Wednesday, February 28, 2007


This article originally appeared in the 3.1.07 issue of Metroland Magazine.

The dismal specter of the 2008 presidential race is in full bloom, with corporate media distorting every detail. Obama’s name is “mistakenly” spelled “Osama” repeatedly; his middle name “Hussein” is a big deal, and a bald-faced lie that he attended an Islamic fundamentalist madrassa school as a kid, a fabrication planted by some neo-con media shill, is repeated over and over again by the mainstream media. Hillary’s “likeability” is equated with her gender, and the ghost of Monica Lewinsky is brought up in the subtext of every word she says.

Over on the Republican side, John McCain is still boosted as some kind of “maverick,” while he falls all over himself trying to appease the fascist ultra right wing “Republican base.” The fact that he’s reversing his positions on virtually every “values” issue is glossed over: He’s a rebel and he’ll never ever do what he should! End of story. Remember how the media attached the word “flip-flop” to John Kerry last time around, and how it stuck? The term applies in spades to McCain, but you won’t hear about it, because he’s a maverick!

Then there’s Rudy. He’s been crowned “America’s Mayor” by swooning sycophants like Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer. And the media would have you think that Rudy’s biggest problem is that he’s too moderate for the fascist Republican base. Messy divorce, pro-choice, gay rights! How can he possibly sell it in the Bible Belt? Sumbitch probly don’t even own a gun!

You get the impression that maybe he’s the right guy; that after the media creates an implosion of all of the viable Democratic candidates, Rudy will be there, standing heroically on the smoky wreckage, telling America through a bullhorn that he’ll lead it out of the darkness. No, wait, that was Bush’s 9-11 photo-op, wasn’t it? Aw, who cares? He’s “America’s Mayor” because, well, he was there when the buildings fell.

The thing that nobody’s talking about is the reign of terror that Rudy imposed on the freedom of speech during his time as mayor of New York. Repeatedly, Rudy abused his power and treated the First Amendment like a punching bag, all to get press, to pander to intolerant religious leaders, and to forward his agenda to “clean up” New York.

Probably the most notorious example involved the Brooklyn Museum, which brought in the internationally renowned Sensation touring exhibit in 1999. The Mayor’s office, with a permanent seat on the Museum’s board, had months of notice that the exhibit was coming, and actually encouraged the Museum to bring Sensation to Brooklyn. Then, a week or so before the opening, Rudy goes on a rampage over a couple of pieces in the show, particularly Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary, a collage piece that included dried elephant dung on its surface. Never mind that Ofili uses elephant dung, which has ritual significance in various African cultures, on a lot of his work. Rudy goes on national TV and complains about repulsive artists slinging dung at the Madonna, and even throws in the ultimate dumb-ass assessment of modern art: “If I can do it, it’s not art.”

Then he cuts off funding for the Museum and brings a pathetic eviction action in federal court, seeking to throw the Museum out on the street based on trumped-up “violations” of the Museum’s lease with the City. Rudy’s lawsuit got laughed out of court, and on the Saturday the show opened, the two subway stations closest to the museum just happened to shut down for repairs. Thousands of folks, drawn to art and phony controversies, had to walk blocks to get to see Sensation.

In 1997, New York Magazine put ads on buses proclaiming it was “possibly the only good thing in New York City Rudy hasn’t taken credit for.” Rudy ordered the ads removed from his busses, claiming that it infringed some right he thought he had. He got his butt kicked in court for that, too.

In fact, Rudy’s track record in court on speech issues is the stuff of legend. In a 2000 decision involving Rudy’s attempt to stop acclaimed photographer Spencer Tunick from using the streets of New York to stage one of his works (which involve large numbers of nude people), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals made an extraordinary criticism of Rudy’s methods: “We would be ostriches if we failed to take judicial notice of the heavy stream of First Amendment litigation generated by New York City in recent years.” Then the Court listed, over an entire page, 17 court cases from the prior 5 years involving The City and speech: artists’ speech, city employees’ speech, the general public’s speech. And the City lost every one. And most of them weren’t even close.

This from the guy running the global center of the art world, of publishing, of expression. A lawyer, for crying out loud. And somebody who’s now running for President. Who wants to have the power to appoint Supreme Court judges, dictate policy about citizen surveillance, and decide what to do with the FBI when anybody criticizes him. Or says anything at all.

America’s Mayor. Right.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


[This article originally ran in the 2.15.07 issue of Metroland Magazine]

Did you know that Daylight Savings Time starts early this year? Yup, second Sunday in March instead of the first Sunday in April. Congress decided on this a couple of years ago as an energy saving measure, figuring more hours of our waking life in daylight saves energy, which makes a certain amount of sense. And I suppose it also allows Congress to say “we did our job” with regard to energy policy, by corralling the populace like the compliant sheep we are, while leaving the energy industries alone to feed the beast and run the world. And it gives Dick Cheney an extra hour to shoot his friends in the face.

In any event, you may want to check your computer, which may not have heard the news about the time change. If your operating system isn’t properly updated, you may find your online world is an hour off come March 11.

Speaking of daylight, it looks like all this digital music static about DRM is coming to a head sooner rather than later. The fun began when Apple’s Steve Jobs posted a call for the end of DRM, and for all record companies to allow digital music to be sold without any DRM, i.e. the copy protections, tracking devices, and number-of-play restrictions that currently encumber almost every major label digital music release that’s legally available.

Lots of people have been scratching their heads over this one. While, to be sure, the only way Apple’s been able sell major label music on its ITunes store has been to promise the labels an effective DRM system, Apple has also profited massively by creating its own proprietary DRM system (called “Fairplay”) that links its IPod devices, ITunes software program and ITunes store, to the exclusion of everybody else. The whole Apple music empire was built on a combination of cool, great products, and most importantly, DRM. And Jobs is willing to walk away from that? WTF?

Well who knows, but it set off a firestorm of comments and activity. The RIAA, which rivals the Republican National Committee in the abuse of logic and honesty in the pursuit of power and money, immediately issued a statement that challenged Apple to license its FairPlay DRM system to all of the other competing online music services. In other words, the RIAA admits that Jobs built the better mousetrap and wants him to give it to everybody else. The RIAA’s problem, of course, is that there is no mouse problem in the first place. Try as it might, the RIAA has totally failed to establish a link between piracy, DRM, MP3s, etc. What is abundantly clear is that the continuing DRM schemes and the total lack of interoperability among musical systems (along with a wealth of other factors, like the promotion of crap music and the terrorizing of kids through vindictive lawsuits) has turned a generation of music listeners away from the major labels and the legitimate purchasing of music.

Industry blowhard and Warner’s music owner Edgar Bronfman called Jobs’ position illogical, and pledged allegiance to continued use of DRM, in the course of his quarterly earnings discussion in which has was trying to explain away a 74% earnings decline for the company that he runs. Moron.

Meantime, major label EMI, which has dabbled with one-off DRM-free releases with tremendous success, is rumored to be getting ready to allow sales of at least big parts of its vast catalog without any DRM. EMI’s earnings have been hurting, too, and opening up the floodgates of restriction-free music is seen as an attempt to regain some measure of profitability for the company.

So you’ve got some major labels saying DRM is the only way to protect their precious “property” and at least one label apparently saying that dumping it is the only way to survive. Meantime, music vendors like Yahoo are predicting their entire catalogs of major label music will be DRM-free by the end of the year. And the head of, a wonderful and wildly successful site that sells independent music without any DRM predicts that if the majors dump DRM, their profits will skyrocket, just like his.

And what happens when DRM disappears? Hoo-boy, watch out. I suspect the legitimate online music market will indeed explode, with more choice in music format, selection, and price. Pirate P2P and torrent sites will always be around, but will shrink. The IPod will only retain its domination on the gizmo market only if it is indeed the best player, and new and innovative players will proliferate. Integration of cell phones with music players will accelerate, as will the migration of consumers from buying CDs to digital files, as the transition to digital becomes dramatically less confusing and intimidating.

People will be listening to more music, and that means people will be happier. The world will be a better place. Thanks, Steve-O.