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Frank Sinatra’s haunting, beautiful (depressing!) ‘lost’ masterpiece, ‘Watertown’


 
If ever there was a hidden masterpiece by a titanic musical artist of great multi-generational consequence that is virtually unknown to the general public, it’s Frank Sinatra’s heartbreaking 1970 concept album, Watertown. It’s one of the most gut-wrenching albums of all time, right up there with Lou Reed’s infamously depressing Berlin or Torment and Toreros by Marc Almond, another great soundtrack for slitting your wrists to. Watertown is every bit Sinatra’s Berlin, a bleak, bleak ravaged soul of an album that, in my interpretation at least (for there are several the narrative lends itself to), offers NO redemption at the end for the broken narrator.

Watertown‘s main composer was Bob Gaudio, who wrote hits like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” for his group The Four Seasons (Gaudio was an original “Jersey Boy.” When he was just 15 he wrote “Short Shorts” for the Royal Teens).

Gaudio’s first creative partner in Watertown was Jake Holmes, who wrote “Dazed and Confused” (read about that here), and later the US Army recruitment jingle “Be All That You Can Be” and the “Be a Pepper” song for Dr Pepper. Together they demo’d the songs and took it to Sinatra, who was looking for material that was more contemporary. He told them he wanted to do all of the songs, and in the same order.

Watertown‘s orchestral tracks were recorded in New York during July of 1969, a month before Sinatra added his vocals overdubs in Hollywood (the sole instance in his career when he recorded an album to prerecorded tracks). It was his deepest foray into “rock pop” territory.

Here’s a succinct description of Watertown via Wikipedia:

In a series of soliloquies, the nameless narrator tells his heartbreaking story of personal loss and unrealized redemption. His wife has left him and their two boys for the lure of the big city, and her absence hangs palpably in the air. While it is altogether understandable why someone would flee the stark and dreary landscape of Watertown, empathy rests with the eloquent everyman left behind. He is a desperate man, the personification of all that is pedestrian in a small town, a solitary figure who suffers unbearable torment and despair. But, in expressing timeless sentiments to a love that is hopelessly lost, he finds salvation in the written word and an extraordinary transformation takes place. In his grief, he achieves a deeper understanding of himself, and a transcendent awareness of what he has lost and why.

I’ll get back to that interpretation in a moment…

“Goodbye (She Quietly Says)” tees up the ball like a great novel would, when the narrator’s wife informs him that she is leaving him. The song is set in a coffee shop and the other customers do not notice what has taken place. No anger, just grief, quiet unbearable grief stoically absorbed amid the clatter of plates, coffee cups and the conversation of others.

The sparse, poetic power of the lyrics is as good as it gets. So much is implied here.
 

 
If that number didn’t turn on the waterworks, try Watertown‘s “Michael & Peter” on for size as Sinatra’s narrator transparently tries to manipulate his wife with a description in a letter, of how their sons have grown:

Michael is you, he has your face
he still has your eyes remember
Peter is me ‘cept when he smiles
And if you look at them both for a while
you can see they are you, they are me
This spring we had some heavy rain
by summer it was dry again
the roses that we planted last fall
climbed the wall
I think the house could use some paint
you know your mother’s such a saint
she takes the boys whenever she can

 

 
There’s a fantastic essay about Watertown at the Frankosonic blog that first turned me on to the album. I read this and was like “I have to hear this.. NOW.”

Upon first listen it’s the story of a man who has been deserted by his wife and left to bring up their two kids alone. Pretty much every song is addressed directly to the absent partner and the simplistic style of lyric reads like a series of letters. As the story develops, the Father receives news that she is coming back to them, but ultimately he’s left stranded at the Railway Station as it becomes apparent that she was never aboard the train and won’t ever return.

Admittedly I have listened to this album far too much and I started to think about the bits of the story that didn’t add up.

Firstly, she has not only abandoned him but also the two kids - I know this DOES happen but is not exactly common behavior among women. Secondly, he mentions that her Mother still comes by to help with the children and along with other friends they encourage him to move on and find a new love. Surely any mother would concentrate on getting her wayward daughter back on track and try to orchestrate a reconciliation? But he’s not ready to move on, he’s not over her and he can’t understand why nobody sees this. Lastly I just don’t get why she would say that she is coming back and then just not turn up, breaking his heart a second time. Then it dawned on me…

She’s not coming back because she’s dead.


This seems the most likely explanation to me, but Watertown is left open-ended. One thing seems incontrovertible about the ending and this is that she is never, ever returning to him. I don’t agree with the final line in the Wikipedia synopsis, not in the least. When “The Train” comes and goes without his wife on it, the image of Sinatra’s narrator standing in the rain on the platform, far from being a guy “finding a deeper understanding of himself, and a transcendent awareness of what he has lost and why” I see as an image of pure, unadulterated GRIEF and DESPAIR.

And maybe that grief has pushed him over the edge. Maybe all of the letters he wrote and never sent were written to a dead woman to begin with?
 

 
It’s interesting to note that this was the great Frank Sinatra seemingly coming in to lend his voice to what would appear to have been more Gaudio and Holmes’ project than his own (they wrote the material for him) but Sinatra’s vocal performance is so off-the-scale magnificent on Watertown, that it’s nearly impossible to imagine this material being sung by anyone else with the same unflinching depressing conviction that Sinatra does. I think it’s one of his greatest performances, ever.

It’s impossible to pick a “favorite” song from such a sad, sad song cycle, but “What’s Now Is Now” ranks with the very, very best of Sinatra’s material.
 

 
Watertown used to be nearly impossible to find. A CD could sell for $150 but you can get an import CD at Amazon. When I was looking for a good image of the cover, I noticed that there is a great new site totally devoted to this little-known, unsung masterpiece called Watertownology.
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘Danach’: A film by Anna Österlund featuring music by Mikael Karlsson and Black Sun Productions

danach_Anna_Österlund_Mikael_Karlsson_Black_Sun_Productions
 
Talented film-maker and designer Anna Österlund’s latest short Danach is a collaboration with composer Mikael Karlsson and queer post-industrial collective Black Sun Productions. Österlund previously worked with Karlsson on the haunting, beautiful and disturbing film Breathing, and this time she has used his composition, which is the last track “Danach” on the final album release by Black Sun Productions, Phantasmata Domestica.

Black Sun Productions is a collective centered around “artivists” Massimo and Pierce, who for the past decade have performed as sound and visual artists and political activists under the name Anarcocks. Black Sun Productions have worked with Coil (Plastic Spider Thing), Lydia Lunch and H. R. Geiger. Massimo and Pierce met on the set of an underground porn film, and their work includes explicit elements of ritualized sex magick, chaos magick and elements of fetishism and sado-masochism. Phantasmata Domestica is the last ever release from this talented and uncompromising duo.

Now based in New York, Swedish composer Mikael Karlsson, who wrote the track “Danach” for Phantasmata Domestica, holds a masters degree in composition from the Aaron Copland School of Music and graduated Summa Cum Laude with departmental honors in June of 2005. He is a multi-award-winning composer, recognized as one of the most exciting and original working today. Karlsson has worked with Lydia Lunch, Mariam Wallentin, Kleerup, Lykke Li, Benoit-Swan Pouffe, Alexander Ekman, amongst many others.

Anna Österlund told Dangerous Minds about her latest film collaboration and the music which inspired it.

‘The album name is Phantasmata Domestica which means something like house ghost and Black Sun Productions call it “an epic and emotional tale about sorrow and loss.” The last track “Danach” is about the next day, the ceremonies are long since gone - the pity with them. Waking up, being forced to move on with your life. What hereafter? What now?

‘I got to interpret these words and the music freely and came up with this video during last week. We filmed for just a few hours, in the same forest and only a few hundred meters away from where I made Breathing.

‘I made the heavy wool coat that she’s wearing and added my grandmother’s old mourning veil to the costume. The house I built on top of an old record player, so I could rotate it and the wind comes from my blowdryer. I had a lot of fun making the film, it’s quite tricky to go through with ideas when you don’t have a budget or a crew to help out, but sometimes that gives birth to new ideas.’

Danach stars newcomer Maja Mintchev, who Anna spotted for the role in a department store in Malmö, and the film was released just last month in Europe.

Danach is a film by Anna Österlund in collaboration with Black Sun Productions and Mikael Karlsson.

Phantasmata Domestica by Black Sun Productions, featuring Mikael Karlsson, Massimo & Pierce, Lydia Lunch, Othon, Cory Smythe, Fung Chern Hwei, Sirius Quartet and Michael Bates is available here.

More on Anna Österlund at Ravishing Mad and Mikael Karlsson.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

‘Clara’: A film about joy, love and struggle by Anna Österlund


‘Breathing’: A haunting and eerie short film by Mikael Karlsson, Anna Österlund and Truls Bråhammar


 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
The nightmare (free market) scenario the GOP faces: THEY’RE A VERY BAD INVESTMENT


 

I’ve got a great dirty trick you can play on a three-year-old kid. Kids learn how to talk from listening to their parents, see? This is a good one. So here’s what you do. So you have a three-year-old kid and you wanna pull a trick on ‘em, whenever you’re around them.. TALK WRONG.

So now it’s like his first day of school and he raises his hand: “May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?”

“Give that kid a special test. Get him out of here.”

—Steve Martin, A Wild and Crazy Guy, 1978

That classic Steve Martin joke came immediately to mind when I read Columbia University’s Lincoln Mitchell’s essay, “Is Fox Even Helping the Republicans Anymore?” this morning. That and “if you have to ask, then the answer is almost certainly ‘no.’” Fox News has become a liability to the GOP? Who’d have ever thunk it?

A few other things popped into my head as well when I read Mitchell’s article:

This has been a difficult election season for Fox News. Among the most enduring media images of the last few days of the election are Karl Rove late on election night angrily denying that Ohio, and thus the presidency, had gone to President Obama, and Dick Morris only a few days before the election confidently predicting a Romney landslide. Morris later tried to explain away his mistake after the election by claiming he had done it to create enthusiasm among Republican voters. The incidents involving Rove and Morris, both of whom work as both commentators on Fox and political consultants to conservative clients, are obviously embarrassing for Fox, but also raise the question of whether the network has outlived its value, even to the Republican Party.

Because Fox generally reports news based on partisan talking points and ideological certainty rather than focusing on pesky things like facts, information and events, it has, in the past, been effective in encouraging misperceptions about President Obama’s background, nurturing the growth and development of the Tea Party movement and covering economic policy by referring to any spending by the government as socialism. These things have helped mobilize and misinform the right wing base of the Republican Party. Similarly, during the Bush administration, Fox helped increase support for the Gulf War by repeating White House positions on weapons of mass destruction, almost without question.

“Ideological certainty” sure is a fun term to mull over these days, isn’t it? Especially in light of what happened on Election Day. Imagine having your entire naive “conservative” (and all that implies outside of the cult) worldview crushed just like that by the sheer force of math and changing demographics… not that I have much sympathy for dolts.
 

 
How would people who watch Fox News all the time ever hear—let alone be able to mentally process—something like “Herbert Hoover presided over a bigger spending increase than Obama has”? Or that “Obama won more popular votes than any Democratic candidate for president in history—except for himself in 2008”? I’ll tell you how they process it: “He stole the election!”

If you follow, like I do, the far reich blogosphere, it’s very plain to see that these people live in a cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs fantasyland, in an America that doesn’t even exist, hasn’t really existed for years, and that will never exist again short of a genocide that would kill tens of millions of people, and which, frankly, isn’t something I expect to see happening in North America anytime soon.
 

 
Even in the minds of GOP bigwigs, this Bizarro World/“mambo dogface to the banana patch” shit is looming large: Did you read former Reagan economic adviser Bruce Bartlett—the guy who coined the term “Reaganomics”—writing in The American Conservative on how even elite Republicans view The New York Times as if it is some far left samizdat? WTF??

Interestingly, a couple of days after the Suskind article appeared, I happened to be at a reception for some right-wing organization that many of my think tank friends were also attending. I assumed I would get a lot of grief for my comments in the Suskind article and was surprised when there was none at all.

Finally, I started asking people about it. Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.

I was flabbergasted. Until that moment I had not realized how closed the right-wing mind had become. Even assuming that my friends’ view of the Times’ philosophy was correct, which it most certainly was not, why would they not want to know what their enemy was thinking? This was my first exposure to what has been called “epistemic closure” among conservatives—living in their own bubble where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction.

Read that last sentence again. That would describe Fox News perfectly, a place where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction. EVER, or else they cut your mic. A black hole of intelligence that’s sucking the GOP faithful into a place of foolishness from which they can never return.

Back to Mitchell:

Over the last several years, this has been very helpful to the Republican Party, but during 2012, particularly in recent months, this has begun to change. Fox has now become a problem for the Republican Party because it keeps a far right base mobilized and angry making it hard for the party to move to the center, or increase its appeal as it must do to remain electorally competitive. For example, Bill O’Reilly’s explanation of why the Obama was reelected may, in fact, resonate, with the older and heavily white viewership of Fox, but it is precisely the wrong public message and messenger for the Party.

Precisely, it was the sort of grumpy old white senior citizens who reliably vote in the Republican primaries—and get their “informations” from Fox News—who forced Mitt Romney to contort himself into positions that made him an unpalatable shit-dipped pretzel to non-white, non-old, non-idiotic Americans and therefore patently un-electable.

I got yer manifest destiny right here: Romney scored the “reliable low IQ buffoon” vote, that’s for sure, and for many of us, that alone was a good enough reason to vote against him. How will the “big tent” Republicans go about courting that surefire base of the Tea party / “Moran” / covert (or overt) racist / Christian home-schooled creationist conservative bloc in elections to come without alienating absolutely everyone else?
 

 
Talk about a difficult dance step with both of your shoes tied together and nailed to the floor. Is it even possible to pull off such a doomed political tango moving forward in history? It’s a stupid uphill battle to wage to begin with. Why bother trying to swim against this kind of historical and demographic current? Why hitch your wagon to some horses who require oxygen tanks and twice daily insulin shots? It doesn’t make any sense.

Any aspiring young politician with half a brain would be a fool to think he’d be the BMOC by joining the party of people with no brains at all (Scott Brown, I’m looking at your short political career. Still glad you pledged Phi Kappa Dipshit?). Whereas, the Democrats, or at least some of them, seem more like the folks with one eye in the kingdom of the blind (I exempt Florida’s Alan Grayson from this assessment), the Republicans just seem like mean-spirited know-nothing buffoons, country blumpkins (that’s not a typo) and Jeebus freaks who belong in carnival sideshows, not voting booths. Where do you go from there when your baseline members consist of the country’s most irritating assholes and blowhards under the same “big tent”? (Think of the GOP not as a political party, but a party party. Who wants to party with the Republicans? They’ve got John Rocker signing autographs!)

And listen to the hilarious “conciliatory” noises that even the likes of Sean Hannity are starting to spout about immigration reform (he’s “evolved”—not a word typically associated with Hannity, is it?). A little late, buddy, don’t cha think? How do you solve a problem like, uh, Maria, at this late stage of the game, genius? YOU don’t. You try to fuck off with some tiny shred of dignity left! (If you care about what Sean Hannity “thinks” about immigration reform, I truly fucking pity you and anyone you come into contact with on a regular basis).

Moreover, while Fox helps the Republican Party when it slants its news coverage to the right, it damages the Party when its news coverage becomes too shoddy. A network that cannot get election night right because one of its star pundits simply refuses to accept defeat offers very little reason for potential viewers to watch it. Similarly a network whose pundits are so off in their election predictions will ultimately marginalize itself completely, as Fox is beginning to do.

Fox News “offers very little reason for potential viewers to watch it.” As Glenn Beck likes to say “Well, duh!”

If the information a news organization brings to the public is wrong and is demonstrated—easily—to be incorrect, then what is the value proposition? Fox News fills not-so-bright people’s heads with comforting bullshit and it serves to get them riled up and angry with… non-facts. It tells dum-dums, not “the news,” but what they want to hear. Study after study has shown that Fox News fans are the least informed people in America—indeed they are the very opposite of informed, as they tend to actually know less than they would had they watched no TV news at all.

There is clearly very little of nutritional value to get out of Fox News. It’s like eating Cheetos all the damned day and believing that you are consuming a futuristic health food (like Tang and Gatorade) even as you weigh 500 lbs and have to be lifted by a crane into your electric scooter.
 

 
Fox News imbicilizes its viewership. Its viewership IS the Republican base and probably comprises the greater part of its primary voters. According to Bruce Bartlett, it’s also the leadership…

Another thing that came to mind reading Mitchell’s essay was Paul Krugman’s withering quip about Newt Gingrich being “a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.” Ouch, but it’s just so very, very true. If your mind is tiny, Newt’s must seem vast, but that doesn’t say much about the price of tea in China, just what passes for “brainy” to a group of people as dumb as a cows. Gingrich, like Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, is merely a self-confident idiot. and yet these bozos are the very ones they pass off as the smart guys because they’re louder, more emphatically blusterous and in the case of Gingrich, just flat-out fuckin’ meaner.
 

 

One of the bigger challenges facing the Republican Party is that they are perceived as the, to phrase it nicely, less smart of the two major parties. The anti-science perspective, unwillingness to speak out against absurd sounding conspiracy theories, and even the attacks on Nate Silver, presumably because Silver did somewhat sophisticated math, have contributed to this and are damaging the party. It is no coincidence that the Obama campaign had a more sophisticated targeting and turnout operation and better statistical modeling. A party that refuses to take a firm stand in support of evolution or recognizing climate change is not going to draw too many people with advanced statistical training as advisors and consultants.

Don’t forget world-class computer programmers and developers.

Fox contributes to that environment by creating a climate where partisan rantings of people like Dick Morris are indulged while criticism by serious people like Tom Ricks is shut down and attacked. There is no inevitable link between conservatism and stupidity, but one could be forgiven for coming to that conclusion while watching Fox News. As it is currently constructed, Fox News is going to bring in almost no swing voters in the coming years. It will more likely continue to repel them through poor analysis and rants that strike the precise tone the party should be trying to avoid.

BAM. The toxic ménage à trois of the GOP, Fox News and the dumbest old coots in America means that they are perceived from the outside as being synonymous, and so herein lies the FAR BIGGER problem for the Republican party: Its very base, the braying Tea party dumbasses who they have so assiduously courted and pandered to, has made the Republican Party itself look like a BAD INVESTMENT. They can’t win lumbered with the imbecilic hordes of Fox News viewers, but they sure cannot win without them, either. What to do?

Tee-hee! This is yet another particularly vexing Catch 22 that I don’t think the GOP counted on. It goes far beyond their demographic problems and presents a much, much more immediate Wiley E. Coyote looking down to see that he’s already in very big trouble sort of crisis.

It’s also not something that I think is obvious to them—yet: Smart businessmen don’t tend to throw good money after bad. They certainly don’t keep doing it forever. Why would the people who have traditionally given money to the Republicans be foolish enough to do that again in 2016?

I think even the fucking US Chamber of Commerce got the message this time, don’t you? How could they have missed it?
 

 
Mitchell concluded by offering a final compelling reason for what I’m seeing as the “bad investment” aspect of the unholy trinity of Fox News, the GOP and the dumbest Americans:

It is in the interest of the Democrats, not the Republicans, for there to be a loud, extremist, heavily white faction in the Republican Party, constantly pushing that party rightward. One of the reasons Mitt Romney was so unable to pivot back to the center was due to the drumbeat at Fox which contributing to forcing him to the right during the primary season. Even after the primary season, when Fox became a big supporter for Romney, the rift between official editorial position and the political feelings of Fox viewers and hosts, was clear.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, while this is bad politics, it is good business for Fox. By positioning itself as the place where angry Republicans can go for their rhetorical red meat, Fox guarantees itself a sizable viewership, so the incentive for Fox to keep doing what it is doing is substantial, as is the potential damage to the Republican Party.

Good business for Fox News, but bad business for rich supporters of the Republican Party.

It’s a very difficult thing to convince someone that they’re stupid, however, it’s utterly infuriating when someone lets you know that they think you’re stupid and you suspect they might be right (I’d imagine, it’s not like this has ever happened to me). Faced with that uncomfortable power dynamic, stupid people tend to huff and puff and dig in their heels even harder when it comes to something that threatens them. As the Republican electorate gets older and has less and less influence, the growing realization that the rest of us think they’re knobs will see the thrashing displays of abject crazy get ratcheted up to levels of lunacy not yet seen, but that will just seem more and more silly, shrill and impotent as time goes on. For the Republicans, it used to be that automatically having the coalition of the stupid in their back pocket was a winning strategy. Today that’s why they’re losing and yet they can’t exactly cut them loose, either.
 

 
So the upshot of all of this is that GOP can’t really compete on a national level anymore, and if this isn’t an entirely 100% watertight truth (although the demographics sure seem to back it up) it’s still true enough.

If they were a sports team would you bet on them?

And ask yourself, even if you were stinking rich would you knowingly invest in a losing (hell, DOOMED) team?

As that notion sinks in, and becomes fully baked into the popular “loser” perception of the GOP, will the 1% continue to financially support the Republican party?

I think it’s pretty clear that the answer is gonna be NO.

(What this portends for the Democrats and one party rule in America is something beyond the scope of this already overlong post).
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Best of Both Worlds: The Transsexual Revolution


 
Here’s a piece from my old Disinformation TV series. It originally aired in the UK on the C4 network as part of their “4Later” late-night TV programming block in 2000 and 2001 (The Divine David came right after it). There were sixteen half-hour episodes that featured people like Robert Anton Wilson, Joe Coleman, Douglas Rushkoff, Genesis P-Orridge, Kembra Pfahler, and Grant Morrison as well as some more obscure underground figures like Rocket Boy, “Uncle Goddamn” and Brice Taylor, the self-described “mind controlled sex slave of the CIA.”

It was then purchased by what is now Syfy, who never aired the series (for reasons you won’t wonder about, if you’ve seen it) despite them paying a fair whack of money for it. Eventually it came out on DVD (Netflix also has it).

In any case, this segment, “The Best of Both Worlds” was going to be the first thing viewers would have seen in year two, but I ended up shuffling that around a bit after several people warned me not to come on that strong and that I might want to ease into it with the C4 lawyers, so it ended up airing towards the end of the second series. When that episode did air (dealing with themes explored in Adam Parfrey’s Apocalypse Culture II book) there were tons of angry letters and viewer complaints. One memorable letter accused me of trying to “create mass social deviation” using the airwaves (the best compliment I’ve ever received, btw). I was later told that criminal fines were levied on a broadcaster who showed that episode in Thailand due to the piece on transsexual porn.

The thesis of the piece—and it’s something that was also written about by George Petros (who you’ll see in the segment in an interview that we shot in my then apartment in the West Village) in a provocative essay titled “The New Hermaphrodite”—is that what seemed to then be an eye-popping explosion of “chicks with dicks” porn, was not really something being marketed towards gay men at all, as might be expected, but at straight men, as a sort of “kink.” Gia Darling, a well-known director of transsexual pornography who I interviewed says this explicitly to me, that gay men are not even remotely interested in seeing depictions of femininity—especially the sort of hyper-femininity associated with transsexuals—in their porno. So who was renting all of the shemale porn that started coming out in the late 1990s then?

When the answer to this actually dawned on me—before I knew there was a question, I should say—I was walking around lowlife XXX video stores on “The Block,” Baltimore’s sleazy red light district at 7 am on a Saturday morning in 1998 (it’s actually two blocks long and at the time, still a pretty seedy spot). Perhaps a little explanation is necessary: that very weekend was one of those times in my life where my bank account went from having like $200 in it, to having quite a bit more by the following banking day. But this was the weekend before that money got deposited into my account and I found myself staying in what might be charitably have been described as a “crack hotel.”

I had taken the train to Baltimore to see Joe Coleman do a lecture (Hasil Adkins also performed) and I think I had an overly optimistic idea of what sort of reasonably priced accommodations I might find in the downtown area. The shithole I stayed in didn’t even have towels and the bed sheets (which I used as towels in the morning) smelled strongly of Pine Sol. Two morbidly obese women with their hair in curlers sat outside the place on the sidewalk on lawn furniture watching a B&W TV and chain-smoking. The clerk who checked me in did so from behind a two-inch thick bullet proof window. It was a fucking dump. The worst.

The second I woke up, I made to get out of there, but there’s not a whole lot to do in downtown Baltimore in the very early morning hours (at least not that I knew of) and so I ended up getting coffee at a 7-Eleven and wandering around until the bookstores and record stores opened. Then I bumped into “The Block.” Having read about it in one of John Waters’ books, I knew exactly where I was when I laid eyes on “it.” So I walked in—and then rather quickly out—of the stores and the strip bars that were open at that time of the morning. “The Block” lived up to its depraved reputation, but there was something I noticed that, at the time, seemed quite remarkable…

In every Baltimore porn store, there was a disproportionately high percentage of the floor space—25 to 40%—devoted to “shemale” DVDs. Mostly straight porn, then the transsexual porn and only then a very small amount (5-6%) of gay porn. Baltimore, if you’ve never been there, is more or less a hillbilly and poor black city (that doesn’t describe the entire city, no, but it will suffice). Even at that early hour, these places were pretty crowded. The men who were perusing these wares were all working class guys, the sort of dudes who carry lunchboxes to work with them. As “normal” as you could get. Why all the interest in “chicks with dicks” (at 7am) and yet the apparent disinterest in the “regular gay” DVDs?

It seemed to me that the answer to that question would make good television.

Another thing that’s worth mentioning about this piece is a sort of “oh duh” epiphany I had when I was doing some interviews at Gia Darling’s apartment. Alyssa, Gia’s downstairs neighbor (who I assumed, until I was told otherwise, was a biological female and Gia’s zany “fag hag” friend) was trying to explain something to me about the difficulty for her to find a straight boyfriend because she wasn’t herself interested in being with a gay man (in fact, she seemed to look down on the idea with great disdain). 

Later, when we were editing the piece and I was watching the raw interview footage, I could hear myself not quite getting what she was trying to communicate to me, like it just wasn’t computing in my brain, and Gia can be heard off camera trying to patiently explain it to me. It seemed to make a lot of sense to cut it around Alyssa’s poignant remarks because I didn’t want the piece to seem lurid or unsympathetic (For the record, I wholeheartedly agree with what Gia Darling says towards the end about the daily heroism of a transgender person. It made me happy to be able to include that part).

When the show aired and I sent videotapes to all the participants, I was pleased to see how positively Gia, Alyssa and everyone else felt about the piece and how jazzed they were to be able to say the things they got to say on network television.

Shot and edited by Nimrod Erez, music by Adam Peters and Chris Brick (Family of God). (Don’t blame me for the distorted audio or the typo, it’s not my upload).
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Rocket Boy: Intergalactic Space Mercenary (and out of work porn actor)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Shameless Tory Lies?: A spoonful of Twaddle helps the Clap-trap go down

a_spoonful_twaddle_alan_rogerson
 
It was George Orwell who explained that “Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Well, there’s certainly been a lot of wind expelled by the Conservatives this week in their lap dog press.

The Daily Twaddle-graph has been putting about a bogus claim that two-thirds of British millionaires have become tax exiles because of the last Labour government’s introduction of a 50% tax on salaries over £150,000.

The paper quotes Tory MP, Harriet Baldwin who claims the 50p tax led to a “cull” of millionaires and has cost up to £7billion in lost revenue.

Since most of us have never heard of Ms. Baldwin, let me explain who she is: “the backbencher with blond hair and a brown nose,” who once presented “a magnificent display of oleaginous toadying” during prime minister’s questions when she inquired of Mr. Cameron, ‘Can I praise the prime minister’s staunch support …?’

Ms. Baldwin’s tax claims are loosely based on figures released by the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, which apparently reveal a disparity between the number of millionaires paying tax on their incomes.

The figures show that more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million for the 2009-10 tax year.

But after the previous Labour government introduced the new 50 pence in the pound top rate of income tax shortly before the 2010 General Election, only 6,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million.

This figure has now risen to 10,000 after current Chancellor George Osborne announced in his budget speech in March 2012, there will be a reduction in the top tax rate to 45 pence commencing in April 2013.

Sniffing the whiff of a story, the Conservatives seized on this information to claim that “increasing the highest rate of tax actually led to a loss in revenues for the Government.” As the Daily Telegraph reported:

It is believed that rich Britons moved abroad or took steps to avoid paying the new levy by reducing their taxable incomes.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, announced in the Budget earlier this year that the 50p top rate will be reduced to 45p from next April.

Since the announcement, the number of people declaring annual incomes of more than £1 million has risen to 10,000.

However, the number of million-pound earners is still far below the level recorded even at the height of the recession and financial crisis.

Last night, Harriet Baldwin, the Conservative MP who uncovered the latest figures, said: “Labour’s ideological tax hike led to a tax cull of millionaires. Far from raising funds, it actually cost the UK £7 billion in lost tax revenue.

“Labour now needs to admit that their policies resulted in millionaires paying less tax and come clean about whether they would reintroduce this failed policy if they were in power.”

This is a case of 2 + 2 = 5.

Which is something we may come to expect from Harriett Baldwin who, as a novice MP, has previously been corrected on her spurious claims about workless households.

But it’s not just Baldwin, the Daily Telegraph has to take a good part of the blame for printing such a “bizarre”, “bogus” and misleading story.

As Richard Murphy, at Tax Research, points out that although there was indeed 16,000 millionaires in 2009-2010, and only 6,000 a year later, this is because:

...£18 billion of income was ‘forestalled’ from 2010-11 unto 2009-10 to avoid the 50p income tax rate. That meant income was simply shifted from the later year into the earlier year to get round the additional tax charge.

In round sums the above data shows those earning more than £150,000 paid tax of £33 billion in 2010-11, implying taxable income of about £88 billion, based on the data (not all will be taxed at 50%, of course).
The previous year the income of those earning over £150,000 was about £121 billion.

Forestalling would explain maybe £18 billion of this change. Even the Treasury agreed that. But remember that means an adjustment is needed to both years. In other words 2009-10 was overstated by £18 billion. It should have been £103 billion as a result. And 2010-11 was understated by £18 billion. It should have been £106 billion after the forestalling effect was removed.

So there was actually an increase in income in 2010-11 for those earning over £150,000 but for a massive and one off exercise in tax avoidance. And there was no impact at all of people leaving the country.

And the Telegraph story is utterly bogus.

The Tory government was aware of this forestalling on the £18 billion of income, and as far back as March 2012, Faisal Islam explained this in his his report on George Osborne’s budget speech for Channel 4 News:

Here’s an amazing fact. Apart from the leap in the personal tax allowance, what was the largest annual tax cut today? Expected tax avoidance this year.

In fact you may have missed the mini fiscal stimulus at the heart of this Budget. There will be a £3bn fiscal loosening over the next year, followed by a £3bn tightening in the following years. What may be surprising is that this is almost entirely caused by £2.4bn of tax avoidance from Britain’s rich this year, that is then unwound in later years. Yes, this is the OBR’s expectation in this financial year that the rich will not pay out £6.5bn of dividends and bonuses in this tax year, but shift it into April 2013 when it attracts the 45p tax rate. Perfectly legal.

This follows on from that truly amazing staistic that I revealed on Channel 4 News on Monday. The Chancellor confirmed in his speech that Britain’s rich moved a staggering £16bn of dividends and bonuses. The HMRC report says £16-£18bn. My report on Monday put this “forestalling” at £18-20bn.

So the fact remains that the decision on the 50p rate was made on the basis of one year’s highly distorted data. Now the chancellor’s take on this was that avoidance at this level shows that the tax didn’t work. But what he didn’t say was that the forestalling effect was a one-off. The HMRC report does try to strip out the impact of forestalling and analyse other “behavioural impacts”.

Harriet Baldwin’s comments are not only misleading they are actually false.

There has been no “cull” of millionaires.

Two-thirds of British millionaires have not become “tax exiles.”

It is in fact - shock horror - Harriet’s party, the Conservatives who are helping Britain’s millionaires avoid tax, by allowing them to forestall until the 45p tax rate arrives in 2013.

This means the any lost tax is solely down to the forestalling of taxes due on £18-£20 billion.

So, it the Tories’ “policies resulted in millionaires paying less tax” NOT Labour’s 50p tax rate.

Worse, while the Tories allow their rich chums to forestall on paying the correct rate on tax, they are brutally cutting financial support to essential welfare services.

All of this tax avoidance may be legal but it hardly sits with Cameron’s view of “Big Society”, and his hopes to make “poverty history.” Well he’s certainly a long way from ever achieving this fantasy, when he supports tax cuts for the rich and welfare cuts for the poor.

Let’s not forget as the Guardian has pointed out, Cameron has already sanctioned a series of £20 billion welfare cuts by 2014 that will, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies:

...throw 80,000 children back into poverty each year, or 300,000 over the lifetime of the parliament. The Department for Work and Pensions puts the number of children currently in poverty at 27%, or 3.6 million children, two thirds of them living in working families; by 2020 it will be 4.2 million.

...

The IMF global outlook reported [in October] that for every pound that is cut, GDP will contract by up to £1.70. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the annual cost to the UK’s GDP of child poverty is £25bn, while only £200m will be saved by limiting child benefit to two children. If it sounds like madness, it is.

If the Tory press has to stoop to publishing “bizarre” and “bogus” stories to convince the public that the Rich should not be taxed, then the Conservatives are not only morally bankrupt, they are NOT fit to govern any country. And that’s the real story the Daily Telegraph should have published.
 
Illustration (and inspiration for headline) by Alan Rogerson.

You can see and buy more of Alan’s excellent work at his site Baggelboy.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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