Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mainstream Music Industry Sells Sex, Not Music

The gym I attend, like most urban fitness centres, considers it necessary to serve up continuous pop music to go with your exercise.  It is piped to screens and speakers all around the gym via a satellite TV music channel at a volume that means it is impossible to escape, even with your own iPod.  The screens are full of young women like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, who make up for what they lack in musical ability by displaying their more abundant physical attributes, and rappers like Jay-Z, who also make up for what they lack in musical ability by displaying the physical attributes of a bunch of young female dancers.

I love music of all genres - everything from Mozart to Macklemore.  I closely follow the new and alternative music scene and I never travel anywhere without checking out what artists are playing in the place I am visiting. So I know that there are some stunningly good artists and music available today. The problem is, those artists and music are largely ignored by the mainstream music industry, which seems to be nothing more than a production line for homogeneous tripe that is sold through soft porn videos.

I'm also no prude and I realise that sex has always been used to sell music - I'm sure the women and some of the men of the Austrian court liked Mozart for more than just his piano playing (after all, it was the era of men in tights). But the place of sex in popular music today has become a bit like the place of ketchup in my youngest daughter's cuisine - she likes a small amount of potato chips with her ketchup.  It seems that in most popular music videos, the music is strictly secondary.

I suppose I do not have to watch and listen to this crap - I have started using a set of noise-cancelling headphones at the gym so I can listen to what I choose - but I see so many great musicians struggling for a living while airheads like Miley Cyrus make millions, that it makes me grateful I never pursued my own passion for music as far as trying to make a living out of it. The only saving grace in all this is the knowledge that on-line music sales (and piracy) are killing the mainstream music companies. Their demise cannot come soon enough in my opinion.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Quote of the Day

Those deep within the security apparatus, within the charmed circle, must therefore make the decision, on America's behalf, about how much democracy—about how much discussion about the limits of democracy, even—it is safe for Americans to have ~ W W Houston

The above quotation is from this article in The Economist, which is not a magazine that I normally go to for good editorial but in this case it goes to the heart of the issues I cover in my last two posts below.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

NZ Government Joins the Paranoids

I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded” ~ Edward Snowden

In my last post I wrote about the death of free speech and privacy in America.  This post is about the same thing happening in New Zealand.

New Zealand has always been a relatively free country, at least in terms of political and social liberties.  We were one of the first countries to give women the vote, we treated our conscientious objectors reasonably during the world wars, we decriminalised homosexuality before most other Western nations and from time to time we have tolerated a fair amount of political dissent with equanimity.  We have been relatively immune to the paranoia about national security that has infected America and other major Western nations since 9/11, an infection that has led to an unparalleled and unconstitutional expansion of government powers and made every petty bureaucrat and policeman believe he has a mandate to act like a school yard bully. Unfortunately the New Zealand Government finally has been infected with this craziness and is set to expand the powers of its Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to include surveillance of New Zealand citizens.

The GCSB Amendment Bill is being enacted because the Bureau was found to have acted illegally in monitoring the communications of Kim Dotcom, a New Zealand resident.  The Government's response to this crime was not to prosecute those responsible in the GCSB but rather to make what they were doing legal.  The new Bill allows the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders not only for matters of national security but also for the "international relations and well-being of New Zealand" and the "economic well-being of New Zealand." Furthermore, it allows the GCSB to do so on behalf of any other NZ Government agency or any "public authority (whether in New Zealand or overseas)" or "any other entity authorised by the Minister [in charge of the agency]". This is a hugely broad mandate and, given that the GCSB has already proven it will interpret the law to the point of breaking it, I think it is safe to assume it will be following the Americans' practice of monitoring all domestic and international communications that passes through any NZ telecommunications network. The only other person involved in reviewing such warrants (and only in the case of domestic surveillance) is the Commissioner of Security Warrants, a bureaucrat appointed by the Government.

I have heard commentators from both the political left and right say that if you have nothing to fear if you are innocent, but that misses the whole point.   The fact that some people commit crimes is not a reason to assume everyone does and that all of us should be watched and listened upon by the government.  Such is the culture of the former Soviet Union and Communist East Germany and that prevails in North Korea today.  As US historian and political commentator Dan Carlin said in a recent podcast on the subject, the reason we have our toilets in the bathroom rather than the living room is because we expect privacy when we go to the toilet.  It is not just a personal freedom but requisite of self-respect to go to the bathroom in private. Prisoners are often denied this right for the very reasons that it emphasises their loss of freedom and destroys their self-respect.

We shouldn't have to justify our right to privacy, whether it is the privacy of going to the toilet or the privacy of our communications.  The government derives its just powers from the people, not the reverse.  It is not the legitimate role of the state to know our every move, conversation, opinion or whether we are having an affair with our best friend's wife.  Until and unless the state has probable cause that we have committed, or will imminently commit, a serious crime, it has no business invading our privacy.  And to have any meaning, 'probable cause' must be assessed by an independent judicial authority, not the bureaucrat carrying out the invasion of privacy or the prime minister authorising it.  The process of issuing such warrants and ultimately the warrants themselves should be open to public scrutiny.

The GCSB Amendment Bill is an unnecessary and imprudent expansion of the surveillance powers of the state in this country.  Like Edward Snowden, I do not want to live in a world where everything I say or do is recorded by government bureaucrats.  I thought New Zealand was relatively immune to the madness that has infected the rest of the world.  I'm ashamed and a little frightened to discover I was wrong.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

America - Land of the Closely Scrutinised

It has been interesting watching the contortions of the mainstream media over the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald about the illegal activities of the US National Security Agency and Justice Department.  In some ways I don't envy the left-leaning media their dilemma - who is right, the President who is everything they always wanted (left-wing, black and so cool he needs to be kept in a refrigerator) or Greenwald, who has impeccable credentials (gay, Guardian, ex-civil rights litigator) as one of their own?  Who should they defend - the symbol of their left-wing liberalism in the Oval Office or the only journalist upholding the principles they have always professed to defend such as freedom of speech and conscience?  The very fact that they are caught in this dilemma suggest to me that they were never serious about their principles in the first place.

I have read numerous articles and blogs coming from all sides of the political spectrum attempting to justify the illegal spying by the Obama administration on its own citizens.  The gist of the argument in favour of the government breaking the law is that it is necessary for the security of the nation.  Of course, every dictator since Sulla has used the same argument to garner to themselves excessive and unconstitutional powers and it has never ended well for the people.  Let's be clear, President Obama has been the worst offender in this regard and far worse than his predecessor, George W. Bush.  At least Bush sought a legislative mandate in the likes of the Patriot Act for the expansion of his powers.  The Obama administration has simply disregarded the need for any legislative or constitutional mandate for what it is doing, although it has used the law when it suits it, launching more prosecutions for espionage against whistle blowers than all previous administrations (the charges against Snowden are the seventh and there have been only three other such prosecutions in US history).

The US Constitution enshrines the principles of freedom of speech, privacy and due process precisely because its authors believed that future US presidents might do exactly what Obama has done.  Its drafters saw no situation where the abrogation of these principles was justified (except in the specific instances detailed in the Bill of Rights itself).  Take the Fourth Amendment, which says:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It couldn't be clearer.  The US Government cannot legally search or seize someone's papers (and any reasonable modern interpretation of "papers" must include email) without a warrant that is issued upon probable cause.  That means the government must have evidence against a specific person, place or thing it wants to search or seize.  Even the broadest interpretation of this cannot include the seizing of information about every American's telephone calls.

The framers of the US Constitution got it right.  They knew what was required if the Constitution was to preserve any semblance of liberty.  They enshrined these principles to ensure freedom survived the propensity of governments towards tyranny.  In my view, the assault on the Constitution by the current US Government is a far greater threat that any terrorist or other threat that has been used to justify these illegal and unconstitutional acts. 

Americans can no longer expose the excesses of their government or even express a dissenting opinion for fear of being targeted by agencies such as the IRS, which was recently exposed as having used its powers to illegally harass political groups that oppose the Obama administration such as the Tea Party. 

Unfortunately, the judicial oversight of the Executive Branch become a joke.  The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance ("FISA") Court, which is meant to oversee the issuing of warrants in regards to national security matters, has rejected just 11 of more than 33,000 applications for warrants in its 35 year existence and the US Supreme Court has become so politically loaded it has ceased to be any form of guardian for constitutional rights.

All this has meant that America is no longer the land of the free, but rather a land where people are so closely watched by government agencies whose methods and mandate would make former East German Stasi officers envious. 

The media should not be debating whether unconstitutional acts are justified, they should be arguing how those who have abrogated the Constitution should be brought to justice.