Friday, April 27, 2007

Fort It

OK, so Blogger has come down with this hideous bug that prevents me from editing my past posts. Which is a shame, because my MO usually involves chucking the stuff up, and then editing it as soon as I realise how non-sequitur- and typo-ridden the whole is. Posting, though, is unaffected, so follows a short slide show of Las Vegas happy snaps.

The pictures of the Strip are pretty standard - cliched shots badly taken at night. More fun, though, are the pictures I took of the Old Mormon Fort a few blocks north of downtown Las Vegas. In this area are most of the city's cultural institutions (libraries, museums, sports centres), as well as most of its homeless population. I like to think that this is a coincidence.

The Fort is in fact the oldest structure in the city, erected by the Mormons in 1855, partially dismantled, and then rebuilt in the 1970s by the city's newly confident worthies. Which is to say, like much else in Vegas it's a little bit artificial, although there is apparently a shed on the site that has been up continuously.

What was most interesting about the attached museum was the evidence that the Mormons, normally so good at making a life in the most inhospitable climates, failed to create a permanent settlement in Vegas. There are a few reasons for this, including the poor soil, for which the trickle of a stream through the area cannot compensate, as well as the location. Vegas did not assume the importance it gained as a stopover to LA until much later.

But they certainly gave it the college try, building walls, a shed, and a garden, before giving up two years later, and letting the property pass in to the hands of the founding fathers of Vegas. Probably kicking themselves about the lost real estate opportunities, but then we can't all be as astute as the Jehovah's Witnesses, can we?

Anyway, a pretty nicely laid-out reminder that it wasn't all cowboys and indians rolling around in the wilderness, and that Mormons have serious cojones, their somewhat strange eschatology notwithstanding.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cripes It's The Rozzer Convention

No idea why the cops had decided to park all their wheels in one convenient location this evening. As far as I could tell there were no protests going on. The only explanations I can think of are that they felt the cars were getting lonely. Either that, or they wanted to see if their police lights could, if synchronised, give all the skateboarders seizures. Either way, very admirable.

Row Of Police Cars With Flashing Lights

Large Kop Klatch On Union Square

But peculiar, since, as we all know, the real crimes were going on this afternoon on Pacific Street, where Bruce Ratner has decided to rain down rubble onto pedestrian areas as part of his bid to convince us that the area where he wants to build luxury condos is a blighted sh1theap.

That's right, as part of Ratner's cunning strategy to accelerate the pace of demolition, we don't just get to watch him dismantle a historic bakery. No, that would be too pedestrian. Who, for instance, apart from Jonathan Lethem, mourned the Underberg building? This mini-collapse took place in front of the cameras and turfed the already royally sh@t-upon residents onto the street.

We're left with two theories. Either the man's political antennae tell him that the more carnage he inflicts on Brownstone Brooklyn, the quicker they'll let him finish his boondoggle, or he shouldn't be let near a back-hoe. Probably both.

Ahem. Grown-Up Post Alert

In between bashing out little nuggets of day job wisdom, I managed to take in the front page of the Financial Times. Placed rather prominently on the front page is a story, by Fiona Harvey, entitled "Industry caught in carbon smokescreen". It's a necessary corrective to some of the hype surrounding carbon finance.

But it's slightly muddy. I think it's important to separate the voluntary consumer compliance market, which is the victim of a bewilderingly diverse set of standards and schemes, and the compulsory corporate compliance market, which has a fairly clear set of rules and mechanism.

To be fair, Harvey's page 4 article does go into some of the differences between the two markets. The voluntary market allows consumers and businesses to offset the emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases that they create in the course of their lives and businesses. They can buy these from brokers, who in turn hunt down projects that they believe will reduce or offset greenhouse gas emissions.

The compulsory market is a product of the Kyoto climate change treaty, which commits signatories to specified greenhouse gas reductions. The government of each country allocates acceptable emissions reduction targets to the big polluters, and these then either have to meet them, or buy offsets. These offsets have to be produced at qualifying, and fairly stringently monitored, projects in the developing world.

The voluntary market, on the other hand, consists of declaring oneself carbon neutral, and then going out and buying offsets from whoever seems most reliable to you at the time. Real human beings can do this too, especially if you are worried about your own carbon footprint (mine is pretty good, apart from my habit of going to stupid conferences, and burning the old jet fuel doing so). All you have to do is hand over money to someone who says he will spent it on carbon offsets. Feel better? I hope so.

So should the government step in and regulate the process of verifying these offsets? Protect us from the Or should it just tax carbon emissions? The FT says "markets are bound to be more complicated than taxes," lest we forget they've been Labour supporters for a while. But to recap, this is suggesting that a carbon tax makes sense because the small-scale offsets is not working.

The large-scale compulsory market is broadly working, and would be working better if emissions caps had not been set at an absurdly low level and prices of compliance credits hadn't plummeted. The only people cheering in this market are brokers that managed to persuade buyers to sign fixed-price contracts at high prices, or buyers that held on till the last moment.

Felix Salmon notes that the cap-and-trade system, even with the emissions rights auctioned rather allocated, is a little different in operation to a carbon tax. He notes, entirely sensibly, that a carbon tax would not automatically cut emissions, which, rather than maximising government revenue, is the whole point of the exercise.

But there's no reason why a carbon tax could not be set at levels that change behaviour, although it would be incumbent on politicians not to spare electricity consumers and drivers from the pain of this. Which they probably won't do. A cap and trade system, as Felix noted earlier, does not command a huge amount of support in the US, and a straightforward set of bans on emissions technologies would more likely pass.

But, rather like a voluntary personal carbon compliance market, it doesn't really get the consumer to confront the costs involved with climate change, which is also probably the way to galvanise mass movement on climate change.

So after all that wittering, where do I stand. With the taxes, if only because I really don't like the weird mixture of greed and sanctimony that animates the carbon brokers.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Someone Always Loved You Boris Yeltsin

It looks like top Missouri power popsters Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin will need a new name. Not that this should be the automatic reaction to the news that a titan of post-Soviet politics has passed away, but I couldn't drag my Novocaine-soaked brain into a higher gear right now if my life depended on it. Suffice it to say that the trainwreck president's legacy, one V. Putin, is sufficiently nasty that being used as a feeble way of propping midwestern indie rockers is the least of his historiographical worries.

Yes, I've been away. Yes, sometimes I had internet (Here, but not here. Hell, no). No, I didn't have the energy to post. And no, to my eternal chagrin, I did not make it to the Sugarzine event. Mrs. Cutesome doesn't do Queens, and I have an entire fake online life to maintain separately.

Anyhoo, what I did do once in the last week was get full-bore into Mormon culture. The results later on this week.

[I'm telling you, I beat Idolator to the punch by several minutes. But they have a link to TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN Wu Tang downloads, so they win]

Friday, April 13, 2007

Please Make The Horrid NyLon Stop

I found myself drawn increasingly into both work, and the search for somewhere new to work, this week. It's a shame because I've been tootling around in my head this post about how the differences between LDN Is A Victim and "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" by LCD Soundsystem tell the listener everything they need to know about which city is best.

In the intervening period I suspect someone else has made the same connection, that's if they weren't distracted by the Libertines reunion. For what it's worth, one big difference between NY and London is that Pete Doherty would not get the time of day in the NY tabs, even were he to be dating Kate Moss and ever likely to get a visa.

Anyhoo, if you think that Americans are lacking a sense of humour, listen to the LCD song. It's whimsical, fond, understated, everything that the scattershot sarcasm if LDN... isn't. I was surprised that mocking people that hang out in Shoreditch is still considered current. But then I'm biased.

Have a good weekend. By the time I return, maybe I shall have an apartment.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Prospect Post

I lived at 288 Prospect Place for a year a while back, and while most of my life revolved around the trek west to bars and subways and so forth, it would not be uncommon for me to head East to Underhill Avenue, rather than West to Vanderbilt Avenue, where the supermarket, bar and high-end Osteria were. One reason I did not go east more often was that the bodega on the corner was utterly balls, with a 50/50 chance of having milk on a good day. Better, usually, to walk an extra block down Vanderbilt than risk one's coffee getting even colder.

But I never noticed that the bodega was a peculiar shape, and behind it a town house is facing in a funny direction. Fortunately, someone else did, and has put together a deliriously fun post on the subject. By "deliriously fun", I mean, "deliriously fun to those of us that obsess about forgotten corners of Brooklyn."

The only thing I'll pull up, and that only to pre-empt No Land Grab's Lumi, is that the author seems to have accepted the developers of the Atlantic Yards project's renaming of the Vanderbilt rail yards, although he acknowledges that there is a difference of opinion here, and that the name has changed.

Don Imus? Me, Neither

Ah, the phenomenon that we call Don Imus. You may need some introduction to this gentleman, should you be younger than 40, or foreign. Don Imus has a VERY rugged face, wears a cowboy hat, and is almost incomprehensible.

This is odd, because the man has a syndicated radio show that airs on New York's WFAN, and is simultaneously broadcast on cable's MSNBC, because it beats the hell out of trying to build a breakfast show from scratch. He's this mumbling, growling, southwestern guy that poses, with an astonishing degree of success, as some kind of centrist truth-teller.

I'm not sure why this would be the case, except for possibly this lingering assumption that anyone out of step with the conventional liberal norms of New York, even if they are spewing hateful garbage, must be a centrist. For a while, as Steve Gilliard points out [side note, please get well soon, Mr. Gilliard], Imus was the place to be for right-wing Democrats such as Joe Lieberman to go and sound reasonable, and there is a case to be made for democrats to start courting crotchety white southwesterners.

But not this one, Jeez. Read more here and here. Anyone who's surprised that the man turns to have a penchant for hurling slurs at African-American women has not followed the paper trail.

So, if you were hoping for some kind of "Gari explains bizarre American predilections" post, forget it. the man mystifies me. Howard Stern, at least is funny, and reasonably Catholic in his abuse. Imus, is some weird mumbling cracker that landed a major media gig by ordering pizzas as a joke.

[UPDATE: Ah, the Times' David Carr has a better stab at explaining the man's appeal. Something to do with the need to sell books, and Imus' ability to keep the race-baiting and politician-pimping bits of his show separate.]

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Economical With The Realite

A weird new breed of right-wing spam has started cropping up in my inbox. Unfortunately since my work email is pretty widely dispersed I get relatively little of the "we have an OEM solution to get you to pleasure her fast" spam, and huge volumes of stuff from lazy PR firms and think-tanks with an inflated view of their own output. The latest comes from an outfit calling itself International Media Intelligence Analysis (IMIA).

It's hardly what you would call established, although it has a list of expert sources that has seemingly strong roots in academia. But what it seems to be is a pressure group angling for mad aggression against Iran. I'm fairly certain that it was sending me spam before the recent crisis over the kidnapped British sailors, but I hadn't bothered to read it for today, because the volume of author Mr. Simon Barrett's spam has increased impressively over recent days. But this hostage crisis has been his finest hour, of a rather short collection to date.

[Quick aside here. It is obviously unpleasant to watch the British sailors appearing on TV like puppets of the rather weird theocracy in Iran. But I find it hard to get too upset about their "confessions". I really do hope that there's something in the torture resistance manual that the Navy uses that says "look, providing you don't get anyone killed or divulge secret information, say whatever the nutter in the cheap suit wants you to say."]

Here's the first line from today's release:

"By committing an act of war, Iran has simultaneously made itself look peaceful and made the West look impotent."

Nothing too crazy here, although impotent is a rather strange word to describe the outcome, which included all sorts of maneuvers in the UN Security Council and a suspect-looking move on Iranian consular officials in Basra. Certainly, we didn't bomb anyone, but I'm reasonably sure that at this point Barrett isn't - quite - demanding this.

Moving on, the author delves into some "Media Analysis":

"The latest looney-tune story from the left was spun by Patrick Cockburn, an intrepid reporter for London’s Independent newspaper."

Oh dear, everything from the tone to the target suggests that we have a very cosmopolitan, slightly urbane European branch of the right-wing neo-conservative noise machine. Reminds me a bit of "Taki's Top Drawer", this arbitrary collection of right wing rants that used to appear at the front of the NY Press. Now, I'm a bit of a hairy liberal myself, so please assume I'm not an impartial observer, but I still find conservatives to be enormously entertaining and frequently affable.

They're also damn good at giving each-other's take media outlets mad props:

The announcement Wednesday by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that his government would release the 15 captured British sailors and marines came after an intense and often bitter internal debate, sources in Tehran told NewsMax.

Yes, that NewsMax. Very few props back, yet, aside from this one and this one.

Wish I could find more on this Barrett gentleman, but his name is not uncommon, and the veracity of the following bio falls down due to some strangely false notes:

Barrett is a former Advisor to the Conservatives Frontbench Spokesman for Homeland Security on issues relating to Islamic Terrorism and Iran.

Not sure why a UK political party would have a Homeland Security spokesman, since the only country to have adopted this weird, Heinlein-esque term to describe the Home Office is the US. The lack of a useful apostrophe is also troubling in a media criticism website.

Sorry, I could have just clicked unsubscribe, but the vent was irresistible.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Sage Advice From Harold Macmillan

There are many ways that my Sugarzine columns can look stupid. There's the lack of care in writing, the lack of care in typing, and the rather pedestrian subject matter. But it is rare for my columns to be derailed by EVENTS.

But this happened yesterday. I had submitted a relatively sparky little article to Sugarzine regarding my experiences with eMusic a week or so back. I didn't mind eMusic at all, but I fetishise physical CDs, and eMusic doesn't get quite a few indie bands quickly enough to encourage me to go digital.

But I certainly hate this digital rights management business, because I have absolutely no idea what the rights holder will want to do with the music I bought a few years down the line, or whether the rights holder will still be around. CDs, on the other hand, tend to be futureproof and pretty.

So what does the dear old CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, do yesterday, but reach an agreement to sell of EMI's catalogue on iTunes free of any restriction whatsoever, and at a very small premium to the current protected stuff one will find on iTunes. It doesn't invalidate all of what I've written, yet, and I have yet to find any indication that labels other than EMI will be able to sell their music on iTunes without restriction. But it does mean that eMusic is VERY close to being squished by iTunes.

And for this lurch by some of the article into irrelevance I'm sorry. You can, in any case, read it here, now with added hyperlinks.

I was also about to say that, actually, it's rare for any music journalism to be derailed by events. But then, during the course of writing this post, my plans for next month's column in Sugarzine were derailed by news that the putative subjects are splitting up. Nice.