Time for a Music Thread

June 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

While the boss is out re-connecting with NYC, it’s a good time to start a music thread. Sound like a non sequiteur? It is! It’s always a good time for a music thread.

Rock music began as music by outsiders. But it quickly became, among other things, music for bullies. Music bullies, who gloated as they hurried the previous generation of music off the stage, and seared with scorn any experimental break from the strict formula of two guitars, drum, bass and a 12-bar blues format.

Which is why I have little patience for one-time “rock stars” Who whine now that they can’t get studio contracts or radio time because they’re overaged. Classic rock format stations will play “Edge of Seventeen” forever, but Stevie Nicks can’t get any new music heard. She ought to rewrite it as “Edge of Seventy.”

Who cares? For one, I’ve heard enough Paul Simon to last a lifetime.Nobody said rock stardom was a sinecure.

Anyway, that’s the rant. Here’s the music. Despite all the above, the Beatles, who set the format in motion, were my first musical love, and it’s only now, after 35 years or so of listening to their music, that I feel I’ve come to the limits of it.

[Though if you ask me, they could have pulled the plug on it, and all of rock, about the end of 1967, when the limits of that limited format had been reached, stretched, and breached. The live version of “Down on Me.” Lights out.]

The Beatles, however, were sui generis, in their combination of songwriting sensibility and musicianship. And part of the mistake rock made was everybody else thinking they were supposed to do that, too.

It’s hard to “own” a Beatles song, if you’re another artist. But here are two examples I’d offer:

Common thread? Soul. The one thing four guys from England and George Martin couldn’t produce. To their credit, I think they’d all have acknowledged that (witness the too-late effort to work Billy Preston into the ensemble, and the electrifying results of that).

Meanwhile, there’s this, which my son turned me on to. Not a video, just music. I don’t know anything about the band — and I don’t want to. I’ve acquired a very Cleanth Brooks approach to music: I want to be alone with the text, the artifact. Creators are irrelevant.

This breaks the format without being obviously about nothing but breaking the format. What if the Ramones had been a mariachi band? What if your sensibilities extended past your own libido to, well, everything …

Anyway, enjoy. Don’t mind me.

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New New Economy

March 1, 2011 at 7:59 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

The world turned upside-down

What [Kim] Kardashian does, very cleverly, is sell her ravenous audience to the highest bidder. She charges up to six figures to attend a party, and reportedly can get a million for a party overseas (hey, all that travel!).

How can someone charge for going to a party? Because, like that guy in the Verizon commercial, she brings all those curious people with her, in real and virtual life. Photographers, reporters, blog followers. The party gets publicized because she is attending, which is why the party pays for her to show.

Same goes for Twitter. Kardashian reportedly charges $25,000 to endorse a product with a tweet. Simply by typing “I just used ____ hairspray!” her words go to 6.5 million people, presumably many who have so little imagination about their own lives, they just want to emulate hers. For the hairspray company, that means potential customers.

This, by the way, is no different than some of the biggest companies in the New New Economy. Look at Google. Look at Facebook. They don’t actually make anything. You can’t physically touch their product — can’t drive it or hammer with it. But what they deliver is audience. Hundreds of millions of people gathered in one place. And they earn billions by selling that audience to advertisers.

My worry is that instead of teaching our kids that skill, dedication and hard work are the path to success, we are teaching them that he-who-makes-the-biggest-jackass-video and she-who-pulls-her-skirt-up-highest can earn the most money.

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January 27, 2011 at 11:37 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

Apologies to Flaubert, or to anyone sick of my occasional complaining about co-workers; all quotes guaranteed authentic.

ART – must express political indignation or offend local sensibilities to be any good. Art has a duty to not merely explore and express the wounds in the nation, but to create new ones.

BLACK REPUBLICANS – only can be explained by reference to Uncle Tom or some sort of self-loathing complex that requires therapy. Fair game for every sort of hateful stereotype and epithet. Anti-Israel Jews, however, are proof that being anti-Israel is never the same as being anti-Semitic (see JEWS).

CANADA – has no crime, no poverty, no racism, no militarism. “I would move there in a minute if it wasn’t for _______.”

CHILDREN – your progressive views about public education, diversity, tolerance, SUVs, and affirmative action do not apply in situations that involve your children.

CHOMSKY – God. Only Stephen Colbert outranks him.

CHRISTIANITY – only idiots and bigots believe in it. Westboro Baptist is a typical church. Any public expression of faith is aimed at intimidating atheists and other non-Christians. The world won’t improve till people stop listening to preachers. None of the above applies to black denominations.

COMMUNISM – ancient history. Dismiss it quicky and move on. “Real communism was never tried.”

CONDI RICE – not really black, of course, but really a war criminal. Bad example to young minorities. The only public political woman it is legitimate to call “ugly.” All taboos against race-baiting are suspended in her case, provided they are uttered by people of sterling liberal Democratic credentials.

DEATH PENALTY – immoral and a sign of America’s hopeless cowboy culture. Unless the subject is Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, or Rice.

DEMOCRATS – never do any of the mean political tricks and underhanded stunts that are the basis of any Republican success. Until they actually are convicted of them, in which case everyone does that.

DICK CHENEY – shout “war criminal,” flush red, and swear every time you see his face on television. Or else just say, “shot a guy in the face.” Hypocrite because he has a lesbian daughter yet remains a Republican.

EUROPE – proof that socialism is better. Workers get 2 months of vacation and 4-day work weeks. Any European is smarter than every American. Anything that goes wrong in Europe is a result of American policies or pressures.

EXCEPTIONALISM – American exceptionalism is a myth. Unless you mean America is exceptionally violent, ignorant, racist, and militaristic in comparison to the rest of the world. In which case American exception is an ironclad truth.

FASCISM – use it often; change the definition to fit the target. The real definition is, “whatever it is about my enemies that most reminds me of what little I think I know about fascism.”


GAYS and LESBIANS – always more enlightened, intelligent and sensitive than those who aren’t. Improve property values by their mere presence. Anyone who makes generalized statements about them is a homophobe.

GEORGE W. BUSH – “Where’s Lee Harvey Oswald when we need him?” Responsible for a climate of intolerance and personal violence in America, and even for road rage. “If I had a gun, I’d shoot him” (see GUANTANAMO).


GUANTANAMO – after you say something nasty about GEORGE W. BUSH (q.v.), say, “I better shut up or they’ll send me to Guantanamo.”

HUGO CHAVEZ – a leader of the people and an honest socialist. “At least he was fairly elected, unlike George W. Bush.”

ISLAM – they just want to be left alone. If anyone points out that it involves everything that makes liberal secularists loathe Christianity, and in greater degree, as well as many worse things not found in Christianity, shout “SARAH PALIN.”

JESUS – never existed, and if he were alive today he would be one of “us.” Everything Christians do is contrary to his teaching.

JEWS – always excluded from any demands for more “diversity” or “multi-culturalism.”

JOHN BOEHNER – Orange crybaby. Don’t take seriously.

KARL ROVE – tried to kill Valerie Plame.

KURDS – run them down if someone brings them up; ignore them otherwise.

MICHAEL MOORE – sensitive, independent documentary film-maker, not an grandstanding propaganda hack. Defend everything he says and does, repeat his assertions as fact, claim that everyone who aspires to have an opinion about anything can’t really know anything about it without first viewing Moore’s work. Then deny that he is at all influential or representative of “progressive” opinion.

MILITARY – blacks who enlist are falling for the recruiters’ trap in a desperate bid to escape poverty. Whites who enlist are knuckle-dragging, crypto-fascist gun-nuts.

NON-PARTISAN – always claim to be this. Prove it by saying something balanced and bad about both parties, such as, “Republicans are granny-starving, soul-less, totalitarian hypocrites and the Democrats are too disorganized to beat them.”


PRESIDENTS – if the incumbent is a Republican, all troubles in the world are his fault. If the incumbent is a Democrat, all troubles in the world are the fault of the previous Republican incumbent.

RECYCLING – conservatives and Christians never do it.

REPUBLICANS – always preceded by “evil” or “fat-cat.”

RICH – got that way by cheating the poor or rigging the system with the help of their GOP friends. Unless they are Democrats, in which case they earned it honestly by their talents and prove their entitlement to it by their political philanthropy.

RONALD REAGAN – whenever his name comes up, say, “Ketchup is a vegetable.”

SARAH PALIN – whenever you’re stumped in a debate or cornered in an argument with anyone measurably rightward of you, and you don’t have a response, just shout her name like a magic incantation to banish your opponent to a lower plane of existence, then walk away triumphantly. In general be obsessed with her and never let her name go unuttered for more than half an hour.


SEPTEMBER 11 – a tragedy, but we deserved it for lack of universal health care, not signing Kyoto treaty, etc. Unless we did it to ourselves. We’ll get back to you on the conspiracy theories when we figure out whether they’re right-wing (dismissable) or left-wing (plausible).

SOUTH – “We should have let them secede. I wish they would leave again.”

SPORTS – always hate the Dallas Cowboys (“America’s Team”) and the New York Yankees (“Yankees”). Anything else is up to you. Never like NASCAR.

TAXES – are good, because they take wealth from those who have it and distribute it in ways that are useful to those who do not have it. Deny strenuously that this involves wealth redistribution.

TERRORISM – “Terrorism, schmerrorism; it’s all Bush’s fault.”

TRANSGENDER – should not be treated as anything but what they say they are. To think about the details of this and ask practical question like “ought the plain definition of ‘woman’ include ‘man who wishes he was a woman?'” is to be homophobic.

UNIONS – answer to all this country’s past, current, and future economic troubles.

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Killing America

December 7, 2010 at 9:06 pm (By Miles Lascaux) (, , )

It’s probably a bad idea for someone like me, with a weak grounding in economics, to think about economics. But you can’t help thinking about economics nowadays. And I probably should have been thinking about it all along.

Thinking about it is hard work for me, in part because so many people I instinctively dislike and mistrust have weighed in on it so loudly, with opinions that seem to me based on flawed premises. But that doesn’t mean their conclusions are to be dismissed.

Look, here’s what I see. I’m 50. When I was a teenager, banks were local. In Philadelphia, you had PSFS and you had Girard. Both storied old names with deep local roots. You could open a savings account there and get 4% or 5% interest on $100. It taught you how to invest and grow your money. Both are gone now. The banks you see now on the city’s streets, I don’t even know where they have headquarters.

And nobody except rich dudes and eccentrics played the stock market. It was understood to be a form of legalized gambling in which the small and uninitiated investor was almost certainly going to be cheated, unless he worked his tail off at it. When you bought stock, you got a big engraved piece of paper with the name of the company on it.

When you had a good job, you had a pension fund. Your employers, who probably were local, had it invested in a local bank, which lent it out at interest to people it knew and trusted, to buy homes, build stores, etc.

There were many problems and pitfalls in all this. But it seemed to work well enough for modest growth and reasonably good employment.

Then, in 1978, along came the 401(k). I don’t think anyone intended it to have the effect it had. But it eventually made everyone an investor in the global financial markets. Nobody except government workers seems to have a pension fund now. In short, all of us gradually came to feel our interests were identical to those of the Wall Street sharks, because our pension funds were parked in the same places as their play money.

Worse, new financial products were devised which sliced and diced and repackaged investments like sausage meat. So you didn’t know if your money was in this company or that company, but you felt you were playing the game. And you were, but now it was a shell game. By the mid-1980s, guys in the barbershops were reading the stocks pages and bragging about their investments. As though the shark tank had become a Disney ride, as though they still weren’t guppies.

Short term, big profit. If someone bought up the local silverware making company and shipped the work off to China and Mexico, that put 150 people in your town out of work, but it also meant that company could make a lot more profit, and as we all were, technically, invested in corporate profits, it seemed like a good thing in the end overall. A little sad, maybe, if you knew one of the unlucky few. But we had learned to think of ourselves like little tycoons.

The Wall Street mentality. I don’t know any bankers, or any investment house executives. But I know the kind of rapacious swine they brought in to take over newspapers in the 1980s and ’90s, when they passed from family hands to corporate investments. They are people you don’t ever want to be beholden to for anything.

This guy can tell you what really killed journalism in America. The newspaper is a product that, unlike a lightbulb, can’t be outsourced to China or India to make (though, gods help them, they have tried). Doesn’t matter. It was subject to the same evisceration as any other American industry:

In fact, when newspaper chains began cutting personnel and content, their industry was one of the most profitable yet discovered by Wall Street money. We know now – because bankruptcy has opened the books – that the Baltimore Sun was eliminating its afternoon edition and trimming nearly 100 editors and reporters in an era when the paper was achieving 37 percent profits. In the years before the Internet deluge, the men and women who might have made The Sun a more essential vehicle for news and commentary – something so strong that it might have charged for its product online – they were being ushered out the door so that Wall Street could command short-term profits in the extreme.

Such short-sighted arrogance rivals that of Detroit in the 1970s, when automakers – confident that American consumers were mere captives – offered up Chevy Vegas, and Pacers and Gremlins without the slightest worry that mediocrity would be challenged by better-made cars from Germany or Japan.

In short, my industry butchered itself and we did so at the behest of Wall Street and the same unfettered, free-market logic that has proved so disastrous for so many American industries. And the original sin of American newspapering lies, indeed, in going to Wall Street in the first place.

When locally-based, family-owned newspapers like The Sun were consolidated into publicly-owned newspaper chains, an essential dynamic, an essential trust between journalism and the communities served by that journalism was betrayed.

So didn’t it all start with the gentle, subtle, paradigm shift that made the average American worker (when there still was such a thing) feel like his interests were aligned with those of the worst sort of corporate bosses? That has occasionally happened before in our history (in the 1830s and 1850s, for instance), but it is not a stable position, because it is so palpably false. But now it’s become the fiction that sank the ship we rode this far.

I don’t think anyone did all of this deliberately, even though it was accomplished in a lifetime. I don’t think any one political party is to blame for all of it. But I do think some people steered it and nudged it for their own benefit. And they still have not been called to account for it.

And I would like to see them all shipped off to a barren rock of an island in shark-infested waters, with no trees and no shade and no fresh water, and left there. I’d even go get a pilot’s license and fly them there myself.

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October 29, 2010 at 7:16 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

Hey! I wanted to e-mail this to some people, and I realize most of them are probably reading here anyhow. Some nice fellows did an interview with me recently, and I’m enough of a blowhard to plug it.

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had to share this

September 8, 2010 at 9:55 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

I spend a lot of time in the universal library (i.e. Google Books) while doing etymological research. Sometimes I find the strangest things: like this (ick warning)

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Music for these Times

April 28, 2010 at 1:26 am (By Miles Lascaux)

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July 21, 2009 at 4:54 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

From the “New York Times” obituary of Polish dissident academic Leszek Kolakowski:

In a noted lecture in 1982, Kolakowski said the cultural role of philosophy was “never to let the inquisitive energy of mind go to sleep, never to stop questioning what appears to be obvious and definitive, always to defy the seemingly intact resources of common sense” and “never to forget that there are questions that lie beyond the legitimate horizon of science and are nonetheless crucially important to the survival of humanity as we know it.”

Which makes me wish more historians and journalists were philosophers — something I haven’t often wished. Read it for a glimpse of a 20th century life.

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The Space Program and Me

July 19, 2009 at 8:09 pm (By Miles Lascaux)

I was born in 1960, so you’d think it would be a big part of my life. And I guess it was. Tang, and all that. I do remember staying up for the historic moment.* I wanted to be an astronaut when I was 5. I wanted to be a firefighter, too, and by the time I was 7 I wanted to be a paleontologist.

It seeped into our play. But probably not in a way NASA would have applauded. For instance, out in the outer suburbs, my best friend Billy and I (age 7 or 8 then) used to pluck Japanese beetles from the flowers and fruit trees, embed them in fist-sized mudballs, and stand in the middle of the street and hurl them as high as we could. They came down with a splat that sprayed mud from one curb to the other. Sometimes, there was a stunned beetle in the center of it. If so, he was immediately sent up on another mission. One survived seven flights and re-entries, and we dubbed him “Viktor Viktory,” and let him go, which I guess now means the Russians still were winning at that point.

* Actually, the moonwalk was a hoax. Michael Jackson never did it. It was staged on a treadmill in a warehouse in Nevada.

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July 12, 2009 at 8:04 pm (By Miles Lascaux) ()

I’m thinking of this story, but it could be any one.

For the first 12 hours after an incident, tragedy, or event, the news and chatter will be about what happened. From hour 13 to eternity, the news and chatter will be what people said about what happened. Then what they said about what other people said.

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