A Silicon Valley scheme to “disrupt” America’s education system would hurt the people who need it the most

The plot to destroy education: Why technology could ruin American classrooms — by trying to fix them

The plot to destroy education: Why technology could ruin American classrooms — by trying to fix them
(Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./Pgiam via iStock/Salon)

How does Silicon Valley feel about college? Here’s a taste: Seven words in a tweet provoked by a conversation about education started by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreeseen.

Arrogance? Check. Supreme confidence? Check. Oblivious to the value actually provided by a college education? Check.

The $400 billion a year that Americans pay for education after high school is being wasted on an archaic brick-and-mortar irrelevance. We can do better! 

But how? The question becomes more pertinent every day — and it’s one that Silicon Valley would dearly like to answer.

The robots are coming for our jobs, relentlessly working their way up the value chain. Anything that can be automated will be automated. The obvious — and perhaps the only — answer to this threat is a vastly improved educational system. We’ve got to leverage our human intelligence to stay ahead of robotic A.I.! And right now, everyone agrees, the system is not meeting the challenge. The cost of a traditional four-year college education has far outpaced inflation. Student loan debt is a national tragedy. Actually achieving a college degree still bequeaths better job prospects than the alternative, but for many students, the cost-benefit ratio is completely out of whack.

No problem, says the tech industry. Like a snake eating its own tail, Silicon Valley has the perfect solution for the social inequities caused by technologically induced “disruption.” More disruption!

Universities are a hopelessly obsolete way to go about getting an education when we’ve got the Internet, the argument goes. Just as Airbnb is disemboweling the hotel industry and Uber is annihilating the taxi industry, companies such as Coursera and Udacity will leverage technology and access to venture capital in order to crush the incumbent education industry, supposedly offering high-quality educational opportunities for a fraction of the cost of a four-year college.



There is an elegant logic to this argument. We’ll use the Internet to stay ahead of the Internet. Awesome tools are at our disposal. In MOOCs — “Massive Open Online Courses” — hundreds of thousands of students will imbibe the wisdom of Ivy League “superprofessors” via pre-recorded lectures piped down to your smartphone. No need even for overworked graduate student teaching assistants. Intelligent software will take care of the grading. (That’s right — we’ll use robots to meet the robot threat!) The market, in other words, will provide the solution to the problem that the market has caused. It’s a wonderful libertarian dream.

But there’s a flaw in the logic. Early returns on MOOCs have confirmed what just about any teacher could have told you before Silicon Valley started believing it could “fix” education. Real human interaction and engagement are hugely important to delivering a quality education. Most crucially, hands-on interaction with teachers is vital for the students who are in most desperate need for an education — those with the least financial resources and the most challenging backgrounds.

Of course, it costs money to provide greater human interaction. You need bodies — ideally, bodies with some mastery of the subject material. But when you raise costs, you destroy the primary attraction of Silicon Valley’s “disruptive” model. The big tech success stories are all about avoiding the costs faced by the incumbents. Airbnb owns no hotels. Uber owns no taxis. The selling point of Coursera and Udacity is that they need own no universities.

But education is different than running a hotel. There’s a reason why governments have historically considered providing education a public good. When you start throwing bodies into the fray to teach people who can’t afford a traditional private education you end up disastrously chipping away at the profits that the venture capitalists backing Coursera and Udacity demand.

And that’s a tail that the snake can’t swallow.

* * *

The New York Times famously dubbed 2012 “The Year of the MOOC.” Coursera and Udacity (both started by Stanford professors) and an MIT-Harvard collaboration called EdX exploded into the popular imagination. But the hype ebbed almost as quickly as it had flowed. In 2013, after a disastrous pilot experiment in which Udacity and San Jose State collaborated to deliver three courses, MOOCs were promptly declared dead — with the harshest schadenfreude coming from academics who saw the rush to MOOCs as an educational travesty.

At the end of 2013, the New York Times had changed its tune: “After Setbacks, Online Courses are Rethought.”

But MOOC supporters have never wavered. In May, Clayton Christensen, the high priest of “disruption” theory, scoffed at the unbelievers: ”[T]heir potential to disrupt — on price, technology, even pedagogy — in a long-stagnant industry,” wrote Christensen, ” is only just beginning to be seen.”

At the end of June, the Economist followed suit with a package of stories touting the inevitable “creative destruction” threatened by MOOCs: “[A] revolution has begun thanks to three forces: rising costs, changing demand and disruptive technology. The result will be the reinvention of the university …” It’s 2012 all over again!

Sure, there have been speed bumps along the way. But as Christensen explained, the same is true for any would-be disruptive start-up. Failures are bound to happen. What makes Silicon Valley so special is its ability to learn from mistakes, tweak its biz model and try something new. It’s called “iteration.”

There is, of course, great merit to the iterative process. And it would be foolish to claim that new technology won’t have an impact on the educational process. If there’s one thing that the Internet and smartphones are insanely good at, it is providing access to information. A teenager with a phone in Uganda has opportunities for learning that most of the world never had through the entire course of human history. That’s great.

But there’s a crucial difference between “access to information” and “education” that explains why the university isn’t about to become obsolete, and why we can’t depend — as Marc Andreessen tells us — on the magic elixir of innovation plus the free market to solve our education quandary.

Nothing better illustrates this point than a closer look at the Udacity-San Jose State collaboration.

* * *

When Gov. Jerry Brown announced the collaboration between Udacity, founded by the Stanford computer science Sebastian Thrun and San Jose State, a publicly funded university in the heart of Silicon Valley, in January 2013, the match seemed perfect. Where else would you want to test out the future of education? The plan was to focus on three courses: elementary statistics, remedial math and college algebra. The target student demographic was notoriously ill-served by the university system: “Students were drawn from a lower-income high school and the underperforming ranks of SJSU’s student body,” reported Fast Company.

The results of the pilot, conducted in the spring of 2013, were a disaster, reported Fast Company:

Among those pupils who took remedial math during the pilot program, just 25 percent passed. And when the online class was compared with the in-person variety, the numbers were even more discouraging. A student taking college algebra in person was 52 percent more likely to pass than one taking a Udacity class, making the $150 price tag–roughly one-third the normal in-state tuition–seem like something less than a bargain.

A second attempt during the summer achieved better results, but with a much less disadvantaged student body; and, even more crucially, with considerably greater resources put into human interaction and oversight. For example, San Jose State reported that the summer courses were improved by “checking in with students more often.”

But the prime takeaway was stark. Inside Higher Education reported that a research report conducted by San Jose State on the experiment concluded that “it may be difficult for the university to deliver online education in this format to the students who need it most.”

In an iterative world, San Jose State and Udacity would have learned from their mistakes. The next version of their collaboration would have incorporated the increased human resources necessary to make it work, to be sure that students didn’t fall through the cracks. But the lesson that Udacity learned from the collaboration turned out be something different: There isn’t going to be much profit to be made attempting to apply the principles of MOOCs to students from a disadvantaged background.

Thrun set off a firestorm of commentary when he told Fast Company’s Max Chafkin this:

“These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives,” he says. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit….”

“I’d aspired to give people a profound education–to teach them something substantial… But the data was at odds with this idea.”

Henceforth, Udacity would “pivot” to focusing on vocational training funded by direct corporate support.

Thrun later claimed that his comments were misinterpreted by Fast Company. And in his May Op-Ed Christensen argued that Udacity’s pivot was a boon!

Udacity, for its part, should be applauded for not burning through all of its money in pursuit of the wrong strategy. The company realized — and publicly acknowledged — that its future lay on a different path than it had originally anticipated. Indeed, Udacity’s pivot may have even prevented a MOOC bubble from bursting.

Educating the disadvantaged via MOOCs is the wrong strategy? That’s not a pivot — it’s an abject surrender.

The Economist, meanwhile, brushed off the San Jose State episode by noting that “online learning has its pitfalls.” But the Economist also published a revealing observation: “In some ways MOOCs will reinforce inequality … among students (the talented will be much more comfortable than the weaker outside the structured university environment) …”

But isn’t that exactly the the problem? No one can deny that the access to information facilitated by the Internet is a fantastic thing for talented students — and particularly so for those with secure economic backgrounds and fast Internet connections. But such people are most likely to succeed in a world full of smart robots anyway. The challenge posed by technological transformation and disruption is that the jobs that are being automated away first are the ones that are most suited to the less talented or advantaged. In other words, the population that MOOCs are least suited to serving is the population that technology is putting in the most vulnerable position.

Innovation and the free market aren’t going to fix this problem, for the very simple reason that there is no money in it. There’s no profit to be mined in educating people who not only can’t pay for an education, but also require greater human resources to be educated.

This is why we have public education in the first place.

“College is a public good,” says Jonathan Rees, a professor at Colorado State University who has been critical of MOOCs. “It’s what industrialized democratic society should be providing for students.”

Andrew Leonard Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

Moroder on starting his DJ career at age 74, working with Daft Punk, and the evolution of club culture

Meet the godfather of electronic dance music: Giorgio Moroder’s spectacular return to the spotlight

Meet the godfather of electronic dance music: Giorgio Moroder's spectacular return to the spotlight
Giorgio Moroder (Credit: AP/Barry Brecheisen)

In the ’70s and ’80s, Giorgio Moroder — the Italian-born, L.A.-based godfather of electronic dance music — reeled in three Oscars (for scoring “Midnight Express” and for songs from “Flashdance” and “Top Gun”) and three Grammys. He produced the likes of Blondie and David Bowie, and pushed dance music into the synthesizer era alongside Donna Summer on “I Feel Love.” Now, at 74, he’s first starting a career as a DJ, spinning his tracks for fans who weren’t born when he originally recorded them.

Moroder credits Daft Punk for rebooting his music in the popular consciousness with last year’s track “Giorgio by Moroder,” but today’s Electronic Dance Music scene owes a huge amount to his work.

The day after playing a set at London’s Wireless Festival this month, a dapper, youthful Moroder – his moustache downsized and whiter than in its handlebar heyday, but still presiding over a mischievous smile – sat down with a fizzy water in a hotel bar to discuss the evolution of dance music, the trials involved in working with stars in 2014 and why he has only now started to visit nightclubs.

Considering that Daft Punk’s “Giorgio by Moroder” sets an interview about your life to new music, is it weird to have been thrust back into the spotlight by your own history?

Yeah, well I was quite emotional when I heard it. The guys told me a year before in Paris to tell my story, and I was just blabbering and blabbering for two hours, and I didn’t have any idea what they’d do with it. I thought maybe they’d cut up some words and make some effects. When they played it to me, I loved it. It was emotional because the music too is like the transition from disco into all the different styles [I’ve done].

As I understand, before this, you had been playing a lot of golf –

It’s true.

Was it that no one had approached you to do music?

First of all, six or seven years ago, DJ-ing was not a great job to do, so I thought to myself, “No no, I’m a composer; I’m a producer. I’m not the guy who puts the records on.” But then, Kim Jones, the designer, wanted me to write 12 minutes [to soundtrack a Louis Vuitton fashion show]. I said, “This is quite easy, actually. I just play my songs!” And then I did a little bit of a DJ [set], which was a bit of a mess, in Cannes for Elton John. Then the Red Bull Academy asked if I could talk to the students about music and said, “How about if we do a disco evening?” And I said, “Great!” That was the same day when Daft Punk came out – the 21st of May last year, and from there I went to Japan, Sweden, Mexico, around the world.



People know me a little bit, and the young kids go on the Internet, listen to the songs. They want to hear “What is the guy doing?” Sometimes I have three generations: young guys, 18-20, then the 40-year-olds, then the older ones who grew up with my music. Yesterday we had only young kids, and some knew every word of the hits like “Hot Stuff,” “Take My Breath Away.”

Are you playing updated versions of your hits?

Yeah, I have a good remix of a song which I kind of forgot, Japan’s “Life in Tokyo.” I have a remix of “I Feel Love,” ’cause the original is by far too slow today. The remix I did is not 128 [beats per minute], but it’s still faster.

Do you have a sense of why dance music is faster now?

Well, I could ask, why are the movies now so fast-paced? And the videos are incredible – they got faster and faster, so I guess attention spans are getting shorter. Steven Spielberg has a formula which says, every seven minutes, something big has to happen. And Adrian Lyne came in with “Flashdance,” and he cut it almost like a video. The songs I write are always the same: You cannot really cut a song too much, but now for the DJ-ing, I just do two and a half minutes of songs, because I think, “People want to hear the next one.” That’s one of the reasons why EDM works so well. Dr. Luke, I think, said that he wants a change of sound or tracks every eight bars, while the traditional way is to have an intro, like, eight bars, and then a verse, 16, and then the chorus, and that’s 32 — but with EDM, you have all that very staccato stuff.

You’ve mentioned before that you find some EDM disjointed. Is that what you’re referring to?

If you talk musically in the bigger sense, [EDM songs] are not that great. I can tell you a very good example: I recorded a song about a month ago with a relatively famous act, so I gave her the tracks, and so she said, “OK, give me the first eight bars,” which was kind of the verse, so she sang it, then she said, “OK, now give me the 16 bars or whatever of the chorus,” so she learned it and sang it. She did it piece by piece – in her mind, I don’t know if she really heard the verse going into the chorus. She would end the verse up there [Moroder sings a note], and then start the chorus at the same level. I know I can – I don’t say the word “repair,” but that one’s relatively easy because I just add a harmony on top, so instead of continuing flat, the background goes up.

The way the guys in EDM compose is totally different from the traditional way. Now they have three studios ready – three producers, three composers, and it’s almost a selection: You give me three mixes, and I say, “OK, I want this part, which is great, and this, and this.” That’s why some EDM songs are so catchy, because there are no rules. Every section is a little bit of a hit, although it’s not really joined that well, but it sounds good. I think that the tendency now is going more to the analog way, where you have songs with verse, chorus, bridge …

Nowadays when you work with artists, do they say, “I want this to sound like such-and-such a song you’ve already done?”

I don’t really know exactly what they want because most of the time it’s their manager who talks to my manager. Right now, to have direct contact with an act is almost impossible. Every act is so protected . … Maybe they want a little disco influence. The great thing was that Daft Punk really revived disco with “Get Lucky,” where they have electric drums with bass and real drums – that’s what people want, and that’s what I do.

Trent Reznor asked you to remix a Nine Inch Nails song …

He asked me about six months [ago] if I wanted to do a remix, but then I was listening to the song, and I said, “It’s so well done – what would I add?” Trent is a genius; he doesn’t need me to improve his stuff, and to be honest, I was a little scared. If the original is so good, the guy who does the remix has to be a genius to make it better.

 A lot of people would say that you’re a genius.

Oh yeah, that’s true! [laughs]. But I would really have to work hard even to change [the song] – and then with him you would never know how much can you change or how much he wants the original. With Coldplay [on a remix of “Midnight”], I had one version which was good but they said, “No, we need a little more Moroder,” whatever that is, so I went back in the studio and they loved it. For the first time, they said, all four guys even listened to a remix. Because those big groups, they couldn’t care less about remixes.

And adding the strings and all those layers – it’s almost a trademark. Your productions sound really expensive. You also helped design a sports car and a cognac bottle – is that the Moroder brand, to make something luxurious?

With computers today [laughs] … This would be absolutely expensive if I had used real strings! I noticed lately the luxury sound doesn’t work in the discotheques as a DJ, because you have to have great drums, great bass, and the voice, of course, and the rest is not that important. For example the “Midnight” remix doesn’t sound really good [in a club] because everything is so loud, and when the strings come in, you lose the bass and you lose the drums – you lose a little bit of that tempo feel. If I’m thinking to play that song more often, I would do a remix of my remix.

As far as your own work goes, it’s been reported that you’re going to be working with Lana Del Rey.

I don’t know. She is such a lovely girl, and first of all, I think she works like crazy. She’s on tour now in Europe somewhere. If there’s a chance to meet in the same city one day, we’ll do something. I love what she’s doing. She has her style, which is so unique. I think she’s darker than me in terms of lyrics – I don’t understand them, but I’ve read that her lyrics are really down, right? Whatever lyrics are good, I like, but the sounds – I don’t think they are that dark. Obviously she has a lot of strings, and a lot of delay and echoes … I don’t have a clue what I would do, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen; if it is, I’m going to be happy.

I understand you’ve been recording with Kelis?

Am I? There are so many rumors out – oh God! I’m supposed to do Madonna. I don’t have a clue who came up with that! And unfortunately nobody has [put out] a rumor of Rihanna, which I really would like, but it’s still all the names you hear or read – some may have a little bit of truth; some have nothing at all, so it’s all in the air. But from what I sense [my new album] is going to be good. Ideally it would have one or two big names, then maybe three or four good but not “top,” then some young, new guys – even groups of people who don’t sell a record but who are really into the new music, new – not experimental but unusual new stuff.

In the meantime, you’re out on the road. There was so much hedonism in the disco lifestyle back in the ’70s; do you find a big difference in atmosphere between dance clubs then and now?

I think the main thing is the DJ. I was at Studio 54 only once or twice, and the DJ would just play his songs. Now if you go to a club, the DJ is up there building up the audience, and especially at festivals, the DJ is an act. I saw Mixmaster Mike – that guy was mixing from one track to the other in a matter of seconds, and I thought, “a genius!” Then after, I said, “How on Earth do you remember the probably 2000 pieces you did in an hour and a half?” He said, “I have a memory like a computer. You play me two bars of a song and I tell you.” That’s an art. I think the difference is now that the DJ is the animator of the evening instead of just putting records on.

It sounds like the disco era was fun in a different way.

Yeah, although don’t ask me because I never went to discos anyway.

Really?

No, in Munich [where Moroder lived for most of the 1970s] I went from time to time – whenever I had a new song, I would give it to a friend of mine who was a DJ, and he would play it and I would see the reaction. If everybody would leave the dance floor, that was a sign that I should throw it away. There’s a club now called Giorgio’s in Los Angeles; we go because it’s [run by] a friend of ours; I stay 10 minutes and [my wife] dances all through the night.

So basically you manage to make records that thousands of people would dance to without going to dance clubs at all.

Yeah, because I cannot dance. That’s why I don’t go to discos, because I’m embarrassed! The so-called disco king comes in and doesn’t know – [laughs] So I cannot tell you what happened – I know from reading what’s going on. But it’s quite different from what I remember. Now you have the DJ who is really in charge.

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/21/meet_the_godfather_of_electronic_dance_music_giorgio_moroders_spectacular_return_to_the_spotlight/?source=newsletter

More musicians are taking aim at the rates paid by Spotify and Pandora, and warning whole genres are in danger

It’s not just David Byrne and Radiohead: Spotify, Pandora and how streaming music kills jazz and classical

It's not just David Byrne and Radiohead: Spotify, Pandora and how streaming music kills jazz and classical

David Byrne, Thom Yorke (Credit: Reuters/Hugo Correia/AP/Chris Pizzello/Photo collage by Salon)

After years in which tech-company hype has drowned out most other voices, the frustration of musicians with the digital music world has begun to get a hearing. We know now that many rockers don’t like it. Less discussed so far is the trouble jazz and classical musicians — and their fans — have with music streaming, which is being hailed as the “savior” of the music business.

But between low royalties, opaque payout rates, declining record sales and suspicion that the major labels have cut deals with the streamers that leave musicians out of the equation, anger from the music business’s artier edges is slowing growing. It’s further proof of the lie of the “long tail.” The shift to digital is also helping to isolate these already marginalized genres: It has a decisive effect on what listeners can find, and on whether or not an artist can earn a living from his work. (Music streaming, in all genres, is up 42 percent for the first half of this year, according to Nielsen SoundScan, against the first half of 2013. Over the same period, CD sales fell 19.6 percent, and downloads, the industry’s previous savior, were down 11.6 percent.)

Only a very few classical artists have been outspoken on the issue so far: San-Francisco-based Zoe Keating — a tech-savvy, DIY, Amanda Palmer of the cello — has blown the whistle on the tiny amounts the streaming services pay musicians. Though she’s exactly the kind of artist who should be cashing in on streaming, since she releases her own music, tours relentlessly, and has developed a strong following since her days with rock band Rasputina, only 8 percent of  her last year’s earnings from recorded music came from streaming. The iTunes store, which pays out in small amounts since most purchases are for 99 cent songs, paid her about six times what she earned from streaming. (More than 400,000 Spotify streams earned her $1,764; almost 2 million YouTube views generated $1,248.)

For jazz and classical players without Keating’s entrepreneurial energy or larger cult following, the numbers are even bleaker. “It feels awful,” says Christina Courtin, a Julliard-trained violinist who plays in classical groups and has put out albums on the Nonesuch and Hundred Pockets labels. “I don’t count on that as a way to make money — I don’t see how it makes sense for a musician. It’s pretty dark — no one’s selling as much as they were even five years ago.”



Some artists remember a very different world. “I used to sell CDs of my music,” says Richard Danielpour, a celebrated American composer who has written an opera with Toni Morrison and once had an exclusive recording contract with Sony Classical. “And now we get nothing.”

It’s not just streaming, but the larger digital era that’s burying record stores, radio and recordings – and it’s hitting jazz and classical musicians especially hard. For some young musicians launching their careers, the “exposure” they get on Pandora or YouTube brings them employment or a fan base somewhere down the line. But many wait in vain. And like their counterparts in the pop world, musicians typically cannot opt out of streaming and the rest of the new world.

“One of the big reasons musicians kept control of their publishing was for the possibility that at least we would be paid when those songs were played in media outlets,” says jazz pianist Jason Moran, currently the jazz advisor for the Kennedy Center. “Back in the day, Fats Waller, and tons of other artists were robbed of their publishing. This is the new version of it, but on a much more wider scale.”

*

In some ways, the trouble in these genres resembles the problems experienced by any non-superstar musicians. Royalties on steaming services, for instance, are notoriously low. “All of my colleagues — composers and arrangers — are seeing huge cuts in their earnings,” says Paul Chihara, a veteran composer who until recently headed UCLA’s film-music program. “In effect, we’re not getting royalties. It’s almost amusing some of the royalty checks I get.” One of the last checks he got was for $29. “And it bounced.”

The pain is especially acute for indie musicians. While some jazz and classical labels are owned by one of the three majors — Blue Note and Deutsche Grammophon, for example, are now part of the Universal Music Group — the vast majority of musicians record for independent labels. And the indies have been largely left out of the sweet deals struck with the streamers. Most of those deals are opaque; the informed speculation says that these arrangement are not good for musicians, especially those not on the few remaining majors.

“Musicians in niche categories need to be fearful of the agreements that labels are signing with streaming services,” says music historian Ted Gioia, who has also recorded as a jazz pianist. Some of these deals, he suspects, allow the steamers to pay nothing at all to some artists, including most who record jazz and classical music. “The record labels could make a case that they don’t need to share royalties with artists whose sales don’t cross a certain threshold. If you’re Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, you have no problem. But otherwise, you would get no royalties. The nature of these deals are that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Labels that own substantial back catalog — old Pink Floyd and Eagles albums, and earlier music that no longer require royalty payments to musicians — have likely cut much better deals than labels that primarily put out new music, especially those in non-pop genres. Says Gioia: “I suspect we’d find agreements where the labels say, [to the streamers], ‘You can have our whole catalog for $5 million, plus you pay us a fraction of a penny for any song that streams more than a million times.’” You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think this way: The major labels have a number of weaselly little tricks like this one, sometimes called a “digital breakage,” in which musicians get nothing.

Moran compares the appearance of Spotify on the scene to the arrival of Wal-Mart to an American small-town: The new model undercuts the existing ones, and helps put smaller, independent stores out of business.

Indie labels are equally vulnerable. Pi Recordings is a jazz label that puts out recordings by the cream of the avant-garde, including Henry Threadgill, Marc Ribot and Rudresh Mahanthappa. It’s been described as one of the rare success stories in a dark time. But Yulun Wang, who co-runs the label, is not sure how they can stand up against the streaming onslaught.

“You have the guy who buys 20 jazz records a year — $300 a year,” Wang says. “He might buy one or two of our albums. If I convert that guy to Spotify – he’s now getting all-you-can-eat for $120. And the proportion that comes to me is literally pennies. That’s when it over. That’s will force labels like ours to either change the way we do things significantly.”

The digital enthusiasts say that labels need to “adjust” to the new world – by taking a piece of musicians’ touring, or cutting “360 deals” in which they get part of every strand of an artist’s revenue stream. But for jazz artists, touring outside New York and a few other cities does not yield much. “If I take 15 percent of someone making $30,000, it’s just less money in their pocket.” At a certain point, the artist can no longer pay the rent. “That’s when it’s game over.”

*

But it’s not just a problem of scale. There are distinctive qualities to jazz and classical music that make it a difficult fit to the digital world as it now exists, and that punish musicians and curious fans alike. To Jean Cook, a new-music violinist, onetime Mekon, and director of programs for the Future Musical Coalition, it further marginalizes these already peripheral styles, creating what she calls “invisible genres.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, or Beats Music, she says. “Any music service that’s serving pop and classical music will not serve classical music well.” The problem is the nature of classical music, and jazz as well, and the way they differ from pop music. They all make different use of metadata – a term most people associate with Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, but which have a profound importance to streaming services. Put most simply: Classical music and jazz are such a mismatch for existing streaming services, it’s almost impossible to find stuff. Cook realized this when she got a recommendation from a music lover, and found herself falling down an online labyrinth trying to find it.

Here’s a good place to start: Say you’re looking for a bedrock recording, the Beethoven Piano Concertos, with titan Maurizio Pollini on piano. Who is the “artist” for this one? Is it the Berlin Philharmonic, or Claudio Abbado, who conducts them? Is it Pollini? Or is it Beethoven himself? If you can see the entire record jacket, you can see who the recording includes. Otherwise, you could find yourself guessing.

Or, if you want music written the Russian late romantic, do you want Rachmaninoff, or Rachmaninoff? Chances are, your service will have one but not the other. And what do you call the movements of a symphony or chamber piece? By their Roman numeral? Or by names like andante or scherzo?

“These services are built to serve the largest segments of the marketplace — pop, country and hip hop,” says Cook. None of these have this kind of complicated structure.

Jazz offers similar difficulties, she says. Say you want to find recordings by pianist Bill Evans. You can find a bunch of them — but nothing linking him to “Kind of Blue,” perhaps the most important (and, in vinyl and CD form, certainly the bestselling) recording he was ever a part of. Evans shaped that album profoundly. You won’t find John Coltrane — another key voice on that session — there either, since it’s a Miles Davis record.

“Listing sidemen is something that is just not built into the architecture,” says Cook. It’s not a small problem. “I can’t think of a single example of a jazz musician who was not a sideman at one point in their career. We’re talking about a significant portion of jazz history that can’t get out.” It also makes you wonder — what are the chances that sidemen, or their heirs, get paid when things are streamed? And what do potential music consumers do when they can’t find what they’re looking for?

There used to be a solution to this. “Go back to the days of record stores,” says Gioia, “and customers could learn a lot from browsing the racks, or asking the serious music fans who worked there.” (Classical record stores, then and now, tended to have their recordings organized by composer rather than group.) The algorithms for specialized genres — classical, reggae, acoustic blues, Brazilian music —are hopeless, he says.

“These days, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for. If you want something by Beyonce or Miley Cyrus, it’s not hard. If you’re interested in niche music, you can be in the position of not knowing what’s out there. I still find myself missing important releases by musicians I care about. Streaming provides access to millions of hours of music, but it’s easy to get lost in it.”

If dedicated fans like Cook and Gioia have these problems, what will happen to the casual or new fans that every genre needs in order to stay alive? They’ll simply drift away to the stuff that’s being beamed at them by advertisers around the clock.

*

Even some of those frightened and demoralized by the digital transition think things can be improved for jazz and classical music.

So far, Wang’s solution has been to drop out. It’s nearly impossible for artists to withdraw, but as a label head, he can pull all of Pi’s music off Spotify. After three or four months on the service, two years back, he received a royalty statement of about $25 for all of it, and decided it just wasn’t worth it.

“What we found when we got out of Spotify — after these dire warnings — was that our sales went up; they absolutely jumped.”

He’s very familiar with the pressure to give art away. “We were always told you need to get as many audiences as possible … With the exposure argument, you’re told, ‘You could become the next Lady Gaga!’ It’s like playing Lotto — buy dollar tickets, and you could hit it big. In jazz, keep buying dollar tickets so you can win a dollar fifty.”

Cook sees the poor fit of these genres to streaming services as part of a larger phenomenon: Their radio playlists don’t show up in Billboard, their ticket receipts and album sales are often not reported to SoundScan and PollStar, and their awards on the Grammys are rarely televised. “This affects the visibility of jazz and classical music, and the way they are viewed by the rest of the industry.”

Part of a solution involves getting the data straight. “There is no database that tells you who played on what recording, and who wrote each song. ASCAP has one piece of the puzzle; iTunes has another. If you’ve got a music service, you need this, because you need to know who to pay. You need to tell listeners who they’re listening too. And if it’s not consistent, it’s not searchable.”

She wonders how it happens, though, even with open-source software that makes it easier. “The classical community needs to say, ‘This is a good index, instead of the crap the record labels are sending you. It requires a coordinated effort by a lot of different parties.”

Composer Danielpour says that classical people should not give up on recording work and trying to get on the radio. “Even though radio is a mid-20th century medium, for classical music it’s still a powerful source of revenue,” especially in Europe, where royalties are typically better. He recently returned from a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. “For European and Russian audiences, classical music is religion. For us in America, it’s entertainment.”

Gioia, a former businessman, is pragmatic and forward looking. “My view is that the only solution for this, that is equitable for everyone, is for the music labels, in partnership with the artists, to control their own streaming,” says Gioia. “They need to bypass Silicon Valley.

“They need to work together with a new model, to control distribution and not rely on Apple, Amazon and everyone else. The music industry has always hated technology — they hated radio when it came out — and have always dragged their feet. They need to embrace technology and do it better.”

 

Scott Timberg, a longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, runs the blog Culture Crash. His book, “Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class” comes out in January. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMisreadCity

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/20/its_not_just_david_byrne_and_radiohead_spotify_pandora_and_how_streaming_music_kills_jazz_and_classical/?source=newsletter

Leonard Cohen on Creativity, Hard Work, and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting

by

“The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.”

Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen (b. September 21, 1934) is among the most exhilarating creative spirits of the past century. Recipient of the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and countless other accolades, and an ordained Rinzai Buddhist monk, his music has extended popular song into the realm of poetry, even philosophy. By the time Bob Dylan rose to fame, Cohen already had several volumes of poetry and two novels under his belt, including the critically acclaimed Beautiful Losers, which famously led Allen Ginsberg to remark that “Dylan blew everybody’s mind, except Leonard’s.” Once he turned to songwriting in the late 1960s, the world of music was forever changed.

From Paul Zollo’s impressive interview compendium Songwriters on Songwriting (public library) — which also gave us Pete Seeger on originality, Bob Dylan on sacrifice and the unconscious mind, and Carole King on perspiration vs. inspiration — comes a spectacular and wide-ranging 1992 conversation with Cohen, who begins by considering the purpose of music in human life:

There are always meaningful songs for somebody. People are doing their courting, people are finding their wives, people are making babies, people are washing their dishes, people are getting through the day, with songs that we may find insignificant. But their significance is affirmed by others. There’s always someone affirming the significance of a song by taking a woman into his arms or by getting through the night. That’s what dignifies the song. Songs don’t dignify human activity. Human activity dignifies the song.

Cohen approaches his work with extraordinary doggedness reflecting the notion that work ethic supersedes what we call “inspiration” — something articulated by such acclaimed and diverse creators as the celebrated composer Tchaikovsky (“A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”), novelist Isabel Allende (“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”), painter Chuck Close (Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”), beloved author E.B. White (“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”), Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (“My belief of book writing is much the same as my belief as to shoemaking. The man who will work the hardest at it, and will work with the most honest purpose, will work the best.”), and designer Massimo Vignelli (“There is no design without discipline.”). Cohen tells Zollo:

I’m writing all the time. And as the songs begin to coalesce, I’m not doing anything else but writing. I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I’m not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is. So I’m working most of the time.

[...]

To find a song that I can sing, to engage my interest, to penetrate my boredom with myself and my disinterest in my own opinions, to penetrate those barriers, the song has to speak to me with a certain urgency.

To be able to find that song that I can be interested in takes many versions and it takes a lot of uncovering.

[...]

My immediate realm of thought is bureaucratic and like a traffic jam. My ordinary state of mind is very much like the waiting room at the DMV… So to penetrate this chattering and this meaningless debate that is occupying most of my attention, I have to come up with something that really speaks to my deepest interests. Otherwise I nod off in one way or another. So to find that song, that urgent song, takes a lot of versions and a lot of work and a lot of sweat.

But why shouldn’t my work be hard? Almost everybody’s work is hard. One is distracted by this notion that there is such a thing as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. And some people are graced by that style. I’m not. So I have to work as hard as any stiff, to come up with my payload.

He later adds:

Freedom and restriction are just luxurious terms to one who is locked in a dungeon in the tower of song. These are just … ideas. I don’t have the sense of restriction or freedom. I just have the sense of work. I have the sense of hard labor.

When asked whether he ever finds that “hard labor” enjoyable, Cohen echoes Lewis Hyde’s distinction between work and creative labor and considers what fulfilling work actually means:

It has a certain nourishment. The mental physique is muscular. That gives you a certain stride as you walk along the dismal landscape of your inner thoughts. You have a certain kind of tone to your activity. But most of the time it doesn’t help. It’s just hard work.

But I think unemployment is the great affliction of man. Even people with jobs are unemployed. In fact, most people with jobs are unemployed. I can say, happily and gratefully, that I am fully employed. Maybe all hard work means is fully employed.

Cohen further illustrates the point that ideas don’t simply appear to him with a charming anecdote, citing a writer friend of his who once said that Cohen’s mind “is unpolluted by a single idea,” which he took as a great compliment. Instead, he stresses the value of iteration and notes that his work consists of “just versions.” When Zollo asks whether each song begins with a lyrical idea, Cohen answers with lyrical defiance:

[Writing] begins with an appetite to discover my self-respect. To redeem the day. So the day does not go down in debt. It begins with that kind of appetite.

Cohen addresses the question of where good ideas come from with charming irreverence, producing the now-legendary line that Paul Holdengräber quoted in his conversation with David Lynch on creativity. Cohen echoes T.S. Eliot’s thoughts on the mystical quality of creativity and tells Zollo:

If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often. It’s a mysterious condition. It’s much like the life of a Catholic nun. You’re married to a mystery.

But Cohen’s most moving insights on songwriting transcend the specificity of the craft and extend to the universals of life. Addressing Zollo’s astonishment at the fact that Cohen has discarded entire finished song verses, he reflects on the necessary stick-to-itiveness of the creative process — this notion that before we quit, we have to have invested all of ourselves in order for the full picture to reveal itself and justify the quitting, which applies equally to everything from work to love:

Before I can discard the verse, I have to write it… I can’t discard a verse before it is written because it is the writing of the verse that produces whatever delights or interests or facets that are going to catch the light. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.

Cohen returns to the notion of hard work almost as an existential imperative:

I always used to work hard. But I had no idea what hard work was until something changed in my mind… I don’t really know what it was. Maybe some sense that this whole enterprise is limited, that there was an end in sight… That you were really truly mortal.

Considering his ongoing interest in the process itself rather than the outcome, Cohen makes a beautiful case for the art of self-renewal by exploring the deeper rewards and gratifications that have kept him going for half a century:

It [has] to do with two things. One is economic urgency. I just never made enough money to say, “Oh, man, I think I’m gonna get a yacht now and scuba-dive.” I never had those kinds of funds available to me to make radical decisions about what I might do in life. Besides that, I was trained in what later became known as the Montreal School of Poetry. Before there were prizes, before there were grants, before there were even girls who cared about what I did. We would meet, a loosely defined group of people. There were no prizes, as I said, no rewards other than the work itself. We would read each other poems. We were passionately involved with poems and our lives were involved with this occupation…

We had in our minds the examples of poets who continued to work their whole lives. There was never any sense of a raid on the marketplace, that you should come up with a hit and get out. That kind of sensibility simply did not take root in my mind until very recently…

So I always had the sense of being in this for keeps, if your health lasts you. And you’re fortunate enough to have the days at your disposal so you can keep on doing this. I never had the sense that there was an end. That there was a retirement or that there was a jackpot.

What a beautiful testament to the creative spirit and its true motives, to creative contribution coming from a place of purpose rather than a hunger for profit.

Songwriters on Songwriting is a treasure trove of wisdom from cover to cover, featuring Zollo’s conversations with such icons as Suzanne Vega, k.d. lang, David Byrne, and Neil Young.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/07/15/leonard-cohen-paul-zollo-creativity/

THE BULLSHIT MACHINE

Here’s a tiny confession. I’m bored.

Yes; I know. I’m a sinner. Go ahead. Burn me at the stake of your puritanical Calvinism; the righteously, thoroughly, well, boring idea that boredom itself is a moral defect; that a restless mind is the Devil’s sweatshop.

There’s nothing more boring than that; and I’ll return to that very idea at the end of this essay; which I hope is the beginning.

What am I bored of? Everything. Blogs books music art business ideas politics tweets movies science math technology…but more than that: the spirit of the age; the atmosphere of the time; the tendency of the now; the disposition of the here.

Sorry; but it’s true. It’s boring me numb and dumb.

A culture that prizes narcissism above individualism. A politics that places “tolerance” above acceptance. A spirit that encourages cynicism over reverence. A public sphere that places irony over sincerity. A technosophy that elevates “data” over understanding. A society that puts “opportunity” before decency. An economy that…you know. Works us harder to make us poorer at “jobs” we hate where we make stuff that sucks every last bit of passion from our souls to sell to everyone else who’s working harder to get poorer at “jobs” they hate where they make stuff that sucks every last bit of passion from their souls.

To be bored isn’t to be indifferent. It is to be fatigued. Because one is exhausted. And that is precisely where—and only where—the values above lead us. To exhaustion; with the ceaseless, endless, meaningless work of maintaining the fiction. Of pretending that who we truly want to be is what everyone believes everyone else wants to be. Liked, not loved; “attractive”, not beautiful; clever, not wise; snarky, not happy; advantaged, not prosperous.

It exhausts us; literally; this game of parasitically craving everyone’s cravings. It makes us adversaries not of one another; but of ourselves. Until there is nothing left. Not of us as we are; but of the people we might have been. The values above shrink and reduce and diminish our potential; as individuals, as people, societies. And so I have grown fatigued by them.

Ah, you say. But when hasn’t humanity always suffered all the above? Please. Let’s not mince ideas. Unless you think the middle class didn’t actually thrive once; unless you think that the gentleman that’s made forty seven Saw flicks (so far) is this generation’s Alfred Hitchcock; unless you believe that this era has a John Lennon; unless you think that Jeff Koons is Picasso…perhaps you see my point.

I’m bored, in short, of what I’d call a cycle of perpetual bullshit. A bullshit machine. The bullshit machine turns life into waste.

The bullshit machine looks something like this. Narcissism about who you are leads to cynicism about who you could be leads to mediocrity in what you do…leads to narcissism about who you are. Narcissism leads to cynicism leads to mediocrity…leads to narcissism.

Let me simplify that tiny model of the stalemate the human heart can reach with life.

The bullshit machine is the work we do only to live lives we don’t want, need, love, or deserve.

Everything’s work now. Relationships; hobbies; exercise. Even love. Gruelling; tedious; unrelenting; formulaic; passionless; calculated; repetitive; predictable; analysed; mined; timed; performed.

Work is bullshit. You know it, I know it; mankind has always known it. Sure; you have to work at what you want to accomplish. But that’s not the point. It is the flash of genius; the glimmer of intuition; the afterglow of achievement; the savoring of experience; the incandescence of meaning; all these make life worthwhile, pregnant, impossible, aching with purpose. These are the ends. Work is merely the means.

Our lives are confused like that. They are means without ends; model homes; acts which we perform, but do not fully experience.

Remember when I mentioned puritanical Calvinism? The idea that being bored is itself a sign of a lack of virtue—and that is, itself, the most boring idea in the world?

That’s the battery that powers the bullshit machine. We’re not allowed to admit it: that we’re bored. We’ve always got to be doing something. Always always always. Tapping, clicking, meeting, partying, exercising, networking, “friending”. Work hard, play hard, live hard. Improve. Gain. Benefit. Realize.

Hold on. Let me turn on crotchety Grandpa mode. Click.

Remember when cafes used to be full of people…thinking? Now I defy you to find one not full of people Tinder—Twitter—Facebook—App-of-the-nanosecond-ing; furiously. Like true believers hunched over the glow of a spiritualized Eden they can never truly enter; which is precisely why they’re mesmerized by it. The chance at a perfect life; full of pleasure; the perfect partner, relationship, audience, job, secret, home, career; it’s a tap away. It’s something like a slot-machine of the human soul, this culture we’re building. The jackpot’s just another coin away…forever. Who wouldn’t be seduced by that?

Winners of a million followers, fans, friends, lovers, dollars…after all, a billion people tweeting, updating, flicking, swiping, tapping into the void a thousand times a minute can’t be wrong. Can they?

And therein is the paradox of the bullshit machine. We do more than humans have ever done before. But we are not accomplishing much; and we are, it seems to me, becoming even less than that.

The more we do, the more passive we seem to become. Compliant. Complaisant. As if we are merely going through the motions.

Why? We are something like apparitions today; juggling a multiplicity of selves through the noise; the “you” you are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Tinder…wherever…at your day job, your night job, your hobby, your primary relationship, your friend-with-benefits, your incredibly astonishing range of extracurricular activities. But this hyperfragmentation of self gives rise to a kind of schizophrenia; conflicts, dissocations, tensions, dislocations, anxieties, paranoias, delusions. Our social wombs do not give birth to our true selves; the selves explosive with capability, possibility, wonder.

Tap tap tap. And yet. We are barely there, at all; in our own lives; in the moments which we will one day look back on and ask ourselves…what were we thinking wasting our lives on things that didn’t matter at all?

The answer, of course, is that we weren’t thinking. Or feeling. We don’t have time to think anymore. Thinking is a superluxury. Feeling is an even bigger superluxury. In an era where decent food, water, education, and healthcare are luxuries; thinking and feeling are activities to costly for society to allow. They are a drag on “growth”; a burden on “productivity”; they slow down the furious acceleration of the bullshit machine.

And so. Here we are. Going through the motions. The bullshit machine says the small is the great; the absence is the presence; the vicious is the noble; the lie is the truth. We believe it; and, greedily, it feeds on our belief. The more we feed it, the more insatiable it becomes. Until, at last, we are exhausted. By pretending to want the lives we think we should; instead of daring to live the lives we know we could.

Fuck it. Just admit it. You’re probably just as bored as I am.

Good for you.

Welcome to the world beyond the Bullshit Machine.

“Alive Inside”: Music may be the best medicine for dementia

A heartbreaking new film explores the breakthrough that can help severely disabled seniors: It’s called the iPod VIDEO

"Alive Inside": Music may be the best medicine for dementia

One physician who works with the elderly tells Michael Rossato-Bennett’s camera, in the documentary “Alive Inside,” that he can write prescriptions for $1,000 a month in medications for older people under his care, without anyone in the healthcare bureaucracy batting an eye. Somebody will pay for it (ultimately that somebody is you and me, I suppose) even though the powerful pharmaceutical cocktails served up in nursing homes do little or nothing for people with dementia, except keep them docile and manageable. But if he wants to give those older folks $40 iPods loaded up with music they remember – which both research and empirical evidence suggest will improve their lives immensely — well, you can hardly imagine the dense fog of bureaucratic hostility that descends upon the whole enterprise.

“Alive Inside” is straightforward advocacy cinema, but it won the audience award at Sundance this year because it will completely slay you, and it has the greatest advantages any such movie can have: Its cause is easy to understand, and requires no massive social change or investment. Furthermore, once you see the electrifying evidence, it becomes nearly impossible to oppose. This isn’t fracking or climate change or drones; I see no possible way for conservatives to turn the question of music therapy for senior citizens into some kind of sinister left-wing plot. (“Next up on Fox News: Will Elton John turn our seniors gay?”) All the same, social worker Dan Cohen’s crusade to bring music into nursing homes could be the leading edge of a monumental change in the way we approach the care and treatment of older people, especially the 5 million or so Americans living with dementia disorders.

You may already have seen a clip from “Alive Inside,” which became a YouTube hit not long ago: An African-American man in his 90s named Henry, who spends his waking hours in a semi-dormant state, curled inward like a fetus with his eyes closed, is given an iPod loaded with the gospel music he grew up with. The effect seems almost impossible and literally miraculous: Within seconds his eyes are open, he’s singing and humming along, and he’s fully present in the room, talking to the people around him. It turns out Henry prefers the scat-singing of Cab Calloway to gospel, and a brief Calloway imitation leads him into memories of a job delivering groceries on his bicycle, sometime in the 1930s.



Of course Henry is still an elderly and infirm person who is near the end of his life. But the key word in that sentence is “person”; we become startlingly and heartbreakingly aware that an entire person’s life experience is still in there, locked inside Henry’s dementia and isolation and overmedication. As Oliver Sacks put it, drawing on a word from the King James Bible, Henry has been “quickened,” or returned to life, without the intervention of supernatural forces. It’s not like there’s just one such moment of tear-jerking revelation in “Alive Inside.” There might be a dozen. I’m telling you, one of those little pocket packs of tissue is not gonna cut it. Bring the box.

There’s the apologetic old lady who claims to remember nothing about her girlhood, until Louis Armstrong singing “When the Saints Go Marching In” brings back a flood of specific memories. (Her mom was religious, and Armstrong’s profane music was taboo. She had to sneak off to someone else’s house to hear his records.) There’s the woman with multiple psychiatric disorders and a late-stage cancer diagnosis, who ditches the wheelchair and the walker and starts salsa dancing. There’s the Army veteran who lost all his hair in the Los Alamos A-bomb test and has difficulty recognizing a picture of his younger self, abruptly busting out his striking baritone to sing along with big-band numbers. “It makes me feel like I got a girl,” he says. “I’m gonna hold her tight.” There’s the sweet, angular lady in late middle age, a boomer grandma who can’t reliably find the elevator in her building, or tell the up button from the down, boogieing around the room to the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around,” as if transformed into someone 20 years younger. The music cannot get away from her, she says, as so much else has done.

There’s a bit of hard science in “Alive Inside” (supplied by Sacks in fascinating detail) and also the beginnings of an immensely important social and cultural debate about the tragic failures of our elder-care system and how the Western world will deal with its rapidly aging population. As Sacks makes clear, music is a cultural invention that appears to access areas of the brain that evolved for other reasons, and those areas remain relatively unaffected by the cognitive decline that goes with Alzheimer’s and other dementia disorders. While the “quickening” effect observed in someone like Henry is not well understood, it appears that stimulating those undamaged areas of the brain with beloved and familiar signals – and what will we ever love more than the hit songs of our youth? — can unlock other things at least temporarily, including memory, verbal ability, and emotion. Sacks doesn’t address this, but the effects appear physical as well: Everyone we see in the film becomes visibly more active, even the man with late-stage multiple sclerosis and the semi-comatose woman who never speaks.

Dementia is a genuine medical phenomenon, as anyone who has spent time around older people can attest, and one that’s likely to exert growing psychic and economic stress on our society as the population of people over 65 continues to grow. But you can’t help wondering whether our social practice of isolating so many old people in anonymous, characterless facilities that are entirely separated from the rhythms of ordinary social life has made the problem considerably worse. As one physician observes in the film, the modern-day Medicare-funded nursing home is like a toxic combination of the poorhouse and the hospital, and the social stigma attached to those places is as strong as the smell of disinfectant and overcooked Salisbury steak. Our culture is devoted to the glamour of youth and the consumption power of adulthood; we want to think about old age as little as possible, even though many of us will live one-quarter to one-third of our lives as senior citizens.

Rossato-Bennett keeps the focus of “Alive Inside” on Dan Cohen’s iPod crusade (run through a nonprofit called Music & Memory), which is simple, effective and has achievable goals. The two of them tread more lightly on the bigger philosophical questions, but those are definitely here. Restoring Schubert or Motown to people with dementia or severe disabilities can be a life-changing moment, but it’s also something of a metaphor, and the lives that really need changing are our own. Instead of treating older people as a medical and financial problem to be managed and contained, could we have a society that valued, nurtured and revered them, as most societies did before the coming of industrial modernism? Oh, and if you’re planning to visit me in 30 or 40 years, with whatever invisible gadget then exists, please take note: No matter how far gone I am, you’ll get me back with “Some Girls,” Roxy Music’s “Siren” and Otto Klemperer’s 1964 recording of “The Magic Flute.”

“Alive Inside” opens this week at the Sunshine Cinema in New York. It opens July 25 in Huntington, N.Y., Toronto and Washington; Aug. 1 in Asbury Park, N.J., Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia; Aug. 8 in Chicago, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., Palm Springs, Calif., San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Calif., and Vancouver, Canada; Aug. 15 in Denver, Minneapolis and Phoenix; and Aug. 22 in Atlanta, Dallas, Harrisburg, Pa., Portland, Ore., Santa Fe, N.M., Seattle and Spokane, Wash., with more cities and home video to follow.

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/15/alive_inside_music_may_be_the_best_medicine_for_dementia/?source=newsletter

Exploring Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch

By Jules Suzdaltsev

On November 18, 2003, Michael Jackson’s 3,000-acre primary residence, Neverland Ranch, was searched by 70 police officers from the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department after accusations that Jackson had molested some children (The People of the State of California v. Michael Joseph Jackson). Following this, Jackson abandoned his estate, saying it had been “violated,” and three years later the property went into foreclosure.

While the Ranch floated in real estate limbo, a group of photographers snuck onto the grounds and explored the abandoned kingdom, returning several times between December 2007 and March 2008. I spoke to the photographers to see what they saw. (Because tresspassing is illegal and I was feeling nostalgic for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they will be referred to as Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello. A fourth member contributed photography and was not interviewed.)

VICE: What inspired you guys to explore Neverland Ranch?
Leonardo: It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. I was aware that the park had been abandoned for quite a while, and I knew that Jackson was in Dubai at the time and that he wasn’t able to pay his electric bills. So, my understanding was that it would be a short-lived opportunity. I usually drive along the 101 freeway, and I decided, I have a few extra hours, I’m just going to go check it out. It just so happened that the day I was out there, it was pretty windy. It was a good cover because there were guards on-site, and the wind sort of blocked out my noise. I was able to sneak in without being heard. I had no expectation to make it in, but I just wanted to see.

What was the weirdest shit you saw?
Raphael: [Laughs]
Leonardo: Raphael is laughing because everything we saw was pretty weird. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of Michael Jackson, but I knew that he was an important American historical figure. At the time, most people probably didn’t realize that he was part of history, and I knew that there was the potential for everything that was associated with him to be quickly lost. Without our documentation, I think it would’ve been a huge loss. So, I thought it was important to do that as quickly as we could, before it was gone.
Raphael: Are we talking about going into his house? Is that part of the story?

Please.
Raphael: We haven’t really told anyone about it… OK, the strangest thing to me was the little boy in pajamas sitting on the moon logo, everywhere. Like, it amazes me how much it resembles the DreamWorks logo. That thing was painted on the ground, like, 60 feet wide. It was on the signs, on the bumper cars, it was on the coach station where they parked the coach, one on the ground.
Donatello: That’s his creepy logo, right?
Raphael: It’s got a little boy sitting on it in those footie pajama things. Isn’t the back open, or is that only on some of the paintings? [Laughs]

Oh my God.
Donatello: The other thing was that he collected memorabilia that had his likeness on it. He had Pepsi bottles and books and other promotional material in boxes. He also had stacks and stacks of fan mail, and one piece that really grabbed me was the prosecuting attorney of his molestation case with devil’s horns drawn on. That was just laying on a tabletop—maybe a Pac-Man table?
Raphael: You read his fan mail?
Donatello: We were flipping through some of it.

How did you guys get into his house?
Raphael: We probably don’t want to talk about the details about how we entered.

Was it difficult?
Leonardo: We didn’t have to break any laws, because it was open. It was all open. The house was open.

Wow.
Raphael: One thing that really sticks out in my memory was drinking his grape soda from that walk-in kitchen storage area and then very carefully wiping the fingerprints off the bottle and hiding it in the bushes.

Wait, you drank his juice?
Raphael: I was thirsty and he had all of this grape soda, and I thought I’d just drink something from his house.

Was it actual grape soda?
Raphael: Yeah! It was actual grape soda. In the kitchen there was this “Children of the World” menu. Everything in there was geared toward children. I’m not sure he had any, but…

He did.
Raphael: That menu, on a permanently-printed chalkboard with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and macaroni and cheese, that sticks out in my mind. And the strange hodgepodge of shit that he had bought that didn’t have any relation to his house. His entire house was filled with these expensive looking, one-off, semi-artistic things.

Semi-artistic?
Raphael: These weird mirrors on this four-foot by four-foot platform. And that would be next to some Roman statue-looking thing. Next to that would be an eight-foot-tall oil painting of Michael Jackson himself. There were all of these paintings inside the house.
Donatello: There’s one where he’s leading a procession of children.

What was the vibe in the house?
Donatello: I was really on-edge and uncomfortable, mostly because I was worried that someone might find us in there and I think it’s just such a breach of privacy. It was so compelling to do it; I couldn’t not go in because the opportunity was there. But at the same time, it just felt wrong. It was this constant friction between fascination and, I’ve got to get the fuck out of here, I shouldn’t be in here.
Leonardo: That’s true. We all felt that way. We [as urban explorers] don’t normally ever go in peoples’ houses.
Raphael: It’s all usually industrial, or old schools, or things that aren’t people’s personal residences. At one point, I got so fed up with the weirdness that I went outside and I tried to loosen them up by banging on the door. I had a flashlight in my hand, and made it look like I was busting them. We fuck around with each other quite a bit, but Donatello was furious that I did that.

That’s ridiculous.
Donatello: I don’t remember that. It must’ve been such a bad memory.
Raphael: I scared the shit out of you.
Leonardo: I remember that vividly, actually. I didn’t find anything that creepy about the whole thing. I found it really odd and different, but I wasn’t scared at any moment. I think none of us were really scared. Mostly we felt like we shouldn’t be invading the privacy of someone else. But I never felt like I was afraid of any of the things that he put out there. It just seemed really exotic and different. There are far more odd things in this world than what Michael Jackson was.
Raphael: The whole thing was just really an adventure, and going somewhere that nobody’s ever seen, and seeing all of this stuff, it was right after he left the country because of the molestation charges. So in our mind, it was like looking at everything more from that angle. There’s the kids’ stuff, there’s toys everywhere, there’s the huge arcade—a giant child-magnet.
Donatello: I don’t know. I don’t want the whole gist of this interview to back up those allegations toward the guy.

That’s OK. I was actually going to ask how much of the property you ended up being able to see?
Donatello: We pretty much saw everything except for the petting zoo area. We went to the arcade, the mansion, the amusement park rides, the railroad train station, all of the statue areas…

I’m shocked that you guys weren’t caught.
Donatello: We’re kind of professionals. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but… We do this a lot. We do a lot of research and recon. But also, it’s surprisingly low-key because there’s a guard truck down by the road, and we just avoided that guard truck, and once you’re past that, you’re in the valley, and you’re on your own, and it’s pretty desolate.
Raphael: Surprisingly, we just roamed about the grounds. Casually.

It’s a pretty huge space, isn’t it?
Raphael: Really big. We didn’t even get to the zoo, because it’s so far away.
Donatello: One other interesting thing—we did go in Michael’s room, but both of the kids’ rooms were locked from the outside.
Raphael: We decided not to get into the kids’ rooms, because it didn’t seem right.

What about his toy room?
Raphael: It was maybe 60 feet by 30 feet, and filled with every toy you could imagine. Life-size Lego models, Darth Vader—all sorts of awesome toys.
Donatello: The other thing I remember is that there were game stations set up all around the house. Imagine those consoles for Super Nintendo that you might find at the Best Buy store, but set up with all different systems.

Was there anything adult in there? It all sounds like mostly kids’ stuff. And weird art.
[Laughter]
Raphael: There were a lot of big, lounge-y spaces with couches and all the strange art objects.
Donatello: I remember seeing really normal things, change lying on a coffee table and a little office space with a computer and typical home stuff.

Roughly how many rooms did he have? It’s a mansion. It must’ve been fucking huge.
Leonardo: He probably had ten rooms, I would say. The mansion itself was not as huge as you’d think, but there were all of these other smaller buildings that we didn’t really go in.

Isn’t there a massive clock in the garden?
Donatello: Oh, dude, there’s all kinds of crazy shit in the garden.
Leonardo: Didn’t you take a picture of the clock with the hands stuck, and then you realized later on that you took the picture within three seconds of what the hands were stuck at?
Donatello: I did! There’s this clock that’s stopped around 2:55, and I just happened to snap the shot almost exactly at that same time, without even realizing it until a year later.

Pretty serendipitous. Although, how did you know that it had been stopped?
Donatello: The power had been cut off, and the hands weren’t moving.

The house didn’t have any power?
Donatello: If I remember correctly, there was no power in the mansion but the water was working.

Did you guys use the bathroom?
[Laughter]
Donatello: I think we checked the water or something because we were just curious if it worked. What’s weird is that within his house, there was no dust. It was immaculate. The carpet was vacuumed, and there was no dust on any of those crazy sculpture or statues. That’s kind of why we were on edge—like, people are here. A lot of things were covered in vinyl-type tarps to protect them. But it was obvious that someone was in there cleaning, I would say, at least once a week, by how clean it was.

But he hadn’t lived there for a while…
Raphael: I think that’s what signified to Leonardo that he was OK to go in there.
Leonardo: The house is foreclosed, it’s basically derelict, defunct. That’s when it hit my radar.
Raphael: It’s probably obvious that we really only go to abandoned and defunct sites.

You don’t seem like paparazzi.
Raphael: We’re paparazzi of bridges, maybe.

Thanks, guys. 

 

http://www.vice.com/read/exploring-michael-jacksons-abandoned-neverland-ranch-760?utm_source=vicenewsletter

5 Facts To Know About The First Day Of Summer

Summer Solstice 2014

on June 19 2014 2:58 PM

Summer Solstice

A couple celebrates summer solstice at a stone carved marker at the Kokino megalithic observatory June 20, 2012. The 3,800-year-old observatory was discovered in 2001 in the northwestern town of Kumanovo, 70 km (43 miles) north of Skopje, Macedonia, and is ranked the fourth-oldest observatory in the world, according to NASA.  Reuters

Break out your swimsuits, fire up the barbeque, and put on the sunglasses, because summer is almost here.

Saturday, June 21, marks the first official day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, when the sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky.

But did you know that the summer solstice, as it’s called, is the longest day of the year? Here are five facts to know about the first day of summer.

When does the summer solstice begin, exactly?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice begins at 6:51 a.m. EDT on June 21, according to Almanac.com, officially ringing in summer. The date brings the year’s longest stretch of daylight. Though the hours of sunlight depend on location, many areas will see 16 hours’ worth of light on Saturday.

Why does the solstice occur?

The word solstice is from the Latin solstitium from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop), because it appears the sun stops at the solstice. The solstice happens twice annually due to the Earth’s axis of rotation. Depending on the calendar year, the summer solstice happens annually in December for the Southern Hemisphere and on June 20 or 21 in the northern half of the world.

For science aficionados, the summer solstice occurs precisely when the Earth’s axial tilt is most inclined toward the sun, at the degree of 23° 26′, its most extreme. In June, the tilt is toward the sun in the Northern Hemisphere, while the second yearly solstice, the winter solstice, in December, the tilt is away from the sun in the Southern Hemisphere.

Stonehenge

People attend the annual summer solstice at the Stonehenge monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, southern England June 21, 2010. Druids and revellers visited Stonehenge during an annual pilgrimage to the site to celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  Reuters

How is the solstice celebrated?

The solstice marks the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means flip-flops, beach trips and barbecues. In southern England, thousands flock to Stonehenge to see the sun rise from the vantage point of the 4,000-year-old solar monument.

The summer solstice is also a time of celebration for Christians and Pagans. In Christianity, the first day of summer marks the festival of St. John the Baptist, and in Paganism followers celebrate what they call “midsummer” with bonfires and feasts.

Is it the longest day of the year?

The summer solstice has the longest hours of daylight for the Northern Hemisphere, Time And Date reported. The sun, which usually rises directly in the east, rises north of east and sets north of west. This means the sun is in the sky for a longer period of time, yielding more daylight.

Why do the warmest days of summer generally come long after the solstice?

According to Space.com, it takes a month or two for some geographic areas to see their warmest days simply because it takes the Earth time to warm up. In fact, solstices do not mark the start of winter or summer at all; they are actually the midpoint of each season.

Almanac.com calls this phenomenon, when the land and oceans release stored heat back into the atmosphere much later than the first day of summer, the “seasonal temperature lag.”

http://www.ibtimes.com/summer-solstice-2014-5-facts-know-about-first-day-summer-1606440?ft=3aj78&utm_content=apollohelios@sonic.net&utm_medium=Jun_20_2014_0650_195437&utm_source=TailoredMail&utm_term=5+Things+To+Know+About+The+First+Day+Of+Summer&utm_campaign=Jun_20_2014_0650

Time for Congress to Probe Bill Gates’ Education Coup


The revelation that education policy was shaped by one unelected, wealthy man is ample reason for congressional hearings

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 24: Bill Gates attends the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting at The Shertaon New York Hotel on September 24, 2013 in New York City.
Photo Credit: JStone / Shutterstock.com

The story about Bill Gates’ swift and silent takeover of American education is startling. His role and the role of the U.S. Department of Education in drafting and imposing the Common Core standards on almost every state should be investigated by Congress.

The idea that the richest man in America can purchase and–working closely with the U.S. Department of Education–impose new and untested academic standards on the nation’s public schools is a national scandal. A Congressional investigation is warranted.

The close involvement of Arne Duncan raises questions about whether the law was broken.

Thanks to the story in the Washington Post and to diligent bloggers, we now know that one very rich man bought the enthusiastic support of interest groups on the left and right to campaign for the Common Core.

Who knew that American education was for sale?

Who knew that federalism could so easily be dismissed as a relic of history? Who knew that Gates and Duncan, working as partners, could dismantle and destroy state and local control of education?

The revelation that education policy was shaped by one unelected man, underwriting dozens of groups. and allied with the Secretary of Education, whose staff was laced with Gates’ allies, is ample reason for Congressional hearings.

I have written on various occasions (see here and here) that I could not support the Common Core standards because they were developed and imposed without regard to democratic process. The writers of the standards included no early childhood educators, no educators of children with disabilities, no experienced classroom teachers; indeed, the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry. No attempt was made to have pilot testing of the standards in real classrooms with real teachers and students.. The standards do not permit any means to challenge, correct, or revise them.

In a democratic society, process matters. The high-handed manner in which these standards were written and imposed in record time makes them unacceptable. These standards not only undermine state and local control of education, but the manner in which they were written and adopted was authoritarian. No one knows how they will work, yet dozens of groups have been paid millions of dollars by the Gates Foundation to claim that they are absolutely vital for our economic future, based on no evidence whatever.

Why does state and local control matter? Until now, in education, the American idea has been that no single authority has all the answers. Local boards are best equipped to handle local problems. States set state policy, in keeping with the concept that states are “laboratories of democracy,” where new ideas can evolve and prove themselves. In our federal system, the federal government has the power to protect the civil rights of students, to conduct research, and to redistribute resources to the neediest children and schools.

Do we need to compare the academic performance of students in different states? We already have the means to do so with the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It has been supplying state comparisons since 1992.

Will national standards improve test scores? There is no reason to believe so. Brookings scholar Tom Loveless predicted two years ago that the Common Core standards would make little or no difference. The biggest test-score gaps, he wrote, are within the same state, not between states. Some states with excellent standards have low scores, and some with excellent standards have large gaps among different groups of students.

The reality is that the most reliable predictors of test scores are family income and family education. Nearly one-quarter of America’s children live in poverty. The Common Core standards divert our attention from the root causes of low academic achievement.

Worse, at a time when many schools have fiscal problems and are laying off teachers, nurses, and counselors, and eliminating arts programs, the nation’s schools will be forced to spend billions of dollars on Common Core materials, testing, hardware, and software.

Microsoft, Pearson, and other entrepreneurs will reap the rewards of this new marketplace. Our nation’s children will not.

Who decided to monetize the public schools? Who determined that the federal government should promote privatization and neglect public education? Who decided that the federal government should watch in silence as school segregation resumed and grew? Who decided that schools should invest in Common Core instead of smaller classes and school nurses?

These are questions that should be asked at Congressional hearings.

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education.

Market-based education reform has become a mainstay of American politics — and it’s a disaster waiting to happen

Capitalism vs. education: Why our free-market obsession is wrecking the future

Capitalism vs. education: Why our free-market obsession is wrecking the future
Michelle Rhee, Karl Marx, Michael Bloomberg (Credit: Reuters/Hyungwon Kang/Wikimedia/Jonathan Ernst/Salon)

The 2014 State of the Union address was billed as the speech in which President Obama would finally reveal himself as the progressive champion we’d been promised. In the weeks prior, senior administration officials leaked word that the president would use his platform to declare income inequality the “defining challenge of our time,” a claim he’d first made two years prior, in a highly touted speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. Then, in early February, news came that the phrase “income inequality” had been scrapped from subsequent drafts, replaced by an emphasis on “ladders of opportunity.”

In Osawatomie, the president decried runaway inequality as a threat to the legitimacy of American democracy. In the State of the Union, he paid lip service to the divergent fortunes of “those at the top” and of average wage earners, before transitioning into boilerplate calls for improving education and cutting taxes on domestic manufacturers. As the “ladders” metaphor suggests, the speech framed the crisis facing the vaunted middle class as one of economic mobility, rather than inequality. The word “inequality” was spoken only three times, “opportunity,” thirteen.

Even in Osawatomie, after describing in bracing detail how automation and globalization devalued American labor, producing an economy where weak demand is propped up by credit card debt, the president transitioned from diagnosis to prescription. Not with a call for robust income redistribution, or a proposal for aggressive government hiring, but by declaring, “We need to meet the moment… It starts by making education a national mission.”



The point here is less to criticize the Obama administration’s timidity than to illustrate the incredible onus our politics places on education. We have an economy in which 46.5 million Americans live in poverty, the real unemployment rate is above 12 percent, and our 400 wealthiest citizens enjoy as much wealth as the entire bottom half of the population. But a political system designed for gridlock, the grossly disproportionate influence of the rich, and Americans’ ideological aversion to class politics conspire to make it politically inadvisable for a Democratic president to even speak the words “income inequality” before a national audience. Absent the political will to explore redistributive structural reforms, we’re left with “ladders of opportunity,” and a vision of economic salvation through higher test scores.

Writing in Salon last month, Matt Bruenig illustrated the inadequacy of education as a remedy for inequality by looking at the market poverty rate in Finland, a nation whose students’ math and science proficiency is among the highest in the world. Were education reform in the United States shaped by liberal utopian principles instead of corporate ones, Finland would be its model. The Finns’ education system is radically egalitarian, with free college and no private schools. Standardized testing is limited, and teachers enjoy significant pedagogical freedom. Yet the only thing keeping Finland’s market poverty rate from exceeding that of the United States is a redistributive system financed by a tax level twice as high as our own.

In his new book, “The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame,” philosophy of education professor David Blacker takes Bruenig’s pessimism several steps further. In Blacker’s vision, the economy’s dysfunction renders systemic improvements in education not merely inadequate, but impossible. He argues that the form and quality of public education is so dependent on macroeconomic forces that education reform is “at best a mirage that diverts oppositional energies.” To Blacker, it’s no coincidence that universal public education became a reality in the Western world at the same time that industrialization created the demand for an expansive, educated workforce.

Now, as automation and globalization renders whole swaths of the American labor force useless to capital, Blacker sees the economic system transitioning from a mode of exploitation to one of “elimination.” From the perspective of capital, an ever-increasing portion of the population is no longer seen as a resource to be cultivated, but as a risk to be contained. He sees this “eliminationist” logic driving disinvestment from public higher education, impatience with student speech and activism, and the charter movement’s push toward school privatization.

His book advises activists to adopt an attitude of fatalism. In his narrative, hope is found in the fact that even neoliberal capitalism is helplessly constrained by a system larger than itself, namely that of the environment. The task for the left then, is to prepare, psychologically and experimentally, for inevitable collapse.

Salon spoke recently with Blacker about his new book, and the problem with America’s approach to education and inequality. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You write that education reform is “at best a mirage that diverts oppositional energies.” Why do you believe education reform is a poor target for activists, and where do you believe oppositional energy should be directed?

The primary target of my critique was large-scale educational reform, the systemic movement. The goals of which, my heart is with: unionization, desegregation, inclusion. But I think my conception of fatalism is that the institution of education is so deeply, structurally tied to a certain trajectory of capitalism that it’s not amenable to structural reforms. So that’s where my pessimism comes from. I think that that kind of mainstream liberal activism, at best, has the effect of softening blows that are almost inevitably coming.

There’s a little bit of nuance in experiments like the Waldorf Schools, places like Summerhills in England, the free schooling movement and so on. I don’t mean to tar those efforts with the same brush, because I see those as little oppositional islands of truly alternative practices. But I wouldn’t be enthusiastic about Waldorf Schools on the assumption that we can make the whole primary education system in the United States Waldorfian. I think that’s delusional. On the other hand, I find those experiments very valuable and well worth everybody’s efforts. I think there will be great value in having those smaller-scale experiments around, as potential models in a post-crisis or post-catastrophic situation. They’re for the hereafter.

Your book is titled “The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame.” Can you explain what you believe the neoliberal endgame is, and how it relates to the controversial Marxist notion of “the tendency of the rate of profit to fall?”

Well, basically, I think the way the economy has developed, productivity having been increased and augmented largely through technological development, including automation, has brought about what I call in the book “eliminationism.” I think we find that because of those productivity increases, fewer and fewer workers are actually needed. Human labor is simply less and less part of the equation.

Now, after the economic crisis of 2008, when I looked around and tried to find what seemed to be the best explanation for what had happened, I thought Marx’s argument of “The tendency of the rate of profit to fall” was a really interesting, important argument. It’s very contentious. Mainstream economists don’t accept it at all, most Marxists don’t accept it. But still in its basic outlines, as long as you don’t look at it in an overly constrained way, I think it’s a really important part of what’s going on.

Capitalist firms don’t exist just to make stuff. They exist to make a profit. Marx’s Labor Theory of Value assumes that profit comes from the difference between what workers are paid and the value they actually produce. That’s the profit the capitalist takes and either spends or reinvests. So that’s labor value, that’s why we get paid.

Given the assumption of the labor theory of value, the profit-producing sliver of enterprises is the human labor part of those enterprises, and as technological advances in production take place, that human labor element starts to get replaced on a large scale. And in many respects, from the point of view of an individual firm, that’s not a big problem. In fact, they can reap gigantic profits in the short term with such developments. But in the long run, in the ensemble, we look at entire sectors of the economy, and for example see how costs lower and you start not making money any more from producing, say, DVD players. When we look at the economy as a whole, as it becomes more and more automated, and the production process comes to rely less and less on that human labor component, by hypothesis, the profitability will decrease.

I don’t think it necessarily always shows up very well in terms of official measures of corporate profitability. Those profits, I think, can be propped up by any number of means. A lot of my analysis is trying to explain those means. Marx called them counter forces. To me, it’s about this gravitational force pulling down profitability, that gives rise to all these counter forces, and these counter forces can be even more powerful than the original force they were opposing. They can win for a long time. Globalization, financialization, the debt machine, this ensemble of counter forces that together constitute “Neoliberalism.” And corporate profits can look great under those conditions, but I always feel like there’s an analogy with gravity:

So someone says, well, wait a minute, that airplane over there, it just took off, so where’s your theory of gravity now, smarty pants? The plane took off. It defeated gravity, so therefore there’s no gravity. Well, no. It just means the plane has sufficient counter forces to overcome that gravity. But any explanation of flight trajectory and the energy requirements of the airplane are going to involve gravity and understanding how it works.

And if you look at various charts of profitiability since World War II, there’s jagged curves and there’s ups and downs, but on the whole, it seems like profits from actually making stuff, competitive capitalism, and that old style of making stuff and selling stuff for a profit? Profits in those areas seem to be down. The big money is in finance. It’s not in making and selling stuff.

Given that picture, I think we’re entering a new phase in terms of labor needs.

Back in the 19th century, when capitalism was gearing up with factory-style production, we had what I call the “all hands on deck” phase of capitalism: Okay, immigrants, get ’em in here. Gather up the world’s people for the factories. The more people whose labor you can exploit, the more profits you can squeeze out of them, the more capital you can accrue. And that’s the era precisely, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence, that’s the era where we experienced the birth of universal public education.

What decade do you tie that to?

In the United States, it was the 19th century. Universal primary education was complete in this country around the middle of the 19th century, and then universal secondary came in around the turn of the 20th century. And interestingly enough, the beginning of universal public education came in Massachusetts, which was also where factory production started, in the early 19th century.

And there was idealism; it’s not a simple reductionist picture. There are theories of democracy that contributed. But by and large, I think the real driving engine was the needs of production. It was a certain expansive phase, with a great imperative towards value-addedness, like literacy. And so, that expansive phase is almost what we came to take for granted. We erected visions of progress that would keep on going forever. We got the idea that education is always about inclusion and expansion and bringing more people in. And we had civil rights, racial desegregation, the disabilities movement, Title IX with gender equality. Over the generations, we got this picture of universal education as an unstoppable progressive force. And to me, I feel like we’re now witnessing the frightening spectre of a tectonic shift, where things are starting to contract because of the reduced need for human labor.

There’s an institutional lag time, but I think that change in the needs of capital is bound to have effects, and unfortunately fairly dramatic effects, on the project of universal public education. And so we’re seeing austerity, we’re seeing an increasing willingness to place the burden of that education, especially in higher ed, on individuals. As witnessed, and symptomatized by student debt.

In that context, then, how do you understand the movement toward charter schools?

I think the logic there is a kind of marketization logic. It’s an ideal of privatization which I think is ultimately tied to… I think privatization is the twin of austerity. Austerity being withdrawal of public commitment and public expenditure. I see those things as hand in hand, and they are symptomatic, from my point of view, of this decrease in commitment to that project of universal public education. Because the market logic sort of implies that education is this contingent matter for individuals. It’s less of a social good. It’s less of something we ought to worry about collectively, and more a commodity that individuals need to seize or take advantage of on their own. Invest in yourself. Or parents, invest in your children.

I don’t want to promote a kind of “good old days” picture here, but in the 19th century around the time of, say, land-grant colleges, we had robust agricultural expansion offices being set up. So, say I’m a farmer in Indiana somewhere, and I have these five young kids coming from the local college showing me some new agricultural technique having do to with fertilizer. And it increases my productivity and teaches me something worthwhile. It’s very easy for me to feel like, well hey, it does make sense for me to pay property taxes to support that stuff, because it comes back to me. It’s easier for me to buy into the idea that we as a society are actually better off if we augment the level of education of everyone.

It’s easy for me to see that I’m tied into that project. But once the state starts withdrawing from that commitment, it becomes much easier for that Indiana farmer to see education as just a personal investment in his or her own kids. And if it’s a personal investment, why should I have to pay for it? It’s not a social good that’s shared in any way. It’s like placing a bet on the stock market. In this case it’s the educational market; to the victor go the spoils. So I see charters and school choice as extensions of that basic logic. That education should be made much more a matter of personal choice, and the large-scale effect is that the rest of us, collectively as a society, we don’t really have a shared interest, we just have our own isolated interest in it.

The effect is this vast funneling of public money into private money. The profitability is lower in traditional capital modes, so it’s a good time to start looting erstwhile public institutions. In the book I call it the “searching under the couch cushions for loose change” phase of capitalism.

An obvious rebuttal to your argument about eliminationism in education would be that federal funding for public education has actually increased over the last decadePresident Obama has been championing universal pre-K. Here in New York, Mayor de Blasio is working to implement public pre-K services. Do you see those facts as products of institutional lag time, or how do you integrate them into your vision?

The way I would integrate it, I wouldn’t conflate public expenditure on schooling with increased commitment to education. So, for example, in cities and other places, my argument is not that schools are going to dry up and blow away, that we will stop having things called schools. In fact, we might have quite well-funded places called “schools.” Prisons are more expensive than schools. So I think even though the things are called schools, they’re internal nature is moving further away from citizenship goals, forget learning for its own sake. Those institutions, their level of funding may even increase. To do surveillance and warehousing… maintenance of a school-to-prison pipeline can be quite expensive. So I wouldn’t see an increase in funding of school systems and school employees and school buildings as any particular cause for optimism.

Near the end of your book you write, “my recommendation is to prepare for catastrophe.” Do you believe that catastrophe is a necessary precondition for our economic order to be reformed?

I think so. I think it’s gotta get worse before it gets better. A lot of people don’t like to hear that because it sounds defeatist. But I guess I really don’t see it that way. I think a certain type of fatalism actually is the only thing that gives me optimism.

So, an analogy that I think may help clarify the existential attitude here is, if, let’s say a blizzard is bearing down on my home, and I think: I need to do whatever I can to thwart the blizzard from coming. I need to stop it. I guess it would involve intervening with the weather. At a certain point, you realize it’s just going happen. And to me, a mode of preparation: battening down the hatches, boarding up the windows, getting the candles and the flashlights, filling up the bathtub with water… a preparatory attitude that accepts the inevitability of the blizzard is actually a more “activist,” sensible action or stance to take.

One thing that strikes me with that analogy, though, is that we have enough foreknowledge from previous blizzards to have a pretty good idea what being prepared for a blizzard entails. We can’t say the same about the collapse of the global economy.

I think you’re absolutely right. So the analogy breaks down a little bit there. It’s hard to create a preparedness pamphlet for something that’s never happened. But I’d say there are still things we can do. There’s value in small-scale social experiments.

An example would be something like permaculture, in terms of organics or agriculture. It’s not that Monsanto and the entire U.S. is going to turn to permaculture. But it’s really valuable that we have it around in pockets that have developed experience and expertise. So that’s one thing I think I would put in the preparatory toolkit. As much of those small-scale alternative experiments as possible. And I also wouldn’t minimize the value of psychological preparedness. History shows, I’m thinking of things like the economic collapse of the Soviet Union in the late ’80s early ’90s, where the currency collapsed, the economy wasn’t functioning for a period of time… What actually killed most people there were not directly food shortages, water shortages, shelter shortages, those sorts of things. It was more psychological problems, having to do with alcoholism and suicide. People just aren’t psychologically prepared at all for the possibility of this level of disruption.

One solution to the crisis created by increased productivity through automation would be to redistribute the abundance created by that productivity, without any labor requirement. You refer to this possibility, somewhat dismissively, as a “redistributive techno-utopia.” However, the idea of a Universal Basic Income has been gaining traction, at least amongst those paid to pontificate on economic matters. And in our history, it seems that there have been moments in which elites have made concessions to the broader public out of enlightened self-interest.

Like the New Deal era, for example?

And so you would credit that period of reform to the catastrophe of the Great Depression?

Yeah. I think so. It’s somewhat a case and point. And what’s useful there is to actually have a program ready to go. I want a forthrightly opportunistic sort of mindset. Sort of a Naomi Klein Shock Doctrine. The right is really great at Shock Doctrine, and maybe a little left-wing version of it would be salutary here. Again, it’s a preparatory mode. Ready with the tools that are going to make sense, not for now, not for tinkering with the status quo, but actually ready to make a difference in those moments when change really happens, in moments of acute economic crisis and war.

And that’s one of the scary things: War is one of the traditional reset mechanisms for capitalism. A means of restarting the value-creation machine. And so I actually think one very traditional mode of activism that is actually quite radical and appropriate is anti-war, anti-imperialism activism. For example with Syria, I think there was a real desire to intervene in Syria that was thwarted by whatever vestiges of public opinion still matter. And if that kind of war solution for destruction of capital is prevented, if that isn’t an option, then I think that could help create the conditions for the kind of cataclysmic change that I think is needed to force the hand of the system economically.

What would you say to the argument that catastrophe, historically, is more conducive to reactionary or regressive kinds of change? And that it’s actually times of abundance and prosperity in which the left has been most successful, when people, particularly the young, feel enough economic security to spend time contemplating and fighting for political alternatives, as arguably happened in the 1960s?

I think I actually agree a lot on that. It’s really naïve to think, okay, cataclysm… economic, or climatic… I think it could come from many different directions, unfortunately. I sort of sardonically refer to them as the “three horsemen of the apocalypse:” economic crisis, climate change, or energy depletion, any one of which could generate something pretty wrenching. But I agree that it’s naïve to think we’ll have a wrenching social cataclysm and out of it will pop permacultural, agrarian, leftist communism or something like that. In fact, I would say if I had to place a cold-eyed bet? In this country, I’d put my money on fascism.

But to me that provides further fuel for the argument of a preparatory mode. A certain type of survivalism is warranted. Not a survivalism of canned goods, stockpiled weapons and buried gold. But an intelligent survivalism, where you realize what’s really key are certain bonds of neighborhood. The face-to-face solidarity that can be fostered in an urban space. Traditions of mutual aid that can be developed and enhanced.

But it’s true, you can’t root for a catastrophe. There’s too much human misery involved. And ultimately, it’s a bit like Russian roulette. There’s an element of contingency that can’t be wished away.

http://www.salon.com/2014/06/08/capitalism_vs_education_why_our_free_market_obsessions_are_wrecking_the_future/?source=newsletter