Wednesday, December 29, 2010

12.30.10 CRISWELL PREDICTS 2011!!!

This article originally appeared in the 12.30.10 issue of Metroland

OK, I have to admit I was actually pretty good with last year’s predictions, my first ever. You can look them up at if you’re so inclined. OK, some of the stuff hasn’t happened. Yet. In any event, I’m gonna try it again. Here’s what I think will be going down in 2011:

A bunch more Capital Region music artists will follow Phantogram and Sean Rowe and Sirsy and hit the national spotlight big-time; a national publication will observe that it’s odd that so much great music is coming out of an area that doesn’t seem to have much of an actual local music scene; hipsters with ironic facial hair and dubious musical talent will start moving here from Brooklyn to taste the local juju; the local scene will pick up a little, but not much.

Apple will sign on with Verizon for the iPhone, and then come out with a new cheaper iPhone with all sorts of new features, all geeky and user friendly and amazing, and after that the only people who don’t buy iPhones will be contrarian dead-enders who irrationally won’t ever buy an Apple product just to spite an ex-boy / girlfriend.

People, including a lot of those really stupid white-trash people, will continue to get sick of Sarah Palin; her TV show will be dumped from whatever crap cable channel it’s on; one of her kids will be popped for meth possession in Wasilla, and she’ll try to spin this into a positive on Fox News. And that won’t work.

A local daily newspaper will fold, and the rest of the local traditional media will go wiggy about the significance of this while the rest of us yawn.

One of the Rolling Stones will kick the bucket of (ahem) “natural causes”; sales of the band’s catalog will go through the roof, and the release of new “best-of” compilations and box sets and DVDs will happen WAY too quickly.

Albany will land on one of those dumb “best places to live” magazine lists, and great restaurants will be listed as a reason, and Burger Centric on Delaware Avenue will be name-checked.

One of our oldest major music venues will shut down for a while, claiming financial duress; another revitalized mid-sized concert venue will open.

Joe Bruno Stadium will be mercifully renamed. I’m cannot predict to what it will be renamed, but I pledge to shoot myself if it is renamed anything like “Tech Valley Field.”

People will start to realize that the privacy train left the station years ago and that between the government and corporations, everything they do is being watched. There will be calls for the government to “do something.” Government won’t do anything.

Justins will start booking jazz again, almost none of the people who promised they’d come back to see jazz if they did that actually show up, so Justins threatens to pull the plug again, and people start showing up!

Either Apple, or Google, or most likely both are gonna come out big with some sort of online music thingee after paying the major labels gazillions of dollars for the rights; small indy artists will be COMPLETELY left out of the equation; a wave of lawsuits will quickly follow as everybody screams anti-trust and collusion; Government won’t do anything.

Samson Contompasis will cut his hair off in a performance at the Marketplace Gallery. Well, maybe not.

MassMoca will stop presenting “work-in-progress” performances, instead advising artists to just finish the damn things first, then come put on your show;

Wikileaks will reveal stuff about financial institutions and health insurance companies so hideous that the Department of Justice will put a bunch of executives in jail; fascist Republicans will continue to scream for Julian Assange’s head, but he’ll be universally hailed as a hero by everybody else. The revelations will not only stifle Republican attempts to undo financial and health care reform, but will trigger calls for more aggressive regulation of the financial and health care industries.

The new American Idol will be a total epic fail.

EMPAC will present something so mind-boggling and brilliant everybody will want to see it; it’ll get written up internationally; the run will be extended; Troy will become, if only temporarily, the global avant-garde cultural destination it always should have been and all of the other art institutions in the area will get a nice bump as a result.

The FCC will start taking applications for low-power radio stations and a bunch of local institutions, grass-roots organizations, and religious groups will jump in with applications.

There will be some kind of catastrophic hacker-related event that will cast a pall on this whole cloud-computing thing all the kids are talking about; millions will lose their stuff, and millions more will run out and buy cheap desktop storage.

Sunday and Monday Night Football will replace Faith Hill and Hank Jr. with Gaga and Kanye.

November 11 will go down as the loudest day in history.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

12.16.10 POLLS

This article originally appeared in the 12.16.10 issue of Metroland.

Been wanting to go here for months.

We hear all kinds of sniping about Fox News, and to be sure there’s lots to complain about. The vast majority of what airs there is vile and biased nonsense, most of the current putative Republican candidates for president are on the Fox payroll, we know that Fox management actively controls what its people say (last week it was revealed that the term “public option” was banned during the run–up to the health care vote) and we know Fox News’ parent company gave piles of money to Republicans during the last election cycle. And that’s just the money we know about.

But really, the mainstream media is equally dangerous, pathetic, and, yes, a threat to democracy. It’s just a small matter of degree. From Julian Assange, to health care, to Sarah Palin, truth is now a relative thing. Typically, the MSM uncritically adopts the rhetoric of whoever provides it with information, often as a gesture to make sure the information keeps coming. When the information, accurate or not, arrives at the doorstep, there’s no need to do any real investigative journalism. That saves money! And ratings stay up, too: Julian Assange being labeled a rapist is good for ratings. Sarah Palin’s book signings are good for ratings. Death panels are good for ratings. And none of these things have anything to do with reality.

Take, for example, the MSM’s obsession with polls. Polls are golden. “The American people” think this, they think that. Pay attention to how much of the news you hear consists of the regurgitation of some poll findings, followed by an “analysis” by the “pollster” about what the findings mean. A healthy chunk of what is supposed to be “news” consists of nothing more than a report of what “the people” think the news is. Which is not what the news is. And reporting on polls is easy, risk-free and dirt cheap. And the more time the MSM talks about the polls, the less time there is to talk about actual, factual, real-world news.

Which results in a race to the ignorant bottom. Here’s an example. Over the summer a local reporter quoted a poll that said that something like 68% of New Yorkers favored holding a state constitutional convention. I was driving when I heard this, and almost went off the road into a tree. Really? A constitutional convention? Maybe first we should ask how many New Yorkers even know that New York has a state constitution? And then ask those who say yes (and I’m guessing this would be a small percentage), to describe one thing that’s in the state constitution that they would like to see changed. I guarantee you that the number of coherent responses would hover around zero. So, then, what does the “fact” that 68% of New Yorkers want a constitutional convention actually tell us? That people think New York State government somehow needs to change? We need a poll for that?

And as the news is dominated by talking about polls instead of news, we’ve become a nation of morons. Now, I know I’m on shaky ground by using poll data to dismiss poll data, but here we go anyway. When polls aren’t asking our opinions about complex policy issues we know nothing about, they are revealing that we’re quite stupid. One poll recently reported that a large majority of us didn’t know that Republicans just took over the House of Representatives. Another poll this fall showed a large majority of people in Louisiana didn’t know that their Senator, David Vittner, had been nailed in a scandal involving a prostitute. He won re-election shortly thereafter. A majority of Republicans think Obama is Muslim, and a quarter of them think he’s the Antichrist, for crying out loud! A few days after one poll announced that a majority of Americans approved of Elena Kagan joining the Supreme Court, another poll revealed that two-thirds of Americans could not name a single Supreme Court justice.

Polls have always been suspect, and for good reason. The science of polling is the science of manipulation and pre-determined outcomes. The results of a poll can be swayed by the wording of questions, the order of the questions, or the speech inflection of the person asking the questions. Last fall the Rasmussen campaign polls consistently showed a 10-15% bias towards Republican and conservative candidates. And this only became clear because it was a rare instance of lots of different pollsters wading into the same pool at the same time. And, as dumb as they are, polls are likely getting dumber. Polls generally focus on people with land-line phones. And urban, young, and educated folks are ditching landlines in favor of smartphones or VOIP phones in larger numbers than any other demographic. So they don’t count.

If the mainstream media is going to remain even a little relevant, it has to stop blaming the internet for its troubles and start reporting news instead of nonsense. I just called around to some of my friends and 70% of them agree.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


this article originally ran in the 12.2.10 issue of Metroland

Over the last couple weeks there’s been a proposed law bouncing around Congress named the Combatting Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) that would authorize the federal Department of Justice to block any website that was determined to be "primarily designed" and "has no demonstrable, commercially significant purpose or use other than" to promote copyright and trademark infringement.

My understanding is that the bill would allow the Feds to generate a blacklist of domain names and forbid your ISP from transmitting sites associated with that domain name to you. Mostly, this appears to be aimed at foreign sites that are now beyond the reach of U.S. law—operators of websites in the U.S. can and are simply be sued for infringement, so COICA’s not about homegrown sites. Rather, COICA would allow a block, basically at our borders, of websites that the Feds convince a court is dedicated to infringement. Note that the law doesn’t target the operators of foreign sites or even the content of the sites that are out of U.S. jurisdiction—it just allows U.S. users’ access to those sites to be blocked.

I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to this because I’ve been insanely busy with other stuff, and because the reports I’d been reading indicated that COICA wasn’t likely to get through our profoundly-dysfunctional-and-getting-worse Congress. Also, the whole thing was a little bit too geeky for me to easily get my brain around.

But it was irksome—the law would give the government sweeping powers that would change the landscape of the internet in the US. You know how we all click our tongues dismissively when we learn that some Asian country has blocked YouTube, or Facebook, or Google? That’s the arena we’d be getting into. Wholesale blocking of sites that the Feds convince some judge lacks a “demonstrable, commercially significant purpose.” I’ve seen those arguments used, here and recently, by Big Media trade associations, against the likes of YouTube and Google. Take this COICA law, add a Christianista / Tea Party executive branch and a bunch of Federalist Society judges and voila, you’ve got a sanitized internet. Just like in China. Look at the buffoons that are dominating public discourse these days. It can happen here.

Looked at another way, if you consider a web domain to be like a newspaper, a television station, or any other media outlet, then this law condones outright censorship, period.

And then last week COICA was passed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee, after the MPAA, the RIAA, Nike, Nintendo, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, unions, media, and everybody else in the business world landed on the members with a bunch of ginned-up statistics and horror stories. These fine American business interests also took special care to brand anyone opposing the bill, like civil libertarians and free speech advocates like Public Knowledge and a host of academics, as un-American coddlers of online thieves. So what Senators voted for the bill? Well, folks Jeff Sessions, Tom Coburn, and John Kyl. And folks like Al Franken, Dianne Feinstein, and Chuck Schumer.

Wha? Really? Still, most commentators were saying the bill would likely not get through the entire Senate and certainly wouldn’t make it through the House. So OK, maybe all these Senators were just quietly making sure that their corporate contributors were placated on a vote that ultimately was meaningless.

But Al Franken?

Anyway, on the heels of this vote came news late last week that the Department of Homeland Security had seized 80+ domains that were suspected of infringing activity. This caused a huge WTF all over the bloggosphere because nobody could figure out (1) how the hell DHS did it and (2) since they did it, why we needed this COICA law. Then there’s the persistent question we’ve talked about here before—just what the hell is Homeland Security doing chasing music file-sharers and handbag counterfeiters when there are people out there who really want to blow us up?

The dust hasn’t really settled yet, but so far this seems to be the story. DHS hired a private contractor to figure out a way to convince a judge to order the “seizure” of a bunch of domain names that pointed to a bunch of sites that appeared to have something to do with infringement. The sites that were seized were all .com and .net domains, and there was jurisdiction because the company that oversees .com and .net sites, Verisign, is a U.S. company. Verisign chose not to fight the court orders. Adios, domains! Many of the foreign companies that lost domains have already adopted .info sites and have continued operating, apparently out of the jurisdiction of the court order.

Questions remain, though, because some of the sites, particularly a couple music sites, don’t appear to be directly or primarily involved with infringement. In fact, two of them, the hip-hop blogs RapGodFathers and Onsmash, regularly post tracks and mix-tapes at the request of artists and labels. I’m guessing DHS didn’t tell the judge about this.

But the bottom line is that government is helping business by restricting speech. Where I come from, that’s a hallmark of fascism.