Month: January 2013

2012: The Year in YOLO

I gave in this year to pop music and am not at all ashamed to admit my “best songs of 2012 (The Big List)” features a number of songs that are unapologetically pop and (to my ears at least) awfully good.

Maybe it’s having young kids who listen to the radio All The Time, maybe it’s because there’s an unusual quantity of good pop songs out there, maybe this is just another manifestation of my own contrariness. But I find myself wondering again and again: What’s Not to Like?

So, yes! yes! to Taylor and Carly Rae and P!nk and Xtina and Psy and Pitbull and Adam Levine and Kelly and Ke$ha and on the country side, that Little Big Town is pretty freaking catchy. I never thought I would like a song so good that name-checks Coors, but there you go. Perhaps I have been living in the South for too long.

For those whose tastes are so refined, they simply can’t abide listening to things enjoyed by the rabble (you know who you are) I have made a slightly condensed playlist that cuts out the pop mega-hits. It’s still a good list.

But I felt I had to go ahead and choose my favorite songs of the year. Hell is other people’s playlists, a wise person once said, so here, for better or worse, a dozen or so good tunes from YOLO Year of Our Lord 2012.

Ke$sha haters can suck it. This is an instant classic. It makes me wish that she would have made Warrior more along the lines of her original (stated) intent: more sleazy 70s rock, more guitars, less pop, fewer synths. As the man in A Hard Day’s Night said, perhaps this is “an early clue to the new direction.” I can only hope. “Sweet-ass mullet,” ftw.

The Youtube vid for “Everything is Embarrassing” has just surpassed a million hits, so this treads perilously close to Too Mainstream, but  the timelessness* of this song  can’t be denied.
*or perhaps perfect evocation of 90s production values

Apparently I am a sucker for songs with “Everything” in the title. Hard to separate the song from the beautiful video.  Old School in the best sense.

A duet teaming a young rappper born and raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and Kurtis Blow, the Bronx.  I love this. Why isn’t this getting ten million hits on Youtube??

Pure pop confection that sounds even more ethereal in Japanese for some reason.

Feisty, sexy, funny–three things you really don’t expect from mainstream country these days.

Seems like this song has been around for more than a year. Never get tired of it, though.

The reissue of “Pearl” came out in 2012, in case you wonder why this song makes the list. Janis’ crazy cackle shows she knew she blew the take right at the beginning. But on and on it goes, and the world is better for it. The ad libs are absolutely priceless. Amy Adams to star as Janis in a movie coming soon? Don’t quite know how I feel about that.

My son’s gang posts videos of their trampoline tricks online. His friend used a Brother Ali song in one. Instead of getting a cease-and-desist from a company lawyer, he got a “cool, bro” from Brother Ali himself. That prejudices me in the man’s favor but this entire album is great. Angry, political, intensely human.

In awe of this entire thing. Sixteen definitely ain’t enough. “How’s he God if he lets Lucifer let loose on us?”

As though someone discovered a cassette featuring Gram Parsons gigging with the Dead, circa American Beauty.

The most YOLO song of a YOLO year.

Bonjour Man for Preznit!

A nagging question for marginal bloggers (such as I): Why Do This At All? A corollary query: what the hell does a dude living in the sticks, who has chicken shit on his boots, who drives a ’95 Camry Wagon (with pride, I might add), know about politics? And (questioning myself again here, but echoing a persistent line of my dad’s, rest his soul), What Makes You So Smart? There are EXPERTS out there, and you act like they are always wrong and you are right. Do you think you know more than George Stephanopoulos?

And at no time do I feel more like I’m just being a jerk than this week, as many of my friends and peers are basking in the glow of the truly impressive pageant that was the inauguration. Quibbling about Obama’s ongoing wars, kill lists, drone attacks and secrecy obsessions; his imprisoning whistleblowers; his Austerity Lite–why complain about this? Now is NOT the right time. (It never is ….)

Yes, him!

And I … I … just sigh, and wish we had a president who looked more like the French model from the State Farm commercial, someone lacking the kind of charisma that obscures the actual policies….. Obama is for liberals what Reagan was for conservative middle Americans a generation earlier, a smooth operator who can elide, obscure, prevaricate, misrepresent, flat-out lie to you in a speech, and yet you just watch and say, “What a soothing way of speaking this man has.”

So … I have not given up on this, yet can’t think of any new ways to say what I think, or what I wonder. A two (and only two)-party system is pretty much the same thing as a one-party system. No one ever ran on the neoliberal ticket, yet that is all we have to choose from. How did we get here? How do we get out?

Countering the mythologies of debt, the deficit, and everything

The United States is broke. The deficits we are creating will leave our grandchildren impoverished, and horror of horrors, in hock to the Chinese! The United States must manage its finances the way any family pays its bills. On the path we are on, we are destined to turn out like Greece.

If you agree with any of the above statements, congratulations. You are in step with current conventional wisdom on the economy. Unfortunately, you are also wrong. As Matthew Stoller pointed out a year or so ago, “The U.S. government prints dollars — it can no more run out of dollars than a bowling alley can run out of strikes.” Why, then, the commonly accepted misunderstandings? It’s a long story.

I just spent a couple of unproductive hours trying to explain my conversion to the ideas behind Modern Monetary Theory, and I realize it’s pretty pointless to do so. Better to link to a few places where MMT’s leading proponents make their case. The video above offers a pretty good summary, for starters.

And of course there is the entire New Economic Perspectives blog. The concepts can be heavy sledding for someone like me, who admits to being slightly illiterate macroeconomics-wise. The discussion can quickly get too complex or too contemptuous of opposing, establishment points of view.

Stephanie Kelton, the Deficit Owl, is for me the best preacher of the MMT gospel. She’s poised, polished, articulate, and frequently funny. Also capable of reducing complex concepts to layman’s (or laywoman’s?) terms. Here is a transcript of her appearance on Harry Shearer’s excellent Le Show, and here’s a link to the podcast itself.

Last weekend Dr. Kelton was a guest on Up W/Chris Hayes discussing “the magic coin.”

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Next, apparently, according to Kelton’s twitter feed, she’s “[g]oing on Oprah to declare truths about money/debt/deficit.” I THINK she’s joking, but wouldn’t it be nice….

In spite of the prevailing moralizing mythologies, deficits are not an indication of a nation going down the road to ruin. Too many people have accepted the argument that austerity is the only solution to the manufactured deficit crisis, that the “tough choices” we face means full employment just isn’t possible, that entitlements are out of control. The trillion-dollar coin idea may be dead (for the time being), but it brought into the mainstream a more sophisticated understanding about the nature of money, how it’s created, and what it’s for. I’m hoping the genie is out of the bottle.

Additional bonus: What is it About Money that Scares the Bejesus Out of People? is a carefully curated, and more than mildly amusing,set of twitter responses to the #mintthecoin hashtag, proof that ignorance of a subject is no obstacle to impassioned tweeting about it.

Short life, fully lived

I don’t think I’m alone in being only vaguely aware of who Aaron Swartz was, and for that I am more than a little ashamed.

Nor am I the only one who woke up to the news of his suicide Saturday morning and spent the rest of the weekend reading up on his many causes and splendid accomplishments. What a life!

His passing is doubly tragic, first for its untimely arrival, and second for the shameful fact that our government was so keen to persecute and incarcerate a bona fide genius whose crime, if it could be said to be a crime at all, was something along the order of seriousness of a prank.

But, as Matthew Stoller opines below, we are living in a world where qualities that should be valued are instead stigmatized, even persecuted.

Aaron suffered from depression, but that is not why he died. Aaron is dead because the institutions that govern our society have decided that it is more important to target geniuses like Aaron than nurture them, because the values he sought – openness, justice, curiosity – are values these institutions now oppose. In previous generations, people like Aaron would have been treasured and recognized as the remarkable gifts they are. We do not live in a world like that today. And Aaron would be the first to point out, if he could observe the discussion happening now, that the pressure he felt from the an oppressive government is felt by millions of people, every year. I’m glad his family have not let the justice system off the hook, and have not allowed this suicide to be medicalized, or the fault of one prosecutor. What happened to Aaron is not isolated to Aaron, but is the flip side of the corruption he hated.

As we think about what happened to Aaron, we need to recognize that it was not just prosecutorial overreach that killed him. That’s too easy, because that implies it’s one bad apple. We know that’s not true. What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. There’s a reason whistleblowers get fired. There’s a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There’s a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriako – who told the world it was going on. There’s a reason those who destroyed the financial system “dine at the White House”, as Lawrence Lessig put it. There’s a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There’s a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There’s a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq. This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice.

This morning Marcy Wheeler also noticed the strange and disturbing fact that the Secret Service shoved aside MIT and Cambridge police investigating into Swartz’s downloading of scholarly articles. She could not completely account for why, nor could anyone commenting on her post, but it offers further confirmation, if any were needed, that hounding a young idealistic activist was a top priority with someone high up in the Federal hierarchy. I’ll be interested to see what comes of this loose thread…..

Over at boingboing there is a substantial and growing archive of remembrances of Swartz.

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