Propaganda Machines

I watched Paul Ryan’s speech last night in amazement as it seemed so untethered to reality and then I thought about a book I’ve been reading, the second volume of Richard Evans stunning trilogy about the rise and fall of the Nazi Party. It’s called The Third Reich in Power and it covers the period from 1933 when Hitler became the Chancellor, to 1939 when he began his war of conquest. What is most stunning about the book is the role of Joseph Goebbels and the awesome propaganda machine that he built that was able to convince a German public of racial, scientific, economic and military theories that had no basis in reality. Goebbels’ main insight was, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” But to do this you need what Goebbels called an organ–a medium of propaganda diffusion that constantly repeats the party line. For the Nazis the two main channels of communication were the Newsreel and the radio. Here is Evans on the newsreel.

The Weekly Review had to be shown at the beginning of every commercial film program. Stylized, cliche-ridden, couched in a thoroughly Nazified language of combat and struggle, delivered in a tone of unrelenting aggressiveness, …the newsreel’s relation to reality was at best only intermediate.

As to the power of radio, Goebbels was very clear

There is nothing at all that is without political bias. The discovery of the principle of absolute objectivity is the privilege of German university professors–and I do not believe that university professors make history. We make no bones about the fact that the radio belongs to us and to no one else. And we will place the radio in the service of our ideology, and no other ideology will find expression here.

Now in drawing contemporary parallels to the Republican capture of Talk Radio “in the service of their ideology” I am not trying to make any claims that their ideology is fascist. I am simply stating that Paul Ryan could not get up on a huge national stage and make such outrageous claims that the Associated Press notes are patently false, without a propaganda machine like Right Wing Talk Radio to assure his partisans that Black is White. When Romney and Ryan trot out the racist dog whistle that Obama is cutting the “work requirement for the welfare queens”, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh repeat the lie endlessly until it becomes a “truth” to their audience.

Ryan is a good looking messenger who can say he will protect Medicare, while he plans to turn it into a voucher program that every one knows will leave seniors holding the bag. He and Romney claims they will cut the deficit while in the same breath promising to increase military spending and cut taxes on the wealthy (for guys like Romney who make all of their money in capital gains their tax rate would be zero). It is a huge lie and yet you could read the Fox News report and never have an inkling of the massive prevarication.

Someday we will look back at the epic balkanization of our information economy brought on by the digital revolution and wonder how we arrived at a place where 45% of the populace could live in an alternative reality with their own set of facts about evolution, rape, marriage, contraception, climate change, war, economics and faith. They could live in a world of atomized content, where real science and economics never entered their minds. If Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are successful, it will be because they understood that they could create their own reality.

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64 Responses to Propaganda Machines

  1. John Alexander says:

    Woah, the parallels are waay to close.

  2. JTMcPhee says:

    Makes you wonder if the folks who are pulling this off are reading from the prior team’s playbook and consciously emulating that behavior on the way to self-advantage and domination, or whether this is just stuff that’s scribed on the DNA and expressed when certain conditions eventuate.

    Bears remembering that a lot of “Nazis” managed to avoid the ReichsKollapsen and get to Argentina with a shitload, boatload, U-boatload of wealth stolen from the middle and upper classes of Europe, and from jaws of Jews and gypsies sent to the crematoria.

    Taplin did take a little notice of the number of private jets up there at Aspen. Here in Clearwater, FL, we have a moderate-sized International Airport that is stuffed, STUFFED, with private jets belonging to the mothertruckers who are attending the Grand Herding of Elephants over in Tampa. And that’s just overflow from the other big airports in the vicinity. Cool to drive by in a beater pickup and see some of the wealth I have generated in my little way being put to use (not good use, of course) by my “betters.” It’s also really cool knowing that those Dumbos have, every fucking one of them, a “Plan B” to escape the increasingly inevitable collapse of whatever was good about America, by fleeing to other places where they will also be immune to consequences, above the law, and untrammelled by any need to adhere to even “truthiness.” All of a piece with their SS brethren and sistern… No place to hide for the rest of us.

  3. Alex Bowles says:

    I’m becoming convinced that the (all too successful) disparagement of science is a big part of this. The only reason the “evolution is just a theory…and so is Intelligent Design” canard got off the ground is because too few people understood that a scientific theory, to be valid, must be predictive.

    We value Newton’s theory of gravitation, for instance, because it not only holds that a dropped brick will fall, but that it will accelerate by the same amount, every time, and land with a precisely quantifiable measure of force that is proportional to its mass and velocity – every time.

    Intelligent Design predicts nothing. The theory of evolution, on the other hand, routinely makes predictions that are verified in fossil records, in observations of living creatures in the world, in laboratory tests, in genetic research. The theory works – demonstrably. Somehow, this broader definition of what makes Science science has escaped broader notice, allowing a preponderance of poppycock to proliferate perniciously.

    But at least Bill Nye is here to say Creationism Is Not Appropriate For Children. He’s been adamant that he’s not attacking religion, which may be true in general, but he’s aiming squarely at a social movement that calls itself religious, even as it ignores the finer points of its most sacred text. Now if only there were some firm prohibition against bearing false witness, something clear, direct, maybe written in stone…

    Hey, I wonder of Paul Ryan has any ideas?

  4. John Papola says:

    @Alex Bowles
    Ah yes, so I use the word “regime” in the context of criticism of an administration who’s employing extra-legal assassination of American citizens sans habeas corpus and, according to Alex Bowles, I’m an [insert expletive here]. But Jon can compare the GOP and talk radio to Goebbels and the Nazis and that goes without even a hint of criticism from Mr. Alex Bowles.

    Where could I ever get the idea that the bile thrown in my direction is the result of ideological bias?

    I’m outta here. The toxicity level is too much to bear.

  5. Jon Taplin says:

    @John Papola I did not say Ryan is a Nazi. I said he had a very effective propaganda machine that is uninterested in the truth. Even his pollster Newhouse admits that.,0,2928398.story

  6. John Papola says:

    @Jon Taplin
    Come on, Jon. Making any comparison to the Nazi’s is a well-worn smear tactic. Hell, it’s got it’s own term “Godwin’s Law”.

    Both you (and Alex potty-mouth Bowles) need to watch this hilarious video.—hitler-reference

    The Daily Show with Jon StewartGet More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

    Says it all.

  7. Jon Taplin says:

    @John Papola I reject the notion that I am not allowed to reference the acknowledged master of propaganda when painting a history of the use of radio for creating a counter-narrative to science or other forms of truth. You fail to acknowledge that the Republicans are running a campaign that has no connection to the truth, and as their pollster acknowledges does even care if you point this out.

  8. John Papola says:

    @Jon Taplin
    You’re allowed to do whatever your want. I’m not even taking particular exception with it as I expect your rhetoric to deteriorate as the election draws near. This isn’t your first Goebbels references on the blog and it won’t be your last. That’s your prerogative.

    I was simply drawing attention to the fact that Mr. Bowles once again attacked me personally using a standard for rhetorical flare and provocative choices which he obviously only employs against people he disagrees with. I use the word “regime” and get blasted for being an “idiot”. You make comparisons between the GOP and talk radio to the Nazis and Mr. Bowles says nothing.

    I’m glad you posted this. It makes my point for me. We can continue our debates over the phone together where there’s humanity and discourse. The comments here seem to bring out the absolute worst in everyone, including myself. And it’s only going to get worse as November approaches.

  9. JTMcPhee says:

    @Jon Taplin
    Looks like somebody here has too thoroughly internalized the debater’s handbook, especially the part about trying to use another person’s innate decency and honesty against them. “Oh, you hurt my feelings (when you did the same thing I just did to you out of an attempt to get the better of you in a disputation).” Toxic is as toxic does. Best wishes on your emergent order…

    They say libertarians, like political candidates, wear many faces and speak with many voices.

  10. John Papola says:

    That link is pretty darn hilarious, I must admit. Think I’ll share it my friends and ask how many apply to them.

  11. Steve White says:

    I’m failing to see the difference between the GOP propagandists such as Fox News, Rush etc. versus the Democrat propagandists like ABC, MSNBC, etc. The only difference is that the conservative media apparently gets better ratings.

  12. Steve White says:

    Also, why is it racist to point out that Obama is cutting the work requirement for welfare? It’s my understanding that there are significantly more whites than blacks on welfare. And what evidence can you cite to show this is a lie? From the little research I’ve done it appears to be true…

  13. len says:

    “It’s about time we get a first lady in there who acts like a First Lady and looks like a First Lady.” This morning, NPR reported this jaw-dropping comment made by a woman attending the American Legion convention with her husband.”

    That’s a WTF. But when even Fox says Ryan is a liar, that’s a real OMG!

  14. Brian says:

    Easiest way to lead people by the nose is through their morality. Did Nietzsche say that? Was he replying to Goebbels? There IS much to discuss. The coincidence of media and propaganda is far from adequately explored or understood. For the foreseeable future, the topic must be hot or become hot.

  15. JTMcPhee says:

    @Steve White
    And, sir, with your subtle messaging techniques and apparent slant, you might point out that outlets like ABC and MSNBC, and even the Republicleansed staff and reportage of NPR, etc. pretty much put out an ever-so-slightly-watered version of the shit that floods out of FOX and even CNN these days. But that would be to walk away from the comfortable land of false equivalence, into someplace where there are actual patches of light and dark, and it’s possible to distinguish between batshit and bullshit.

  16. JTMcPhee says:

    @John Papola
    Maybe you could check with your friends and see how many of them resonate to that other thing I link here, that one that lays out the “libertarian future.” The one that seems not to draw a lot of libertarian refutation, for some reason or another. I guess the hope is that not drawing attention to it might be best. Probably wise.

    Kind of like our Repugnicans now having a little trouble doubling down on the many Big Lies they’ve been telling. (Maybe the lapdogs in the Fourth Estate might grow some cojones and a conscience, and go ask some of their Boomer colleagues — if there are any left — how to go about doing actual, you know, “journalism,” rather than whatever it is that they do now. I except Matt Taibbi and a few others…) And of course the thugs have no intellectual property claim to that behavior, I will be happy to point out that our Imperial Court is totally corrupt and polluted, on both sides of the aisle, and inside and outside the Beltway, just so I don’t get accused of blind partisanship or toadyism.

    As you have said,

    I don’t have a clue what a more ideally libertarian future might look like. That’s the point. If I did, I wouldn’t advocate for liberty but instead advocate for government policies which put my vision in place.

    There’s a bit of the Big Lie in that statement, too. I bet you have a pretty clear idea what success in using those hated government levers of power to institute and enforce government behaviors you favor would entail, and the “private conduct” that you would like to follow that “perfect government enforcement” and “freemarketry.” In your heart of hearts.

  17. Jon Taplin says:

    @Steve White I don’t think we can compare MSNBC TO Fox. I’m watching MSNBC right now and both Steve Schmidt and Michael Steel are making pretty strong Republican cases on the air. You would never see that on Fox

  18. len says:

    True. That is why the piece on Fox calling Ryan out was such a shocker. I wonder if that reporter still has her job.

    Even Morning Joe with Scarborough and Mika Brezinski have been giving them a fairer shake than is normal. It appears they want to give them a better treatment during their convention than is possibly deserved but commendable. Rachel is being Rachel.

    Pelley on CBS held Ryan’s feet to the fire on the 5:30 news and it was surprising. Ryan didn’t like it one bit when the “inconsistencies” were pointed out.

  19. John Papola says:

    We make no bones about the fact that the radio belongs to us and to no one else. And we will place the radio in the service of our ideology, and no other ideology will find expression here.

    I’d love to hear more about how conservatives have literally and legally monopolized the radio waves, as the Nazis did. Have they banned left-wing talk shows? Have they erected unique barriers to entry for such shows compared with conservative shows? Would it be utterly impossible for Jon Taplin to get a radio show in LA? Are there ZERO left-wing radio shows on the airwaves right now?

    I’m just trying to get a handle on why this quote is relevant and somehow not just an inflammatory reference to one of the worst dictatorships in history. If one wants to make a point about how political propaganda can be effective, is it really necessary for the Nazis to be the go-to model?

    It seems as though conservative talk radio, which I don’t listen to, btw (I only listen to NPR on via my iPhone), is simply more popular and financially successful/viable by a dramatic margin. It’s a market which seems to be an outgrowth of the actual demographics of America:

    Conservatives continue to make up the largest segment of political views in the country, outnumbering liberals nearly two-to-one, according to a new poll Thursday.
    The Gallup survey found that 40 percent of Americans consider themselves conservative; 35 percent consider themselves moderate; and 21 percent see themselves as liberal. The figures did not change from 2010…

    While self-identified conservatives dominate the Republican Party, making up 71 percent, the Democratic Party is more split — 39 percent of Democrats view themselves as liberal, and 38 percent consider themselves moderates.

    Meanwhile, independents are mostly moderate (41 percent), but skew more toward conservatism (35 percent) than liberalism (20 percent).

    Seems like talk radio might just reflect some akin to the tastes of the people at large. That might mean the people have no taste, and I’m not going to stand up and celebrate something just because it’s popular. But to assert a correlation of any significant sort between state-controlled Nazi radio and relatively free, open and popular conservative talk radio seems every bit as incendiary as anything I’ve ever written in these comments.

    Then there’s the problem that the Obama administration and the political left in general has been propagating a “Big Lie” of comparable proportions to any of the many GOP lies: that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are hard-core libertarians that will cut spending such that it will give rise to a dystopian “social darwinism”. That’s Obama’s words. He called the GOP budget “Thinly veiled social darwinism”.

    That’s a BIG lie. The GOP budget INCREASES spending. Comparisons to the “baseline” assumptions of spending growth assumed as if it’s an act of god aren’t reality or truth. Congress controls how much money gets spent. If the Ryan budget spends more tomorrow than it does today in absolute, inflation-adjusted terms, it’s a spending increase. Period. Pointing to some fictional alternative where congress would have spent more and then calling it a “cut” is a BIG LIE.

    I’ve pointed this out before, but to no avail. Paul Ryan is not a libertarian. He is only “fiscally conservative” in comparison to Obama. Yet I expect the ongoing repetiton of the “Randian, Libertarian, Anarcho-capitalist Romney/Ryan campaign” to continue push it’s Big Lie here and elsewhere, facts and voting records be damned.

    This is matched by the Big Lie that actual libertarian fiscal policies have caused Europe to fall back into recession. In actual legislative reality, governments across Europe have maintained their high levels of spending above that of the boom’s peak while raising taxes. If anything, Europe’s ongoing fiscal disaster seems to further confirm that the so-called “Laffer Curve” has some merit. Britain hiked their top marginal tax rate and their VAT and yet saw tax revenues fall. To call this a libertarian “austerity” program is a Big Lie. And yet is repeated daily such that it seems to have taken root as a false common knowledge among the pundit class.

    Is the rhetoric of the GOP militaristic, nationalist, anti-immigrant and intolerant? Yes. Is it constructive to compare those characteristics to the Nazi party, which are also shared by many Democrats in rhetoric and policy? It doesn’t seem so. After all, Alex Bowles, the resident scholar of linguistics has taken me to the woodshed for using the word “regime”.

    Then again, perhaps Alex’s is not a great standard to employ. After all, while there seems to be a great many people more careful than I who find comparisons to the Nazis to be a conversation-ender, including Jon Stewart, Alex went to great effort in the other thread to justify it in your case, even as he excoriated me for the use of “regime” while ignoring most of the economic or political substance of my comments. Why deal with the implications of Say’s law when you can call me an idiot and be done with me, after all?

    Of course, Mr. Bowles also came up for his very own definition of the word regime to aid in justifying his latest round of narrowly targeted contempt:

    “It’s also untrue to call the current administration a regime when the defining characteristic of regimes is their total refusal to transfer power.”

    For the resident linguist, this is an interesting definition with some liberty taken to be sure. The Oxford Dictionary defines “regime” as:

    1a government, especially an authoritarian one.
    2a system or planned way of doing things, especially one imposed from above:
    detention centers with a very tough physical regime

    So, since I would like this post to adhere to the resident linguist’s perception of his own standard so that I can be a more perfect defender of my ideas. Let’s dig a little deeper. So the Obama or Bush administrations are/were governments. So that’s a literal “regime”. But the authoritarian part might be too harsh. I realize that Bush was called a regime by many critics including Chris Matthews and other MSNBC achors. I agree with them. But two wrongs don’t make a right.

    So, here’s the definition of “authoritarian”:

    favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom:
    “the transition from an authoritarian to a democratic regime”

    • showing a lack of concern for the wishes or opinions of others; domineering; dictatorial:
    he had an authoritarian and at times belligerent manner

    Hmmm. Both Bush and Obama have engaged in a great many policies which favor adherence to government at the expense of personal freedom. The comment in which I used the word “regime” had among my complaints Obama’s maintenance of Gitmo, which is surely an authoritarian policy, as well as his extra-legal assassination of American citizens sans habeas corpus, which is surely authoritarian. I consider the obamacare mandate to buy health insurance authoritarian, though I’ll recognize that the connotation of using that term can be disputed in this case. But it is objective authoritarian based on the definition. Obama’s penchant, much like Bush, for extra-legal legislation by executive order has the tincture of authoritarian rule. The president isn’t supposed to be both legislator AND executor according to our law of the land.

    The point here is that calling Obama’s administration a “regime” can at least reasonably be argued to be at least equal to if not less caustic and destructive to discourse as posting about the GOP in comparison to the Nazis. Yet that’s not the way things go here. And I have my doubts that this carefully equivocated comment will garner much more respect than my previous ones.

    Have a great weekend.

  20. JTMcPhee says:

    @John Papola

    he had an authoritarian and at times belligerent manner

  21. len says:

    The Hollywood Tough man with the fake guns thrilled a convention hall of caucasian faces surrounded by an army of riot-geared police who threatened any who dared approach. Obama is said to be having an open convention where those same people who were threatening can come and see a President accept the nomination of his party. The difference and the choice cannot be more compelling.

  22. T Bone Burnett says:

    John Papola

    You keep saying you are out of here.
    Are you out of here or not?
    The suspense is killing me. (A good suicide note, by the way.)

    T Bone

  23. debra says:

    the only reason I am on here is because I was wondering if anyone else thought Hitler when Paul Ryan entered the stage to give his speech. He came out with his arm straight outward for his wave. I thought Hitler right off the top of my head. I wasn’t even going there until I saw him. Then, I became concerned while listening to his speech that it may have been intentional. I have not seen anyone comment on it.

  24. Alex Bowles says:

    Here’s an excellent take on post-truth politics, from the admirable David Roberts.

    One effect of the radicalization of the right over the last few decades has been the discovery of just how much our politics is held together by norms rather than rules. There’s no rule you can’t filibuster every bill in the Senate by default; there’s no rule you can’t interrupt a president’s State of the Union; there’s no rule you can’t hold the routine debt-ceiling vote hostage. It simply wasn’t done. But if you shrug off the norm and do it anyway, there’s nothing to stop you.

    Similarly, it seems that the lip service given to truth in politics is but a norm itself, one with increasingly tenuous hold. Political campaigns have always lied and stretched the truth, but when caught in a lie, would typically defend themselves (claim it was actually true), retract, or at the very least stop repeating the lie. Either way, the presumption was that truth-telling had some moral force; one ought to tell the truth, even if that commandment was often honored in the breach.

    What’s creepy about the Romney crew is that they don’t do any of those things. They don’t deny, they don’t stop, they just don’t care at all. What they’ve realized is that, given today’s hyper-polarization and fragmented media, there’s no practical risk to lying. It doesn’t hurt them, in terms of getting votes, so why shouldn’t they do it?

    Indeed, what could possibly go wrong in a post-truth environment?

  25. len says:

    Indeed, what could possibly go wrong in a post-truth environment?

    It becomes habitual in every civil discourse about any topic where a side has to defend a practice that is actively harmful to another. T-Bone said “social disorder” and it is fast becoming the default for debates when anyone brings up a topic that others are uncomfortable discussing.

    For example:

    “Copyright infringement is not theft and anyone who says it is is lying.” That’s from a famous software developer in the XML industry.

    “The bigger they are the harder they fall”. That’s from a noted W3C employee and activity coordinator for XML standards commenting on the losses by entertainment industry from piracy.

    “I use pirate sites to find the games I like to play. They really help the games industry.” A Spanish correspondent and developer.

    “They are just seeking higher profits.” XML consultant

    “If you are talking about morals, you shouldn’t be discussing the entertainment industry.” A systems analyst talking about how his rates were high enough to let him fly to Red Rocks to see an indie band whose CD he chose to buy instead of downloading for free when he usually just copies them.

    I’ve four days of hate mail, invective, denial and outright glee as well as one from a former programmer who was a psychotherapist and has now returned to that profession explaining that I have anger issues and should seek counsel for suggesting the XML community become better informed on this topic as I am obviously full of hate.

    Ok, now I have anger issues for sure. :)

    As I said, the woods are full of orcs with itchy skins and they are looking for fights.

    Roll Tide anyway.

  26. JTMcPhee says:

    @Alex Bowles
    The Old Guard (mostly tight-ass Northeasterners) had this silly extended-pinkie set of behaviors. They would disembowel and castrate you, but do it with class and style. Seems to me one facet of the Southern Strategy/War of Northern Aggression II is the importing of the Redneck Revanchism, complete with the kind of manners that goes along with filling up a Red Solo Cup, tossing it off and then tossing off other stuff, like common sense and common decency and communality (what’s a Redneck’s last words? “Hold mah beeer, an’ wawtch THIS!”).

    Truth? Truth is what we choose to believe. Henry James had a take on that, something I bet Rove and Gingrich and my mind refuses to recall Obama’s Machiavells have all read. (Hope for a little change, everyone? An Obama spokesman, being cornered in late 2008 by I think an NPR post-Reagan-Bush-biased reporter on the apparent obscurity of Obama’s programs and the disaffection some “progressives” were displaying, offered this: “Well, they’re just going to have to be satisfied with hopeandchange for now.”)

    Romneyryan is a katana slice across the carotids and jugulars. Obamaetal is a pressure dressing tied off tight around the neck. Question is whether we bleed out, in the absence of emergency vascular repair, or suffocate first.

  27. len says:

    Dang, JTMc. I was just wondering if anyone has stolen the chair yet and when it would show up on Pawn Stars.

  28. Alex Bowles says:


    Truth? Truth is what we choose to believe.

    Yes, and sometimes for very good reason. The point Roberts goes on to make is that contemporary journalists with the largest audiences can theoretically make solid choices easier and dubious ones harder. But in practice, they think otherwise.

    Journalists do not like to think of themselves as in an argument, as competing with, say, a campaign to convince the public of something. They still think of themselves as neutral arbiters of truth. But neither the campaigns nor the public view them that way any more.

    What would it look like if journalists tried to win an argument with a campaign — an argument over, say, what Obama has done with state welfare waivers? For one thing, they wouldn’t just string together correct facts once and call it good. They would do it repeatedly. They would call out the campaign explicitly as acting in bad faith. They would mock and shame the campaign for its behavior.

    This would be a serious departure for U.S. journalists. It would put them in an explicitly adversarial role with political operators — not the same operators all the time, not the same party every time, maybe, but not “neutral.” More like prosecutors working on behalf of the truth.

    Not a bad idea, right? Actually, that sounds like Stewart and Colbert’s shows, doesn’t it?

    Let’s be real, though: Journalists fear making those kinds of choices for good reason. It’s absolutely verboten for a Very Serious Person in D.C. to behave this way. They rightly sense that it will limit their careers and their access to the halls of power. As a person of, ahem, modest ambition, I don’t mind all that much. But for ambitious journos in D.C., there are real perils to calling a spade a spade.

    If you come to see bullshit as a precisely defined concept, and your journalistic role as being its overt opponent, the game changes considerably. Here’s where I think Roberts is being overly pessimistic. I mean, he’s right in as far as anyone in the orbit of the Post, CNN, etc. goes. But the success of The Economist – which doesn’t play by established U.S. rules and isn’t part of Comedy Central – indicates that there is another way.

    I should note that I’m acutely aware of people’s deeply ingrained propensity for bullshit. Simply making stuff up is one of the things we do very very well. An enormous swath of human creativity flourishes under fiction’s banner. The object is not to eradicate inventiveness. It’s to handle it in a way that keeps us from burning down the house. Journalism, in other words, isn’t about smelling smoke, investigating thoroughly, and declaring that there’s fire. It’s about picking up a damn bucket and dumping cold water where and when it’s needed.

    In other words, the answer to Arthur Brisbane’s (utterly moronic) “Should the New York Times be a Truth Vigilante?” question is a categorical and thundering “yes“. And if they need to poach some editors from the Onion to get this right, it may be for the greater good, not to mention highly entertaining, and probably very good for business. But again, the highest aim needs to be relentlessly policing bullshit, as so wonderfully defined by Harry Frankfurt.

  29. debra says:

    “Whether we bleed out, in the absence of emergency vascular repair, or suffocate first.” Is the best description of our choses I’ve heard yet. THANK YOU for sharing!!!

  30. len says:

    The left loses to the right because it is always willing to decry sins and seldom willing to defend virtues. The akata wanders where it will.

  31. Alex Bowles says:

    I don’t know, Len, something may have just snapped in the past week, with the Romney camp’s “fuck the fact checkers” (and all the open contempt that implies) finally sending a much-needed jolt through the press establishment.

    Here’s Jay Rosen, who is widely read in press circles, providing an account of the recent developments, and some appropriately acidic commentary on his profession’s failures. The essence of it I simple: if the press lets an assault on fact this egregious slide, they’ll have given up every shred of professional respectability. Something has to change, right now.

    If what’s coming undone is The View From Nowhere, then this is both a signal moment and a very big deal.

  32. Alex Bowles says:

    And then there’s this.

    Hayek and Rand are comfortable intellectual company not because they explain reality, but because, like all effective ideologists, they remove the need for any actual contact with it.

    The tragic part is that the argument against ideology has already been won. The defenses of freedom against Marxism, above all the defense of the individual against those who claim to enact the future, also apply to the reverse Marxism of the Republican ticket.

    The way to national prosperity in the twenty-first century is surely to think non-ideologically, to recognize that politics is a choice among constraints and goods rather than a story about a single good that would triumph if only evil people would allow it to function without constraints. The market works very well for some things, the government is desperately needed for others, and stories that dismiss either one are nothing more than ideology.

  33. len says:

    But that’s the point. When the cat wanders away from where it is comfortable (home), it sees much, learns much and can become a fighting cat.

    The press started turning a few weeks ago when the CNN gal took on Sununu. CBS took on Ryan the other night. Even Fox figured it couldn’t cover for the litany of lies. But I don’t equate the press with the left. The left is still cat-calling, not taking up for its strengths. It’s still a game where the right keeps tripping on its extremists. This is the flaw in their strategy of believing that it would be so close that they would get votes by any means they can get them be it absorbing crazies or using the legal maneuvers to exclude voters. After awhile, bullshit starts to smell.

    Next week tells the tale. The Dems are saying they will have an open convention. Risky but a risk well worth taking given all those photos of the Republicans in a sea of white surrounded by a sea of armed riot gear. Jon Stewart and Colbert were able to go inside and make the hypocrisy both funny and painfully stark. Now it is up to Obama and his team to put forward a plan that has no weak points. Romney and Ryan can keep saying Obama had no experience as a business man. But they have no experience as a President and Obama does. This is when it really counts.

    As for the last quote: precisely. It is a mixed set of markets that must work together and that is not smooth and never will be. The government is both a supplier and a buyer in mixed market types thus that MIC study I posted. People here should study it and understand how the planners see the transitions from a fielded to an army back in barracks. They also should pay attention to the word “persistent” for shades of things to come.

    An aside back to the copyleft topic: in my research one thing stands out: DRM works technically. Programmers won’t let it work socially. Just as the Republicans block efforts to make adjustments in Congress, the web culture, the web programmers relentlessly hack any attempts to restore balance. They continue to embrace a fantasy world of touring and new frictionless consensus models while at the same time Las Zetas is murdering vendors of pirate goods in the streets for the same pirated franchises. It is yet again ideology vs brutal realities and as you point out, State has to defend business models.

    Turning this around will take a layered approach where government, industry, forensics and patience work together to take down the pirates. Unless there is a change of heart in the web culture, it is a lost generation and a sorry one considering all it has achieved otherwise.

  34. Fentex says:

    DRM works technically.

    It does not, for if it did…

    Programmers won’t let it work socially.

    …would not be possible.

    It also fails because it diminishes the value of the content it hampers and substitutes corporate whims in place of personal ownership. It is not only useless it is an insult to customers and stupid for it.

  35. Fentex says:

    Hayek and Rand are comfortable intellectual company not because they explain reality, but because, like all effective ideologists, they remove the need for any actual contact with it.

    I don’t think that’s fair. Hayek was not cut from the same cloth as Rand and his efforts, whether one agrees with him or not, seem to me to have been honest efforts where it’s also clear to me Rands were not – she was rationalising her feelings while Hayek was rationally examining his.

  36. len says:


    Quod erat demonstratum, gentlefolk.

    A speeding sign only works if a) the driver obeys it or b) a cop busts their ass.

    Pick one.

    Fentex, do you know what Las Zetas does to a Mexican family that sells pirate CDs and DVDs without a franchise? Over 360,000 jobs were lost to piracy in the US alone. If you believe the entertainment industry is insulting you, try MAC-10s closing your business or having a layoff notice handed to you because the company can’t keep you working while it cuts down the number of productions it can finance. You’re not just wrong; you are really cruelly and brutally wrong. Get a fuckin’ clue.

  37. Alex Bowles says:

    @Fentex re: Hayek and Rand

    It’s unfair to attribute the same motive. But it’s entierly fair to say that two people working from very different starting points ended up in the same vicinity. One was naïve, the other a sociopath (talk about a match made in hell) and today, people in this camp tend to get there by way of one these traits.

    No prizes given for identifying who takes the upper hand when they meet.

  38. Fentex says:

    If you believe the entertainment industry is insulting you

    They do not insult me for I do not use any services that rely on DRM.

    This very morning, a day after having written my comment on DRM, a friend asked me to help them get Adobe DRM working on their laptop so they could read the copy of The Fellowship Of The Ring they had purchased for their e-book, and after correcting a few obvious flaws in their configuration that advanced their situation they were left with a blanket refusal by Adobes reader to open the file because it believes their license was already in use by someone else.

    Not having time to follow the advice searchs online provided for fixing this problem I left to go to work leaving my freind unable to utilise their purchase and hearing them explicitly state that “if I had taken a unauthorised copy I, a paying customer, would not have this problem”.

    Do not confuse me with someone who argues people should not pay and that the horn of plenty that is the Internet magically makes the expense of production vanish, but copying is never going to get harder, DRM will not make people pay where otherwise they would not and it is more likely to compel people to stop paying where otherwise they would.

    Ease of copying is a fact of nature today, any business plans that attempt to refute this will fail.

  39. len says:

    Business models not backed by law will be hacked, as Alex pointed out. DRM that is too complex will frustrate customers, no doubt. On the other hand, chasing down the perps who break the law is getting easier and easier. Bad DRM systems will cost sales and these will be remedied by more competent engineering. Ease of copying has been a challenge since the first cassette tapes and yet business models adapted.

    What is different is this is the first generation of developers hell bent on breaking the law because they assert it is the right thing to do. Not that you have but I’ve a list of quotes that come down to that. And this has to change because otherwise the means to stop the theft will grow ever more draconian and effective.

    Barlow is a good guy from what I read and hear, but he was wrong for the same reasons that those who want to gut government are. Without a good government, we are left with bad business. I think that is why so often this blog has been oscillating between two threads: how to deal with pirates and how to reestablish a good government. We have to work together because it is obvious to me at least we won’t get one without the other.

    And to do that, we need to change the web culture before it undoes us. We’ve been thriving on myths and we really do need to be better informed.

  40. Fentex says:

    it’s entierly fair to say that two people working from very different starting points ended up in the same vicinity.

    I agree with the point that differently motivated people can end up with the same conclusion, but I don’t think that Hayek and Rand say the same things.

    Hayek is most famous for warning against ceding too much power to the state which he wrote while observing the rise of fascism, and his economic theories proceed from a belief that free trade is morally and functionally superior to politically controlled trade.

    One might agree with his research without agreeing with policies referring to his theories because the ideals and study of free trade do not necessarily reveal working public policies in every circumstance.

    Whereas Rand’s philosophy is a scream for selfishness to be admired.

    That there are people who ask for policies they want who refer to Hayek and Rand together does not mean Hayek and Rand were saying the same thing. It’s just a tactic by some to make claims against authority.

    I’m sure they hope that conflating the two will colour Rand with Hayeks more resepectable reputation.

  41. T Bone Burnett says:

    “It also fails because it diminishes the value of the content…”

    Dear Fentex

    Technology has been severely diminishing the value of ‘content’ for two decades now.

    It has been fractionalizing and minimizing the content of ‘content’. The technologists have been belittling and scoffing at artists for those two decades. That is hitlerstupid- kill the smart people. There is no new model.

    Technologists are still attempting to make the same pseudo-prophetic theoretical arguments that were first made twenty years ago and have since proven by reality to be false.

    It is a massive, unprecedented fail.

  42. JTMcPhee says:

    Re technophilia generally: It’s killing lots of stuff. Not just content.

    I just had an otherwise nice visit with my daughter and her family. Three grandkids, 1, 4 and 6. Three iPhones, a couple of DSs, an iPad and a Macbook in constant use, and in constant sibling-greed play as this or that one wanted this or that device with this or that “app” or game loaded on it. Great kids, a tribute to my daughter and son-in-law, starting life multi-lingual and multi-tasking and all that, but in the car, driving around, “Transformers” I, II and III are running constantly on the back-seat (and as the vehicle slows or stops, dashboard) screens (and again on the big screen once we get home.) The favorite games, so far, seem to be stuff like “Monkey Chase,” which nonetheless has a lot of zapping of “others” as part of the meme. At least it’s not “Call of Duty.” Go to Chuck-E-Cheese with the kids, and sit next to the touch-screen (well, actually, HAMMER-screen) “game” where the object is to use an overgrown croquet mallet to beat to death various critters, kids pounding vacuously on the screen until their little arm muscles are loaded up with lactic acid and they have to switch hands… All just harmless entertainment, right? No little messages embedded in the story lines, how the wise and good Transformers are watching over and protecting all the little children from the Evil Decepticons… (glossing over how the Manichaean idiocy on the Home Planet sent the Decepticons here to blow up the World Trade Center and Try To Take Us Over And Destroy Our Way Of Life in the first place…)

    And I’ve seen articles and comments by folks who are coming around to the notion that technology, as practiced here, has failed, for a lot of reasons. People going into debt slavery to “own” the latest, largest, fastest. People doing the Zombie down the street, phones plastered to ears or thumbs flashing, flooding the bitspace with “OMG”s and other inanities without the tiniest thought to what “Oh, my G_d!” constitutes by way of an ejaculation. Streets weighed down with “security cameras” and facial recognition software all feeding into just what, again? The Matrix? There’s a million examples of the Great Distraction. Quality is the least of the concerns of the marketeers and “entrepreneurs” who stuff every possible one of our orifices with want-generating messages and make us collectively so stupid (bearing in mind the part of “stupid” that refers to how one operates after not enough sleep) and vulnerable to other kinds of messaging. Lots of distracting fluff, making for lots of lost motion and wasted wealth and disabling us to even organize to face up to and deal with actual, real, total dangers to our survival as a species. Fill up the SUV, Maw! I feel like a road trip!

    Just an old curmudgeon’s observation, I know. The techno-rats are all so just terribly excited about the latest and greatest infinity-G and 3D and fake-reality “experience,” almost all of which in the part of the world I see is just doofus self-indulgence, leading nowhere except to “IPOs” and “bubbles.” And of course Really Kewl things like autonomous battle robots and nanokillers ‘n stuff… There’s too darn little of discernment and judgment and homeostatic illumination and spirit in all of it, too freakin’ much “OMG” that has nothing to do with invoking the presence and inspiration of the Almighty.

    But hey, of course there’s nothing new there, it’s all just the old folks nattering on about how it was better in “their day” and how useless the young generation is. Isn’t it?

    Of course. Things are always getting better, right? Drones are flying, personal data and location information are being accumulated and applied in service of profit and power, our techno-abilities to manipulate our own genetic material “advance” every day (along with the ability to resurrect old plague pathogens and invent new ones.) I’m sure others can add items to the list, like MP3 that even through a squealing fog of tinnitus I can hear the musical paucity of.

    From a more hopeful person, if not a more hopeful time:

    “The year’s at the spring,
    The day’s at the morn,
    The morning’s at seven,
    The hillside’s dew-pearl’d.
    The lark’s on the wing,
    The snail’s on the thorn,
    God’s in his heaven…
    All’s right with the world!”
    Robert Browning (1812-1889)


  43. len says:

    Baby home from college. Son taking a break from his gigs. My whole family in what will now be an increasingly rarer event is sitting here with dog watching a five dollar DVD fetched from the Wal-Mart cheap bin. It has all 39 episodes of the Sheldon Reynolds Sherlock Holmes series from 1954 and some thirties Holmes movies before the days of music soundtracks. It has French actors trying to play British characters but rolling their r twice two many times and articulating long e for i. Cultural treasure in kinescoped black and white highlighting women’s faces, beauties of their days in a way that would be shock schlock today because the color spectrum is degraded, yet have become haunting.

    One can learn a lot from these about basic good script writing without over the top sound and explosions and CGI. The framing from odd angles is pure British as learned from the Germans and carried forward into the 60s in The Avengers. The writing is clever. The pace is slow so every work can be heard. The plot is advanced with long lingering shots over pieces of paper filled with sentences that all have to be read, so thirty seconds of film time is used so even the slow readers, the oldsters with bifocals won’t be left out, and everyone enjoys that Saturday afternoon out of the terrible heat in the theater cold with industrial air conditioning.

    Technology can be a rot or an advantage. It is in the way we use it and for what purpose. I have a legal version bought at a good price with which I can sit with the family and become more astute students of art forms practiced by people who are all long passed such as Leslie Howard’s son Ronald and Paulette Goddard. Or one can steal bad copies of current indie and mainstream and learn not a heckuva lot because they are so much the same thing.

    If we lose our passion for the arts both in always being students and in respect for those who came before us, if we fail to be generous and reward according to quality and investment, the accomplishments of the technologists are meaningless. While I can admire the resilience of well-written code and masterful chips, I can’t share them emotionally. They are carriers of emotion; they do not inform a heart.

    And I know it makes the coders jealous and spiteful. Knowledge and skillful practice without the joy of sharing laughter and the tears and awe become Moriarity, the villain of the piece. After all the planning and the cunning and the conspiring, it’s a long fall from Reichenbach.

    As JTMc points out, all the machinery does is divide us. This is about the way we use it.

  44. Fentex says:

    Technology has been severely diminishing the value of ‘content’ for two decades now.

    It has been fractionalizing and minimizing the content of ‘content’

    Twenty, thirty years ago when dystopian urban cyberpunk was all the cool rage a common thought was that constant ubiquitious connectivity would lead to social fracturing where purple would find online communities that

  45. Fentex says:

    A little fat fingered on my phone there, to continue my thought….

    …online communities that would become increasingly isolated eco chambers where people with common preconceptions and prejudices would reinforce each others opinions, and eventually society would follow and similarly fracture.


  46. Fentex says:

    Bother. I continue…

    One sometimes wonders if we’re seeing this coming true. I don’t tend to think so because there’s always been division and rancor in society and strong back for a long view modern bickering doesn’t look all that different from the past.

    I don’t think technology is devaluing content, I think it’s a bit like the advent of the 24 news cycle where demand for more and more content and fast shifting attention is putting quality under pressure from quantity and opportunities for careful analysis and prolonged production are being squeezed, and this may be magnified by a confused market still trying to settle on predictable business methods and practices.

    We live in interesting times yet I don’t fear the death of art, people want it and will pay for it. We just don’t know yet how it will be done because the pieces are still in the air.

  47. debra says:

    Yesterday, I watch numerous Presidential National conventions on C-span. I sometimes busted out laughing. It’s the same rhetoric since Hoover. I couldn’t believe it. I liked Clinton’s from 1992 the most. What stuck with me is where he sick I’m am stick of hearing about them. Them minorities, them gays, them poor, them disabled, them them them. America is about us. When we are in unity; we can do anything.

  48. Alex Bowles says:

    Wait, what? Content isn’t being devalued…it’s just being degraded, accelerated, and made increasingly disposable by people who no longer have the time or inclination to make it thoughtfully and carefully in the first place?

    You lost me…

  49. debra says:

    That is some bonding and communication you had with each other. Made you much closer that quality time. It reminds me when my son & I were at Universal Studios in Orlando. We were chating in line. I noticed the family in front of us. The parents were both concentrating on the iphone screen. The three kids were playing games on the gadgets they had in there hands. I started to pay attention. The only time I heard them speak was when she said to one to get in line. Or, answer how much longer do we have to stand in line question. Then, answer a ? when they would have lunch. The rest of the time was dedicated to the screens they all had in their hands. My son and I on the other hand spoke to each other the whole hour. I remember some of what I learned about him that day.

  50. len says:

    And is it ok to degrade an industry? The comment heard here and elsewhere is people don’t have a right to keep making money on a product. IOW, residuals are somehow evil when stunt actors are paid residuals for a movie or session players receive some percentage of mechanical royalties, but if a software company continues to sell copies of a game or a toolkit, it is ok if the developers continue to receive profits based on some percentage of stock granted to them as a contingency for future success?

    Different how? A person working on a movie is unlikely to be a star. There are only a few of them. Yet look at how long the credits for Dark Knight is and notice how many of them are essentially software folk, animators, for example. Most of these are middle class types, the same as most of us here and he same people who have watched their incomes fall as the one percenters continue to rape the economy. It is ironic that the same culture that support Occupy think nothing of pirating content thus adding fuel to the same degrading of economy AND culture they think they are fighting.

  51. Fentex says:

    Wait, what? Content isn’t being devalued…it’s just being degraded, accelerated, and made increasingly disposable by people who no longer have the time or inclination to make it thoughtfully and carefully in the first place?
    You lost me…

    I guess I see a difference between the ongoing rush of production that cause mass markets to produce a lot of rubbish and some force suppressing artists from expressing themselves (which is how I interpret concerns about technology as a threat to quality).

    Perhaps professionals, such as T Bone see these as one and the same, presumably because without the assured income to fund professional production AND time to do it well in a way he can grasp and utilise it might as well be a force suppressing his, and similar producers, opportunities.

    It doesn’t seem that way to me though, but I’m not a commercial artist so I’m poorly placed to speak about that, but what figures and facts I see reported don’t seem to describe the death of content.

  52. len says:

    some force suppressing artists from expressing themselves

    The force is simply losing 90 per cent of sales to pirates and trying to pay people, support infrastructure, etc. on ten percent.

    Which part of that is unclear? We can all find outliers that are out of the norm but in the CNBC Report on Crime Inc aired tonight and last week, that is THE number.

    For every one technical article I can find on implementing DRM, I find many more on software made freely available to defeat it. That is a social problem, not a technical problem. Inevitability is an excuse not a value.

    without the assured income to fund professional production AND time to do it well in a way he can grasp and utilise

    I think you can assume T-Bone knows as much about cheap quality free production as any one else in or out of the industry knows. Your remark was insulting but thanks for making my case that this is a social problem in a specific culture more than a technical problem.

  53. T Bone Burnett says:

    “I don’t think technology is devaluing content…”


    You may not think that all you like. I actually know technology is devaluing content. It is manifest. It is here where I live, like the earthquakes where you live. One could not think New Zealand has been having any earthquakes. You would probably find it odd, but one could (and probably does) think that.

  54. T Bone Burnett says:

    Oh man, Fentex. You are severely off course. I am one of the lucky ones. The door has closed behind me. I am trying to hold the door open for those that come after me.

    It is trippy seeing you write about what I can grasp, when you can’t see what is right under your nose.

  55. T Bone Burnett says:


    I also understand that if you give enough monkeys enough typewriters and enough time, they will eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare.

    We don’t have that kind of time.

  56. len says:

    @T Bone Burnett

    Only if the monkeys know how to learn how to learn how to type.

    I’ll type faster. :)

  57. len says:

    as much about cheap quality free production as any one else in or out of the industry knows

    In case that was misunderstood, I meant that knowing how to do something right with quality doesn’t preclude knowing how to do it cheap. It doesn’t work the other way. Cheap done by someone who understands quality will still be better than what someone who only knows cheap.

    The point being, quality costs. When quality matters, the supply of people who know how to achieve that shrinks and if we keep telling people costs should go down just because money won’t be available, fewer and fewer will know how to do it well. An indie producer targeting an mp3 player cannot do what a soundtrack producer targeting a multi-channel cinema can do. The copyleft people often equate the two and they are not the same quality.

    That’s my impression of what piracy ultimately does to art: it takes away the money needed to do it right; then the engine of quality evaporates because after a time, no one will bother to learn. Here technology can degrade production. One can compress the hell out of a lot of overdubbed autotuned tracks or one can learn to mix and sing.

    I doubt the monkeys can produce the complete works. They may come up with Hamlet but they will follow it with Othello and the Three Stooges because they won’t know the difference.

  58. T Bone Burnett says:

    mp3 is a dead medium. Technology is changing every ten years and speeding up. Record artists who have recorded and mixed their music in ProTools will not be able to access the multi tracks in a decade. We have lost a whole generation of music to unlistenable digital technology.

  59. len says:

    Even CDs are only guaranteed for about ten years if handled without care so even if the project was properly archived. that’s no guarantee. Remastering analog tape that wasn’t stored properly is no better in my experience. I hope people can still read scores.

    A sad moment watching the Sherlock Holmes series last weekend was realizing just how lo-fi it is on DVD now and that it was likely quite good when originally broadcast. A lot of early TV series episodes (eg. most of the Cathy Gale Avengers) were lost to reusing the tape after every episode because no one believed it had a lifecycle. Same for old movies thus the restoration projects. One wonders if the ProTools projects with the original wav files will be similarly restored. Perhaps the upside of digital technology is the project settings are saved as well, but if the plugin filters are lost, someone gets to make educated guesses.

    This and some aspects of DRM are where the current industries do need to sit down and hammer out metadata standards and fairer agreements. One legitimate gripe is buying/renting content and being unable to play it on different devices because the DRM locks the content into a single hardware/software system. I get the piracy problem and the impacts it is having, but there has to be a balance between content ownership, licensing and the user norms. Until then the impetus to hack the DRM will not subside. Here the entertainment industry content makers and the digital player and distribution industries must come to a consensus that is fair to everyone.

  60. T Bone Burnett says:

    Exactly right. I am not a proponent of DRM, but metadata (and format) standards, fairer agreements, amending copyright law all have to be addressed in an ethical and respectful way. The lack of standards leads to walled gardens. It would seem to me that the technology community would want to architect its communication system to advance the Arts.

    The technology community should be doing everything it can to support and safeguard the Arts. So many Deadheads in Silicon Valley. That engineers scoff at and condescend to artists is mind blowing. That scientists are actively devaluing the Arts seeking to diminish them is a science fiction nightmare.

  61. T Bone Burnett says:

    And by the way, I don’t think of myself as a professional. I am not content.

  62. len says:

    Not even mildly satisfied? 😉 I think of you as a mahatma, a great soul who like a calm ocean perfectly reflects a paradise of sound. Your work shines and everyone who works with you lives forever in that reflection.

    I’m a grigori bound to a valley. I can’t help anyone choose a path; only help them along it.

    As I dig into the topics, it is clear there is no single technical solution or social solution. It will be a coalition of different groups, strong minded individuals, training, forensics training, and a willingness to see that without this cooperation, everyone will be genuninely screwed. What is being done to the arts is being done to information in general and is spreading across the society like red algae on the Nile. As I said earlier, I think the two main topics on Jon’s blog keep reoccurring because they are coupled; two versions of the same “social disorder”. I don’t have a term for it, but it is there, a disatisfaction with what is that has become a disease in its own right, and it is dissolving our trust and therefore, our ability to offer an open hand or keep an open heart. Love cannot live here.

    There is increased interest in the metadata standards. These can be created in open forums such as the W3C. Other issues will have to go opaque because those who oppose and profit by opposing are taking over their markets by violent means. It isn’t a game. This why the white hats will have to come up with their own organization of organizations to coordinate, share and protect. Wise minds must meet and they must be the kind that know how to create a ring of unbreakable trust.

  63. T Bone Burnett says:

    “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.”
    —Albert Einstein

    Einstein said that Picasso preceded him by twenty years.

  64. JTMcPhee says:

    Just another thought or three on quality and art and all that stuff that tin ears like myself struggle to appreciate:

    “Cost Disease,” “Creative Destruction,” and Musical Labor —–Cost-Disease-Creative-Destruction-and-Musical-Labor

    Kind of ties into tie-ins to links to night-sweat thoughts about whether there is a future and how the mothertruckers who live, vampire-squid-like, to bleed the rest of us back into serfdom and debt slavery.

    Time for a Jubilee?

    With uplifting, inspiring, driving music? “There’s a song in my ears…” , or maybe a trip back to Joe Hill?

    And, of course, it’s “Summertime:”

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