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Atomized junior

Thursday, March 26, 2009
the Bailout is Not my New Bicycle

 I put the economic crisis out of mind for a while. I took my furlough day. Furlough days are an interesting concept - you don't have to go to work, but the state doesn't pay you either. Mitigates the reason I took the job in the first place. The economic conundrum is like a bad penny, though it keeps rolling back into view. The bail outs are not my new bicycle, but the stimulus is the new surge.

 It's somewhat confusing, the bailouts are plural, the federal government is buying different things: "toxic assets", "preferred stock". There was the recent stimulus bill as massive as the bailout. Additionally in the middle of all this the cast of principle characters seemed to change. I began to think I had lost the thread of it all.

 I turned to Wikipedia, naturally, but also to a web site called Budget Watch, and made an appointment with Frontline. There is a concrete benefit of summaries, I think.  Daily news produces a fog of present detail.  Response of the current crisis began (in earnest with the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. (H.R. 1424) passed October 3 of last year. This brought into being the 700 billion dollar behemoth: the Troubled Assets Relief Program. This program is managed out of the Treasury dept. By a newly created sub-bureaucracy in fact: the Office of Financial Stability. The TARP consists of a number of purchasing programs: mortgage-backed securities (the heart of the problem), whole loan (for banks that simply have too many mortgages on the books) and equity purchase programs. A triage of sorts using the camel bank rating criteria is one part of the TARP program's work, but the bulk of it consists in determining what to pay for these assets in the absence of an open market. At the end "we the people" own something called an equity warrant. Throughout all this there are FDIC buyouts occurring, of routinely failing banks. Bringing up what hopefully will be the tail of this parade the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 - Wikipedia  also know as the Stimulus Bill. The official return of Fiscal Policy. Across the district and environs people are dusting off busts of Keynes and finding a delicately inconspicuous spot in a conspicuous room for them.

 The next obvious question is How much will this cost? This is where budget watch's web site us useful because they have placed all these programs, in clickable, sortable and filterable tables, and these tables have columns of numbers. You can add it up Stimulus Watch: Government Responses to the Financial & Economic Crisis | US Budget Watch. At this point the Republicans are willing to raise spectre of deficits. This is a joke. One beyond pointing to Richard Cheney claiming deficits don't matter. While household economics isn't the correct mental model for national debt, they do matter (at least their principle) a little. Beyond this is the stark fact that for eight years the republicans threw money around like a drunken sailor in a liberty port. The executive and every member of their caucus. They worked hard at not eliminating bureaucracies but semi-privatizing them into their own voting base. Senator Gregg (R. NH) offers a useful example. In the Frontline episode that documents the growth of the federal deficit  FRONTLINE: ten trillion and counting | PBS . He acknowledges in one scene the continued growth of the deficit during periods of republican control, though he tried to hold the line, he pauses then adds "most of the time". In heaven you've got your good things and I've got mine. Here no, There are no party favors in a fiscally responsible budget. Minor logrolling aside. A minor irony here is that the targeted spending needed to produce a stimulus effect is not necessarily the classic liberal agenda spending that so many democrats have waited a decade for. Oh well.

  The next natural question is who is to blame for all this. There might even be a practical side to such questions as we try to relate cure to illness. The illness, well it involves some zombieism they say. Zombie banks is the nom de guerre for a bank which has gone dark, is no longer performing the services of a bank, merely absorbing liquidity. The prevailing feeling is that these banks have no liquidity, and number among the undead. There are other indications that these banks may be sitting on what liquidity they have and may even possess reasonably accurate transaction costs information on parts of the market. They simply regard all that as proprietary information, and the game as still in play, their value to anyone but themselves irrelevant. For the rest of us it amounts to a question of confidence, whether systemic or accidental trust is gone out of the market. Whether a system as extensively leveraged as the one that existed can have enough market information available to remain stable. The expansion of the financial sector as a driver of the economy was done under the banner of market machinery. It is certainly a moral hazard for the government to repair this system, save it's progenitors from their folly and wind it up for a future of the same. Robert Reich had the simple observation the other week that any institution that might be considered Too Big to Fail, whether a monopoly or duopoly or not, should be considered as being outside the free market system, as no possible market force could then form any check on it's behavior or activity  Robert Reich's Blog | Talking Points Memo | The Real Scandal of AIG:. Within any possible free market, there is inherent limit to the size corporations can grow to, Either they find that limit on their own or they don't, but they can not be allowed to rule through failure.

 At this point you quickly enter the dangerous territory of Populism and Scape-goating. The Bonus Babies of AIG, recently in the news, were the perfect poster children of entitlement. There is no segment of this current culture more imbued with entitlement than the elite professional classes. These entrepreneurial executives were  not really delivering a  thousand times more value than wage workers (like myself). Still being human they can flee only so far from humanity. Send them down to the company softball team. Even Ted Williams only hit in the 400s.  It is curious (to me) at the wage level I have to argue my value to the system, rarely to any avail, money is tight times are tough. At the financial sector executive level They argue it must be demonstrably proved they are not worth their millions, never to any avail - times are tough, one can't be to careful. Better to pay the man what he wants. They are not irreplaceable though. There is an excellent system in place for training and retraining high quality MBA's. Best Practice programs for identifying and deep selecting the Best and Brightest of new workers. The very fungibility of these elite trained belie their claim of critical uniqueness. What they can do is defect and blow up a company. This is why they get their pay. Retention bonus are like blackmail. It is like robbery. They are shorty-on-the-corner jacking us up for the Jackson's in our pocket with a borrowed glock. I thought this is why we built so very many jails.

 Paul Krugman seems to be casting himself as a consistent skeptic of the current system. He has both a blog Economics and Politics - Paul Krugman Blog - and a column Paul Krugman - The New York Times at the New York Times he can harness for this. He is a critic of Geithner, and Lawrence Summers certainly. His main beef is systemic problems of the financial markets. Institutions he seems to believe Geithner tying to insulate from change Op-Ed Columnist - The Market Mystique - Even in detail: when the TARP plan recently amended itself to the idea of bringing private institutions in to assist in buying troubled assets. He noted that as long as this was sponsored by loans from the federal government there would be an inescapable propensity for these concerns to inflate the value of these assets Geithner plan arithmetic.  While on one hand it is encouraging to see attempts to bring the market back in to price and absorb these entities, the other hand shows the financial sector still insistent on the privilege their own affairs while the resources of the entire nation are laid at their feet to keep them afloat

They arrested me and they put me in jail.
And called my
pappy to throw my bail.
And he said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to
If you don't stop drivin' that Hot... Rod... Lincoln!"

[Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen]

11:25:40 PM    comment [];trackback [];

Monday, March 16, 2009

  A week ago in the Washington Post's Style section there was an article that I was actually inspired to read  when I saw the teaser at the foot of the front page. A legend of a Led Zeppelin show at the Wheaton (Maryland) civic center in 1969  Reunion for 1969 Led Zeppelin concert in Wheaton - Had it actually happened or was it just a figment of collective imagination? The answer the article seemed to lean towards was that - yes - in a disorganized preamble to Led Zeppelin's first US tour, this had happened. I think I once saw Beefeater (a Dischord band) play this same venue. As I read the article there was a moment of improbable serendipity: Jeff Krulik had organized the reunion the Post article hung its hat on, and led the rumor confirmation efforts. I know Jeff Krulik, Jeff, then program director, is the person who brought me into WMUC, the University of Maryland's student run radio station,  back when I was in college. The person responsible for the debilitating condition I suffer from, I call "dj disease'. If at any point in your life you've answered a question with the words "Tav Falco" or "Johnny "Guitar" Watson" you probably have this. It didn't require much arm-twisting, being on the radio, at any rate. Jeff Krulik  may be more well known to some as the person, along with John Heyn, responsible for the short film Heavy Metal Parking Lot.


 In the wake of WFMU's annual fund raiser it's worth spending an additional moment on the idea of radio forms. Free form radio not just as an interlude, but as the perfected form. As a life pursuit. This is against the idea of commercial, talk, college(iate), or even lpfm community radio. Low power community radio (LPFM) could be an ideal when the object of the enterprise is a limited geographic community. Certainly WMUC's ten watts reached little further than the outskirts of the College Park Campus. Or it could be something of a bait and switch when the idea seems to be to administratively stifle the growth into supporting audiences of larger non profit, or locally owned commercial stations. I can see lpfm and college radio as a training proving ground for well formed free-form, without growing into an audience of a certain size and attracting commensurate talent pool I don't see them as a replacement or substitute. A radio station - any music culture promulgator which is going to be successful needs an identity, a personality, individuality, a sense of itself. A certain momentum behind that self.

 Years go in Washington there was a group called the Council for Progressive Radio. I recall (and only vaguely) this as a collection of prog. rockers and Firesign theater aficionados inspired more by WGTB nostalgia than any affinity for what WMUC was doing. WGTB was Georgetown University's radio station which was off the air for a period in the mid 1980's after the Jesuit administrators there accidentally started listening to it . This was also during the interregnum between WHFS i and WHFS ii (now null set). The goal of the council was a free form progressive radio institution whether distributed by broadcast (AM even), sideband, cable or even pony express. I believe they were poised to be flexible. If somehow they had been successful D.C might now have something like WFMU. I can't identify any trace of this organization remaining now.

 Ars Technica had an article Labels: whatever the future of music is, it isn't "free" - Ars Technica based on a UK seminar (and resulting white paper named Lets Play recorded Music ( MusicTank) . The subject in general was how to coax the cat of digital recorded pop music back in its bag, or at the least get the cat to come across with some cash. The RIAA (and similar organizations)  no longer believe it needs radio to introduce and popularize its product. Perhaps niche audiences have become too small to support big radio, maybe its become easy enough for these audiences to talk amongst themselves via social networks. All the same popular culture must be relentlessly commercialized, and commodity packaged. Certainly music culture and the standard model for this is the prerecorded pop song. It's all about monetizing it. The report refers to the a la carte model, by which they mean iTunes. Not particularly favored because it leaves the patron almost feeling like they own something especially now that iTunes offers higher bit rates. More discussed by the panels that made up the seminar were various type of Blanket Licenses - for streaming rights -  all sharing attributes of being limited time/use/area - essentially being borrowing models. The tensions between the recording industry, digital device makers and internet service providers were apparent. The former believing they should just get their payment from the latter up front. Leaveing  it to the ISPs already in contractual relational with their customers, to redefine activities possible, with a data stream,  into revenue stream services. Augmenting (or bypassing) that by monetizing traffic data garnered and data mined from net activity (right now verizon is saying to themselves "music makes this guy hungry - he went from iTunes to Google and looked up  Buff Medway - sell that man a chicken).  At no point do they seem concerned with where the meaning or value of music comes from. Believing only that if they can hold it with one hand they can charge for it with the other.

 What gives modern music culture, a composition or performance its importance to an audience? Not just a particular instance, but the culture of the beat combo;  assorted small branded groups of overstated socially reflective personalities. The songs in sonic and lyric form are well examined elsewhere. In broad form a snapshot taken in youth, of desires and anxieties of a handful of generations; expansive and retrenched by turns. With perhaps a meta narrative revolving around not only the performed living of musicians, but the frontiers they stake out. The arbitrators of our destiny. A functionalism of some variety is likely at work here. Cultural forms are solutions (answers) to cultural questions. When the questions change the cultural forms of the answers must change also. The Beatles are content to be represented in the digital age by a video game. A blinking diode light cousin of the old toy Simon. This may be the best revenue solution for work created to speak to people now in their sixties.  L.E.D Zeppelin are likely to make a similar decision.

  Of course it's not all just fast cars and guitars. There is the strange case of Little Kenny G. Inhabitant of WFMU's non-rock spree modernist space. With radio dominated generally by humorless music types or talk shows, both equally blanketed under a wide-eyed sincerity, an antidote to hyper earnestness (like tramadol) should be nearby. Recreation of a 1966 lecture by Foucault? Essentially a piece of aural sculpture. I find my reptilian reflexes fighting down the impulse to take notes. It's unkind.  You gotta ask, how does a guy like Kenny G talk himself onto the air?

Even with art somewhere there's the pitch. The question I ask myself is: would I schedule him? I think back to the brief time I was a college radio program director, scarcely a matter of weeks really, and many years ago. I once put a dj on the air, a freshman. Came across him in the record library a week or so latter listening to a German Shepherds 7" possibly THC. "Oh no, you're not going to be one of those are you? I got a schedule full of that sort already." He replied he knew what he liked. We never really saw eye to eye after that. He later conceived of a record - in the way people conceive records and the songs their rock star bands of the mind might produce. Kustom Karnal Blaxploitation he would call it. An homage not so much to Kevin Nutt as to Kenneth Anger. The songs would have names like: (I want to go to) Malcom X Park, but they would never explain why.

11:51:37 PM    comment [];trackback [];

Saturday, March 7, 2009
WFMU time 2009

 It is now the moment of WFMU's Annual Thermopolyae, I mean Marathon, fundraiser. The middle of it actually. This is the point of time when WFMU a small nonprofit fm radio station in New Jersey - an orphan really as their parent entity Upsalla college went bankrupt years ago - attempts to drop everything and quickly raise the million or so dollars they need to stay in existence for another year. And it is worth it. WFMU is the single greatest human institution since the invention of the limited liability corporation, (always thought of them as like a East India company co-op). Perhaps they are the most dramatic institution since the Globe theatre. The greatest development of mankind since barbers and surgeons were differentiated into separate professions. Certainly the best use of radio airwaves since the Titanic's SOS. The most noble use of the internet since jpgs of your kitties were last posted (especially if accompanied by captions of them saying cute things in some weird kitty patois).

 I won't say there aren't things WFMU needs more of. Iggy Pop and the Stooges, for instance, particularly stuff off that Fun House album, especially the song TV Eye. Boy, I could listen to that song over and over again.

 WFMU does music radio well. And to be blunt about it in a nation full of radio stations, they're aren't many others that do. What tides and currents that prevail in the content and broadcast world work against it. A few recent Ars Technica articles on radio news illustrate this. The first covers the Future of Music Policy day event  Panel: what does broadband policy mean for musicians? - Ars Technica. They speak of "collaborative folk cultural production processes", and the way of the "creative class" This is what Lawrence Lessig describes in his book  Remix. []. The current intellectaual property industry may believe that creation will continue despite draconian IP laws - or possibly they may not care, they may even be suited if it doesn't. After all the notion of new, better cheapens their product. At any rate, value added service, the building and rebuilding of existing ideas is central to human nature, and digital mutability is central to the current generation's way of thought and process. Against this is an essentially exploitive force that in no real way values human invention.

 Two other articles deal with SoundExchange a company that collects royalty fees on behalf of the RIAA. They have reached partial agreement with webroadcasters. All this is fallout from an arbitrary and puzzlingly high fee structure announced by the Copyright Royalty Board (vaguely attached to the Federal government) two years ago. The sides were  had been directed to achieve some sort of agreement by a congressional bill set in motion last year, the WebCaster Settlement act of 2008. Radio Broadcasters (like WFMU) ones who have a internet streaming simulcast of their radio broadcast as the Ars Technica article states will pay: "$0.0015 per stream, or $1.50 per thousand online listeners, in 2009. This reflects a discount of about 16 percent from the originally agreed-upon rates, according to SoundExchange. After that, the royalty rate will gradually increase to $0.0025 per stream ($2.50 per thousand listeners) by the year 2015" SoundExchange, broadcasters reach royalty pact for streams - Ars Technica:. Web-only streamers have not reached agreement with SoundExchange yet  Webcasters: still (!) no deal on streaming royalties - Ars Technica:. The deals they have been offered are steep enough and involve stepped fee Structures that will punish or cripple any business that attempts to grow their business. Which has the effect of revealing too clearly the explicit purpose of all this. It is blatant a barrier-to-entry activity and a federal government board eagerly and gleefully made themselves complicit by initiating it. The industry forces SoundExchange represent never developed any ideas as generations, technology  and the world changed about them. They now seek to punish and eliminate those who did, and use the government to protect an obsolete business model.

 I'm not inclined to be my own Dj. This is a somewhat paradoxical viewpoint - I am fully inclined to be someone else's Dj, and occasionally will construct playlists on didactic day dream in iTunes.  But at the moment when I am a listener, often though not always when I am engaged in other things. Then it is time as Fairport Convention once sang "...then you can do the work for me" That is what I like about WFMU

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