Monday, February 28, 2011

The Oscars Got It Right: "The King's Speech" Towers Over "The Social Network"


With the Oscars upon us, I thought I'd do a review of a film that many people thought would capture the Best Picture award, The Social Network.

I simply don't understand the hype about this film and I can't comprehend how it could be considered one of the year's best.

In a nutshell, The Social Network about a bunch of privileged, pampered Harvard kids who are ruthless and who crush anyone who gets their way. Along the way, they create a company that exists solely to collect as much personal data as it can get its grubby hands on---and then turn around and sell that data off to the highest corporate bidder.

For this, Facebook gets praised as a era-defining phenomenon that is supposedly out to invent a wonderful new online world by creating this vast social network.

To which I say: hogwash. The World Wide Web itself is actually the real great social network. In the end, Facebook really adds nothing to the online experience. Some might argue that a Facebook page is easier to set up than a Web site. But this is false. Anyone can easily set up a Web site for free, with only a few clicks these days---and in doing so, you have freedom from the grubby clutches of Facebook.

The problem with Facebook is that it goes against the open nature of the Web that made the latter so successful. Facebook rejects being a part of the Web. Indeed, it wants to replace the Web. Facebook stakes its claim in an isolated community that's hermetically sealed off from the Web. Facebook basically wants to control everything (including all your personal data). And not for lofty idealistic reasons, but simply to rake in billions of dollars.

The Social Network is idealizing and over-hyping a company that has been basically extremely overrated by the gullible mainstream media. Even revenue-wise, I'd say Facebook is overrated---I'm not at all convinced that its multi-billion dollar valuations are going to stand the test of time (any more than companies that had ridiculous valuations during the 2001 Dot Com meltdown). And even as a work of fiction, The Social Network utterly fails.

Maybe it's just me, but I simply can't get into a film that has no appealing characters. Nobody in this film has a heart. Nobody seems to care about anyone else but themselves. I couldn't really relate to anyone in the movie. They're all a bunch of privileged, elitist kids who believe they are geniuses who tower over the rest of us. In reality, the only way they're "superior" to the rest of us is that they have bigger trust funds (or trust funds at all, for that matter).

Maybe some people enjoy two hours of watching egotistical jerks, scheming about how they're going to control our online lives (and sell our personal data off to the highest bidder). But the characters left me ice cold, as did the story.

Incidentally, I know a thing or two about creating successful Web properties myself. I'm a Dot Com entrepreneur who has built a number of popular Web sites. And for me, The Social Network simply didn't ring true in depicting the grueling, hard work that it takes to build a popular Web site.

For one thing, no one in this film ever seems to break a sweat. Success for the characters seems to come effortlessly. The film does a poor job of depicting the brutal, marathon, 20-hour days that one must put in to build a popular Web site. When I built my sites, I didn't spend loads of time (as the characters in this movie do) at fancy bars and nightclubs, sipping $20 martinis. The reality is a lot less glamorous.

In truth, to find success on the Web, you must spend endless hours hunched over a computer monitor, doing tedious, often repetitive work, trying to find the spark that will make your site a success. (Oh, and unlike the privileged, pampered site creators in this movie, most popular Web site builders, including myself, also worked at full-time day jobs as we built our Web sites). Life wasn't an endless series of parties, as it appears to be for the characters in this film.

For me, The Social Network simply didn't ring true. It's an overrated film about an overrated company.

Personally, I'm glad that The King's Speech took Best Picture over The Social Network. I'm not an Anglophile (and I haven't been since Tony Blair sucked up to George W. Bush) and I really don't give a f*ck about the British monarchy. But The King's Speech at least had real, flawed, human, flesh-and-blood characters with a heart (unlike the sterile, narcissistic people who populate The Social Network).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sarah Palin Reveals Hypocrisy In Wisconsin Union Debate


Perhaps it was inevitable, but Sarah Palin has finally waded into the Wisconsin union controversy. But her comments have only revealed her ignorance and hypocrisy on the union debate.

As she has constantly pointed out, Palin's family has long had union connections. Her husband, Todd, was a long-time United Steelworkers union member, enjoying a nice salary and generous union benefits. (For example, Todd Palin earned $102,716 in 2006, working for BP, as a union member).

Clearly, the Palin family has long enjoyed the benefits of union membership. But instead of doing anything to help unions in return, all Palin has done is try to exploit her family's union ties in an effort to boost her political standing with union members.

In short, Palin has cynically used organized labor as nothing more than a prop (just as George W. Bush often used the military as a prop, in publicity photos, to further his own career).

On Friday, Palin waded into the Wisconsin union debate, with a typically ignorant and ill-informed Facebook post. In her post, Palin managed to simultaneously try to polish her labor credentials, even as she blasted the Wisconsin public employee union and urged its members to break away from their leadership.

In other words, while sucking up to the union members (even repeatedly addressing them as "brothers and sisters") Palin secretly pulled out a knife and stuck it in the back of the union workers. She must think these people are really stupid.

Union members must "sacrifice and carry our share of the burden," Palin wrote.

Ho, hum.

Palin is nothing is not predictable in her comments. And she's also dishonest. Her buddies like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would never address union members as "brothers and sisters." At least Limbaugh and Hannity are being honest in their open contempt for organized labor.

Palin tries to have it both ways. Her husband enjoyed a nice, well-paid union job. She then uses this fact to try to bolster her cred with union members. And then, at the same time, she embraces the extreme far-right policies of today's GOP: a party that has a pathological hatred of unions and seeks to abolish them completely.

In 2008, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard got so sick of Palin's hypocrisy on unions that he blasted her "worker-savaging positions" in a statement and called upon her to stop using her husband's union membership as a "prop."

Indeed, Palin's 2008 running mate, John McCain, has had a long history of extreme hostility toward unions. In 2007, he voted against the Employee Free Choice Act, for example. In 1994, he also voted against a bill protecting discrimination against workers who go on strike.

But for all her professed love of her union "brothers and sisters," Palin apparently believes they're so stupid that they'd support a fire-breathing, far-right extremist like her.

And it's easy for Palin to ask that the Wisconsin union members accept "sacrifices" and tighten their belts. After all, this is a woman who has made an enormous fortune since she quit as Alaska's governor. In a mere 9 months after she quit, Palin raked in an incredible $12 million.

Yet she insists that the Wisconsin union members need to "sacrifice."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Music To Resist Union Bashing: "Fight the Power"



These days, the GOP is finally implementing the agenda that they've planned all along: to completely and totally crush organized labor in the U.S. They won't be satisfied until they've abolished every union in the country once and for all. It's all-out war on the working class.

I'm not sure that Public Enemy's classic, "Fight the Power" has anything to do with unions or organizing. But I do know that it's an extraordinarily angry (but understandably so) anthem from the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, recorded before that genre turned into a apathetic, predictable celebration of all things "bling-bling" and narcissism. It's a call to street action: which is precisely what we need now. Facebook petitions will only get you so far.

Back in the day, Public Enemy's righteous angry raps took on the Powers That Be, which made the band dangerous in a way that corporate sell-outs like Eminem can only dream of.

"Fight the Power," featured here with the brilliant opening credits to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, kicked off one of the best films of the 1980s.

With the GOP cracking down on the working class, it's now time to get angry. Unless we all take to the streets and Fight The Power, we will eventually have no rights at all (except the right to starve to death as the economic serfs of fascist corporate America).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wisconsin Workers, Remember: "There Is Power In A Union"



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

As the workers in Wisconsin stand up for their rights, I thought I'd serve up some classic labor music that has inspired me over the years. Although many of us can't be in Wisconsin at the moment, we're definitely with the workers there (and everywhere) in spirit.

In 1986, Britain's Billy Bragg served up his take on the traditional worker's anthem in this track from his classic album, Talking with the Taxman About Poetry.

I saw Bragg in concert back in 1986 at a small club on Greenville Avenue in Dallas. It was a no-frills show: just one man and his guitar--but Bragg held the audience spellbound. It was a welcome tonic for us workers back during the dark, gloomy days of the Reagan era.

There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand
There is power in a union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers' blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
War has always been the bosses' way, sir

The union forever, defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and out sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a union

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who'll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a union

The union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and out sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a union.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thom Hartmann Smacks Down NeoCon On Wisconsin Union Busting



The normally mild-mannered Thom Hartmann finally got enraged when NeoCon Seton Motley spewed one wingnut lie about labor unions too many on his "The Big Picture" TV program yesterday.

The two were discussing Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's war on state workers when Motley started spouting endless, predictable NeoCon bullshit about how public sector unions are basically evil and should be abolished.

Even a cool, rational figure like Hartmann, though, has his limits of tolerance and he finally called out Motley for his lies. When the latter continued to spew his wingnut venom, Hartmann showed a rare (for him) flash of anger. Although he lost his cool, Hartmann didn't lose his head and he proceeded to completely demolish every lie that Motley spewed out.

"I'm not going to let you get away with these lies!" Hartmann said. (I hope the "liberal" corporate MSM was taking notes on how to counter blatant Conservative propaganda).

One thing I've long admired about Hartmann is that he is always well-informed and he always has a ready comeback, with a heavy dose of the facts, to any NeoCon who is simply making up bullshit.

At one point, Motley claimed that unions were forcing themselves on the American people. "People don't want to unionize!" he claimed.

To this sheer nonsense, Hartmann had a ready reply: "More than 60 percent of Americans say they would join a union if they could."

To which Motley could only meekly (and falsely) reply: "That's a lame poll."

Yeah, right, whatever.

I myself have personally been intimidated and threatened by employers for simply talking about unions (even though it was on my own time and it wasn't on company property). I personally know of many other people who were threatened and even fired for simply talking about organizing. Yes, there are supposedly labor laws on the books that prohibit this sort of thing, but since the Reagan era, such laws have been rarely enforced.

The bottom line is: the capitalist bosses will do anything (even kill) to prevent American workers from joining unions.

I applaud the union workers in Wisconsin and I wish them well. However, I think they should be aware that Walker's threat to use the National Guard is no empty threat. Indeed, when I think of previous labor clashes in our nation's history (like the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, in which 19 people were killed by the Colorado National Guard), it makes me worried.

Hartmann's "The Big Picture" TV show airs live Monday through Friday at 9:00 p.m. EST with a repeat broadcast at 2:00 a.m. EST on FSTV DISH Network channel 9415, DIRECTV channel 348.
Additional program info is here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Progressive Music Classics. Mark Stewart's "As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade"



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

When I try to think of music that perfectly captures the horror of what it was like to live in America during the era of George W. Bush, this song would probably be at the top of the list. Amazingly, this song dates back a quarter of a century---and yet it could have easily been written specifically about the Bush years.

Reading about the Grammy Awards tonight, it occurred to me that Britain's Mark Stewart will never, ever receive a Grammy or be voted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. (In fact, he's always had great difficulties even getting his records released in the U.S.). And yet for my money, Stewart's music is far more brilliant than any artist who will win a Grammy this year. (He's also infinitely more subversive than any corporate whore like Lady Gaga, with her contrived "controversies," could ever be).

Unlike the disposable Top 40 mediocrities, whose boring music clogs up the airwaves, artists like Stewart have followed their muse and never tailored their music for the radio. Unlike the Top 40 cowardly artists (whose only goal is to sell loads of records) Stewart appears to have a mission: that is, to rip the wool from our eyes and reveal the greedy, soul-less corporate monsters that really control all the levers of power in our "democracy."

If you're looking for a catchy melody, an uplifting lyric, or a groove to get lost in, Stewart's music is definitely not for you. However, if you enjoy uncompromising art and music that has a real message, Stewart is definitely worth a listen.

I first became aware of Stewart via his brilliant post-punk band, The Pop Group, which had a short career in the late 1970s and early 80s (and who recently reformed to play gigs in Europe). When The Pop Group originally folded, Stewart began a solo career, in which he often collaborated with the stunningly brilliant U.K. producer and master of experimental dub, Adrian Sherwood.

Working with backing musicians from early hip-hop artists the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash, Stewart created his nightmarish sonic textures. Although he was specifically addressing the evils of Thatcher's Britain, he very well could have been describing Bush's America. Indeed, passages of this song seem to eerily describe the Orwellian Patriot Act, as well as the GOP's ongoing war against organized labor.

Radical music like this never wins Grammys. And I'm sure that's exactly just the way Stewart likes it.

"The military police, act as a private army,
with the bosses.
To break the back of organized labour
to get this cheap, strike-free workforce."

These are lyrics you've never going to hear from the likes of fucking Lady Gaga, or Britney Spears, or Justin Bieber, or any of the other mediocrities crossing the stage to pick up their awards at the corporate whore-fest known as the Grammy Awards.

Rumsfeld Jumps The Shark in Bizarre FT Interview


In his weekend "Lunch With the FT" interview with Britain's Financial Times
newspaper, Donald Rumsfeld, was stubbornly defensive, as always, about his actions as Defense Secretary in the administration of George W. Bush.

He also jumped the shark in his surreal, bizarre justification for the disastrous Iraq War.

In the interview, one of the ways Rumsfeld defends the invasion of Iraq was by noting the "godawful prisons" that existed under Saddam Hussein.

It appears that Rumsfeld is a man without a sense of irony. Or shame.

This, after all, is a man who was the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal.

In fact, in November 2006, the prison's former commander, U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, said that Rumsfeld knew about, and was responsible for, what happened at Abu Ghraib.

In a written statement, Karpinski said:

"It was clear the knowledge and responsibility (for what happened at Abu Ghraib) goes all the way to the top of the chain of command to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."

Rumsfeld, like Bush, still fiercely defends anything and everything that occurred on his watch. Anyone looking for Robert McNamara-style regrets over the Iraq War fiasco will be disappointed with Rumsfeld's stubbornly unrepentant approach.