, most of all, jumping on the indie rock "I wrote an anti-Bush song, look how proactive I am" bandwagon and advertising it on MySpace is certainly fucking not, under any circumstances, even the most meager form of protest. You want to make a difference? You genuinely care about all of this? Give up on your self-righteous high school wet dream of "being in a band" and devote your time to organized protest groups who are smarter than you, and actually know how to make a difference on a large scale. Oh, what's that? You don't want to do that? You'd rather just be in a band and voice your dissent through songs no one wants to hear? Well then write songs about haircuts and cigarettes like every other shallow garage rock rip-off, and shut the fuck up.

Okay, that's off my chest. Now it's time to talk about this guy:

Conor fucking Oberst. I hate this guy. I hate his stupid face, and I hate his army of weeping teenage girls going fucking Beatlemania over some sissy-ass, 90lb. little poetry-writing vagina. But mostly, I hate his fucking music. Bright Eyes can slurp my fucking ballsweat, it sucks so Goddamn hard. Conor Oberst is not "the Bob Dylan of our generation." He's a whiny little emo bedwetter faggot scribbling in his diary about how he couldn't find a date to the prom. Fuuuuuuck offffff.

Okay, maybe what I hate the most is the unending avalanche of respect this twatburger manages to command from every corner of the music world, just because a bunch of suburban high school kids with stupid haircuts were dumb enough to worship him and his subsequent tidal wave of testosterone-less crybaby imitators contributing to the pussyfication of indie music. If you're a music critic, somehow you're just not allowed to say bad things about Conor "Please Insert It In My Butt, But Be Gentle" Oberst, and what reminded me of that was reading a vomit-inducing page of shameless Conor-worship in this week's issue of The Onion.

Now, before I go any further, I should say that I love The Onion. I adore it. Satire is the most difficult form of comedy, and they do it flawlessly, spot-on, week after week. It's some of the smartest shit out there. However, their music and movie reviews are some of the most pretentious bullshit I've ever read. Consider this quote I dug up from a recent Onion movie review of The Machinist:
Like far too many contemporary neo-noirs, The Machinist feels hermetic, overly deterministic, and secondhand, less an honest reaction to the cruel absurdity of existence than a shallow attempt to ape the claustrophobic, fashionable despair of post-war noirs. Scott Kosar's script and Anderson's direction fetishize despair in ways that border on comic. The copy of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot sitting in Bale's apartment qualifies as light reading for the film; if Bale were ever to take Sánchez-Gijón up on her offer of a movie date, they'd no doubt take in a double feature of The Sorrow And The Pity and Shoah.

What the fuck? Who the fuck writes like that? Oh wow, you took "History Of Film 101" AND you own a thesaurus? I'm really fucking impressed! Movie reviews aren't meant to be exercises in linguistic self-appreciation, you smug fucking dicks. Anyway, my point is that it didn't at all come as a surprise that The Onion's talented crew of critical wordsmiths had nothing but big sloppy orgasms over Bright Eyes' latest two albums. Yeah, that's right, Conor is just SUCH an important artist that he needs to release TWO albums at the same time! Oh Conor, you're so fucking brilliant! Shower me with your genius! Let me spurt my manseed upon you in a glorious emo-gasm of shameless devotion!

This is my favorite line from The Onion's review:
"In its way, the companion record Digital Ash In A Digital Urn is even more exciting. Just as Ryan Adams met the challenge of The Strokes and Interpol by writing his own '80s post-punk record, Oberst responds to The Postal Service's popularity by taking a stab at neo-techno-pop, with a validating guest appearance by Jimmy Tamborello."

Jesus fucking Christ. Hold on a minute. RYAN ADAMS, the most insincere of all New York® retro-post-punk trend-following Wynona Rider boytoys, "MET THE FUCKING CHALLENGE" of The Strokes and Interpol?? You mean the way The Strokes "met the challenge" of a hundred better New York® bands who had already "met the challenge" of a dozen or so far more innovative bands from the late 70's?? You mean how Interpol "met the challenge" of Joy Division?? Why is it that snotty music critics are the first to call out bands who rip off better bands, UNLESS it's some genre-defying musical genius like Ryan fucking Adams, or an untouchably cool hipster icon like CONOR OBERST, and then somehow it's not a rip-off when he says "Gee, that guy from Death Cab did an electronic emo album, I'd better do that too!" No, of course that's not ripping off. It's "meeting the challenge." You fucking pillow-biting dickbiscuits. Go slurp on Wynona Rider's disease-ridden twat and die of syphilis.

Alright. I'm done.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2004subscribe to demonbaby

There's an R.E.M. song that comes to mind right about now...

So it's one in the morning, and on television the cable news networks - except FOX, of course - are dragging out the possibility of a last-minute turnaround in Ohio. Because it's more exciting than a flat-out Bush victory. Because news has become more about entertainment than information, and everyone loves a nail-biting finish. Everyone wants a big long chase scene at the end before Will Smith nabs the bad guy. But it's all semantics, at this point. Really, I think it's over. I think America has defied even my most cynical of expectations, and voted for George Bush.

Everyone should remember right now. Remember what you're doing, right at this moment. Where are you? Who are you with? What did you eat for breakfast? Remember it well, because some day, someone's going to ask you: "Where were you when Armageddon began?"

If you're not depressed enough already, think about how unstoppable Bush is now. We now have a president who doesn't have to worry about re-election anymore, and has the overwhelming support of a Republican house and senate. And above all, he finally has the okay from the American people. Yes, Mr. President, it's okay to lie to us, and to raise the deficit, and march us off to an unnecessary war while our country crumbles away at home. It's okay to erode the environment. It's okay to use your religious values to promote discrimination. Thumbs up, Prez. You're doing great. Keep up the good work.

You know, we used to have an out with the international community. Until today, it was possible to hate America but still be cool with Americans. After all, we didn't elect this guy. We didn't know he was lying to us about Iraq. We had no idea what we were in for with this dude. We're as upset as the rest of the world, right? ...Right? Well, no. Not so much. As it turns out, only half of us are. A little less than half, to be specific. The rest of us? The MAJORITY of us? We love this guy.

With our votes behind Bush, we've invited the blame of the world. We've spoken, loud and clear, and we've said: You know, we're okay with Dubya. We support what he's done in the world. Thumbs up, Prez. You're doing great. Keep up the good work. Hey world: You want to hate our administration? You want to hate our foreign policy? Well, you'd damned well better hate us too. Because this time, we voted Bush.

As it turns out, Europeans weren't so wrong about us. For a long time I avoided following the anti-American trend celebrated usually by those who most heartily reap the benefits of American culture. After all, I like living here. I've never really had any complaints. Only now do I find myself, for the first time in my life, thinking maybe it wouldn't be so bad living somewhere else. Maybe I could forgo the comforts of America just for the sake of alleviating guilt-by-association. I don't want to be lumped into the same category as Nascar and Wal-Mart and McDonald's. As J-Lo and Hummers and Access Hollywood. I can't be proud to be from a country full of rednecks and gluttons and religious zealots. Of mongoloids who know more about Ben Affleck's latest girlfriend than about the issues facing our country. I know it's typical for young urban bohemians to say shit like that. But at least now we have validation. We're not stereotyping. We're not jumping on a bandwagon. We have proof, and it's a handy little map graphic on CNN of a giant red splotch in between a couple strips of blue on the sides. Proof positive that the whole fucking middle of the country is a wasteland of easily-manipulated monkeys. So wrapped up in this week's issue of "People" that they can't be bothered to read a newspaper. So busy living their lives vicariously through the cast of "Friends" that they can't get off of their couch and pay attention to what's going on in the world. These are the people who believe FOX News is fair and balanced because their slogan says so. Who could name more sitcom characters than they could countries. Who go to church every sunday to be brainwashed. These are the fat, lazy, uninformed rednecks of America. And they just decided the fate of the world.

A real low point for me came when I saw this guy being interviewed on MSNBC or some shit. He was a famous Nascar driver, apparently. The type of person who Average Middle America Male looks up to. And for some reason, they were talking to him about elections, and he said: "Bush is a man's man. That's a man who will look you straight in the eye. I'm not much for issues, but I know one thing: George Bush has a ranch in Texas, he's a real down to earth guy. And John Kerry is a millionaire, he has some foofy mansion." And that was it. That was why he supported George Bush. Issues? Forget issues. George Bush has a ranch! It's not a ranch, you fuckwit. It's an illusion. A careful media strategy. A publicity stunt. George Bush doesn't spend his weekends shoveling horse shit on the farm. He spends it at the country club getting his make-up put on, just like John Kerry. But this fucking Nascar dipshit and millions of his followers are simply too stupid to see that. That was when I really lost faith in things. Only in America does the theatre of politics require presidential candidates to pander to the low-brow masses by showing up on TV hunting geese with a shotgun. Only in America must a candidate continuously tout his Christian values in order to even stand a chance. Pandering to the disgustingly large percentage of our country who would vote for the leader of the free world based entirely on how often he went to church. Winning doesn't mean being an intelligent leader with strong ideas and an intricate knowledge of policy. It means pandering. Lots and lots of pandering. George Bush didn't win this election by being a good president, or even by being a popular president. He won on the strength of the juggernaut Republican propaganda machine, which, through a brilliant and unprecedented manipulation of the timid and failing media, has managed to demonize dissent, exploit blind patriotism, promote fear, and most importantly, play carefully and relentlessly to the simple-mindedness of the American people.

Maybe democracy is a flawed process after all. Maybe it needs to be taken away from this country for a while, the same way recess privileges are taken away from a misbehaving third grade class. We can't handle this responsibility. We want to sit in the back of the classroom and make fart noises and throw pencils, and vote for the guy who doesn't use too many big words. When the nation's intellectuals vote overwhelmingly for Kerry, but are vetoed by the ignorant simply by virtue of being massively outnumbered... Suddenly leaving the elections in the hands of the people doesn't seem like such a virtuous concept. When blind partisanship reigns consistently over reason, maybe the people should be sent for a time out, and someone else should make the decisions. If you've ever thought that the two party system is ludicrous, consider that it has stood over time because it's what Americans want. We need a simple decision. One or the other. We need a good guy and a bad guy, in our minds. It's not a debate, it's the fight scene at the end of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. It's not an election, it's a football game. Pick your team and stick with it. We need a simple contest. We are fiercely competitive, providing we don't have to think about it too hard. We just want to pick a side and watch it play out on TV. The election process of "American Idol" is more complex and more closely watched than that of the presidency. It's less a model of democracy than it is of consumerism. It's not Democrat versus Republican, it's Coke versus Pepsi. McDonald's versus Burger King. Two things which really aren't all that different but manage to inspire bitter allegiance, and the winner is ultimately decided by who has the best commercials. It's not leadership so much as salesmanship.

So thanks, America. Thanks for reducing the fate of our country to who owns the biggest gun. Thanks for making it so easy for me to hate you. I never wanted to be one of those typical fashionably anti people who spout out the "I hate America" mantra on their way to Starbucks - but I can't ignore it anymore. I can't try to get behind this country anymore. So here's to four more years of insanity. World War III, here we come. Freedom is on the march, bitches. Whether you like it or not.

At least I don't have to retire my anti-Bush t-shirts.