Wednesday, December 30, 2009

12.30.09 TWENTYTEN

I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but here goes, my predictions for 2010. Some are educated guesses, some are wistful thinking, some are a combo of the two:

A major concert club in the area will close down; two more will open. And that’s not including the new Club Helsinki in Hudson, which is gonna rock your plimsoul, whatever the hell a plimsoul is.

The US trade envoy will announce the signing of a sweeping international intellectual trade agreement that is horrendously biased towards Big Media, and puts the screws to both developing nations and personal privacy. A major populist movement will result in Congress nuking the whole thing, despite a strong push for passage by the Obama administration.

At least two and as many as five local musical acts will break out and have stunning international success; major music blogs and magazines will take notice of the Albany scene, with major articles about just how freakin’ cool things are in Albany and Troy; this will result in even more local musicians being positioned to break in 2011. 2010 will be seen as the golden age of local music.

With pushes from federal, state and local governments, broadband internet will become near-universal and free municipal wifi will spread like wildfire in every city in the region.

CD sales will go from plummeting to crashing; several major chain stores will stop selling CDs entirely. Sales of digital downloads will stay flat.

Facebook will not start charging users $4.99 a month for crying out loud. That’s just silly.

There will be a new generation of eBook readers that are markedly better than the good ones that came out last year. The price point for them will drop to around $100, and you’ll be able to get one free if you commit to buying two books a month. And you will.

MySpace will unveil a new look, will a new backbone, better interfaces, the whole shebang. In the transition, lots of people’s stuff will get dumped and lost, and everyone will be all P.O.’d for a couple of weeks. Then people will come back and MySpace will be bigger and better than ever.

If the above MySpace thingee doesn’t happen, a new music / social networking player will emerge that will blow MySpace out of the water.

Talent competitions will become a permanent staple of the local entertainment scene. And they’ll be really good. In a related development, karaoke will see a huge resurgence in the local club scene, driven by hipster parties at bowling alleys. Really. Open mic nights will continue to grow.

iPhone users will be offered unlimited streaming of the entire iTunes library; every other cellular provider will scramble to catch up. Spotify will launch into an alliance with a major cellular carrier or ISP, and will immediately grab major market share, even for iPhone users. All of this will contribute to the Apple / AT&T marriage going south.

Vinyl record and turntable sales will continue to grow, and at an increasing rate.

Online bootlegging of music will grow as a result of major bands signing exclusive distribution deals with various retailers and subscription services. People will revolt, get the music any way they can, and the whole exclusive deal thing will fade as a result.

A major new outdoor music festival player will emerge in the area, with a couple of weekend-long summer shows that will amaze you.

Aided by new legislation and cheap technology, low-power community radio will explode, and you’ll have a couple of new local radio stations that will offer you the opportunity to go on the air. You’ll dig it.

There will be a major court ruling that all but negates the fair use doctrine of copyright law; artists will revolt and great new appropriation art will be produced in protest that will be some of the most compelling and popular works we’ve seen in decades. Congress will hold hearings that won’t be dominated by industry players.

Shepard Fairey will fade into obscurity.

Newspapers will continue to shrink and fail, their attempts to charge people for online access and to block aggregators (like Google) will go down in flames but fast. Scrappy new independent local online news companies that post photos, text and videos continuously will become the dominant new force in local news reporting, and will drain the remaining ad revenue from traditional outlets.

More major music artists will break from major labels and decide go it alone. Several huge classic rock bands will successfully reclaim the copyrights to their late 70’s recordings, and the labels’ attempts to block this in the courts will fail. As a result, the majors will stop looking so major.

More music will be created, recorded, released, and enjoyed in 2010 than in any year in human history.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

12.17.09 WHAT PRIVACY?

This article originally appears in the 12.17.09 issue of Metroland.

Our friends at Facebook re-jiggered the individual privacy settings that most of us FB addicts are only vaguely aware of, and have never bothered to look at. It’s time to look now, and if you have kids, for god’s sake make them look, too. As a general matter, the changes are a good thing—you can customize who can see what parts of your Facebook world, with a dozen or so categories of information (posts, profile, messages, etc.) and varying levels of access and privacy (from nobody to everybody).

When this was announced last week, a problem I found was that the new default settings placed on my account allowed some of my stuff to be visible to the entire world, where it all can be indexed and viewable with a simple Google search. Previously, anything I put on Facebook was accessible only by my “friends”, those lucky people that I allow into my magic kingdom. Now, this change really annoyed me, because I don’t necessarily want the whole freakin’ world to see the often extemporaneous nonsense I post on Facebook. I quickly went in and changed all the default settings to “friends only”.

Then I thought, holy cripes --- kids! All of a sudden all these kids, millions and millions of them, have all their FB stuff viewable by everybody? That’s insane.

There’ve been volumes written about kids and the internet, about how social networking sites are playgrounds for predators and perverts, how kids don’t appreciate that fact that internet posts last forever, etc. etc. Some of what I’ve read is shrill and hysterical, but the fact remains that kids need to be careful with what they put and who they talk to on the internet. Because stuff can and does get weird out there. And parents are the ones to tell them.

I read that Facebook tweaked its new privacy settings system a couple of times after the initial change, but having already played around with my settings, I don’t know what those changes consisted of. Maybe they fixed the problem. But regardless, if you have a kid, chances are your kid is on Facebook, and even if little Buster or Cupcake refuse to “friend” you (and can you blame them?) you need to at least have one of those “little talks” with he or she about privacy settings. At the very least, your kid can figure it all out and then explain what the hell’s going on with Facebook to you. It’ll be a bonding thing.

Moving on! Over the past year, we’ve noted that the way we consume music is changing rapidly. CD’s are ceding quickly to digital downloads, and a lot of smart money is riding on the popularity of downloads fading in the very near future, giving way to “cloud” based streaming services, where vast libraries of music will be available by subscription, where you can simply dial up your playlist and listen via an “always-on” wireless connection.

Now, the issues standing in the way of this include the need for ubiquitous wireless services (out here in the Berkshires, we’re a long, long way from that), devices that can handle streaming (hello, smartphones), price-points (Is $5 per month too much? Is $14 per month too little?), and consumer acceptance (kids don’t seem to care, but my fetishistic generation likes to own things).

So far, there’s only been a little rustling of activity on this front in the US. Rhapsody offers a streaming service that is worshipped by people who use it, but has yet to gain real serious commercial traction. Pandora, which chooses music for you based on your tastes, also has its rabid devotees. MOG just unrolled a service with a $5 a month tier and is definitely a contender. And everybody is waiting with bated breath for Spotify, which is insanely popular in the UK and Europe, to clear a couple of licensing hurdles and arrive here.

So it was significant, but not at all surprising, that Apple announced last week that it had bought LaLa, a lesser but highly respected player in the music streaming space. You know what this means.

Apple already has by far the biggest, most frequented digital music store. Apple also has by far the most popular smartphone. And neither of these things had much to do with what has for years been Apple’s core business (oops, inadvertent pun), making computers. But the company has this ability to enter a commercial arena and immediately dominate it.

And they’re going to do it again. Sometime in 2010, and probably sooner rather than later, Apple will roll out a new feature within the iTunes environment that will incorporate the LaLa technology, and will provide a seamless, effortless and satisfying streaming listening experience.

And nothing will be the same after that.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


This article originally appeared in the 12.3.09 issue of Metroland.

Like it was any secret, the extreme far right, increasingly known simply as the Republican Party, showed its true un-American stripes again last week. While parading as the “law and order” party (“as opposed to what?” he asks rhetorically), Republicans have long been too willing to simply throw the “law” part out the window. Once again, the GOP has demonstrated that it is simply the “order” party, with that order coming at whatever cost to freedom, justice, the rule of law, and sanity.

To start, let’s accept that Republicans have essentially abdicated any pretense of participatory democracy or considered argument; instead they reflexably oppose anything, anything at all, proposed by Obama and the Democrats. This opposition typically takes the form of memes and talking points fed to elected Republican leaders through corporate-financed think-tank consultants and from the fertile, ratings-obsessed minds of folks like Rush Limbaugh and any number of people at Fox News. You’ve seen it on an almost daily basis during the past year.

So, it was not surprising, but still disappointing, when the faux-patriots attacked Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try a handful of alleged 9-11 conspirators in U.S. Federal Court in Manhattan. Not only did they attack Holder, they attacked, in the most blatant and ridiculous way, our system of justice.

These pathetic little white men squawked that the accused terrorists might be acquitted! They prattle on about “high-priced defense lawyers” and “juries” and “remember what happened with OJ”. In other words, the Republican Party is arguing that our court system is rigged, is a failure, and cannot be trusted with dispensing justice ever, and especially when the stakes are high. Ergo, when those stakes are high enough, we must trash any semblance of the rule of law or justice, and simply hang whomever comes along.

OK, I’m a little hyperbolic. Maybe just a little. But the fact remains that the Republican Party is more than willing to marginalize and demonize our entire judicial system, because, you know, we gotta make Obama look bad. Nothing else really matters.

The fact is that our criminal justice system has checks and balances, and that if law enforcement doesn’t do its job right, bad guys can sometimes go free. And the standards of whether law enforcement is doing its job right is an ever-evolving set of rules designed to balance personal liberty (also known as freedom) and public safety. For it to be otherwise would mean a totalitarian police state, which is apparently what the Republicans would prefer (with exception made, or course, for Christian white men with guns).

In a quote well known to every law school student, British jurist William Blackstone said “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Meaning, that if a criminal justice system in a civilized society should err, it should favor innocence. That the imprisonment (in Texas, add death) of one innocent person is so morally intolerable, so repugnant, that the price of insuring that it doesn’t happen is letting some bad guys go. And this isn’t some new wacky liberal concept. Blackstone made this statement in the 1700’s. Right around the time he coined the phrase “the pursuit of happiness.”

“Law and order” types have a real hard time embracing Blackstone’s statement. Actually so do a lot of people, including me. Ten? Yeow! I’ll give you maybe five. (For a mindbending exploration of what’s become known as “Blackstone’s Quotient” take a look at the paper “n Guilty Men” by Alexander Volokh, available at But most of us are in line with the general concept.

Now, I’m sure not advocating these demented fanatic terrorists (and I’m not aware there’s anybody out there who thinks these guys are not, in fact, really terrorists) be set free, or even to allow for a reasonable possibility for that to happen. What I am saying, and what Holder is saying, is that our system of criminal justice is capable of doling out proper justice transparently, under one set of rules for all. I’ll note that Holder expects that the prosecution will seek the death penalty, and will get it.

All this right-wing reflexive and ultimately undemocratic nonsense is frustrating and infuriating, especially since so many normal citizens buy into it, hook, line, and tea-bag. But again, not surprising. We live in a country that has elected George W. Bush twice in the last ten years and there’s no reason to think that Obama’s election suddenly transformed the nation into one teeming with intelligence, critical thought, historical perspective, and reason.

But we can continue to hope.