death of cd’s / rebirth of paying for music (

Part 1: CDs are dead

1999: the year I started college. That summer I ordered from the Apple store my very own computer (my mom paid for it obviously), one of the new all-in-one iMacs. When it arrived to my parents’ house I immediately installed and configured the operating system and hooked it up to my parents’ phone line to begin doing things. Configuring Netscape, I guess. Re-bookmarking my favorite sites. Probably some stuff with my AOL account. I think I downloaded some cool “computer graphics” artwork to set as my desktop picture. A The Matrix screensaver. During the installation process, Apple had walked me through the steps to configure it for a WLAN network, but I wouldn’t understand what that was until a few weeks later, when I moved into dorm and followed the IT helpdesk’s guide to getting connected. After successfully setting my (pink) computer up to run on the FASTEST INTERNET I HAD EVER EXPERIENCED, I quickly began to realize from friends, via AOL instant messenger and ICQ, that one of my life’s passions, music, was about to blow up in my face.

A new friend, an upperclassmen I had introduced myself to online in one of the Washington, D.C. rave forums over the summer, sent me a drum and bass song via chat. I started finding songs online to trade back to him, and to keep. Napster did not yet exist for Mac, not until the summer of 2000 I believe, but there existed actual webpages offering downloads, spyware- and ad-free. The MP3 Crackhouse was one that I went to a lot. My collection grew; especially after I figured out how to get the iMac onto the college’s Windows network, to access all the music which my PC-using colleagues were downloading and sharing.  I signed up for a show on the campus radio station, knowing that I would be able to offer amazing new music every single show, fresh off the internet. That Christmas I asked for a CD burner (decent hardware MP3 players weren’t yet available). At first I was converting all my MP3s to audio format to listen to on normal CD players, but by the end of my sophomore year, I was just using the discs to store the MP3s as data, having realized that I would never buy another CD player ever again.

My purchase of CD albums didn’t altogether stop, though, not right away. In 1999 a lot of MP3s were still kind of rough in quality, and even with Napster the infrastructure to find non-pop music wasn’t fully developed. That came with P2P networks like Oink, where you had to upload something good in order to be granted downloading privileges. So I kept buying CDs for a while. Music stores were still often good “curators;” Willie’s Records and Tapes (no website, sorry) in Richmond, Virginia still had tons of hiphop I wouldn’t have known about or been able to get if I relied solely on the internet. Plan 9 music, also in Richmond, and Other Music, in New York, had a lot of good compilations. I remember I went to London in 2002 and dropped about 200 GBP on electronic music compilations, all on CD. By 2003, however, I was only really buying second-hand CD’s. It was really starting to sink in that digital was more useful to me as software, and in 2006 I effected a vinyl-only policy for hardcopy music.

Part 2: it is an honor to pay for things that I value

In all this time I had, meanwhile, never purchased any digital music. MP3 Crackhouse gave way to Napster for Mac (Macster?) gave way to Soul Seek gave way to bitorrents. In 2007, blogs, supplemented by Soul Seek or bitorrents for special needs, had become my main music source, or DJ mixes. I was no longer stealing most of my music; I was being given it for free. RCRD LBL is a great service if you like their editorial taste, which posts free mp3s, paying artists with ad revenue. I was on their daily mailing list. I even contributed to a music blog for a while myself (— it migrated to a Mexican domain after I left… they’re following me!), uploading music I was ripping from CD promos received via my community radio station, where I had a show. (I also started doing a weekly show showcasing music blogs!)

I did make one purchase, finally, in 2009. My friend’s band, Zombie Zombie, had released an EP that I had been unable to find for free download. And since I actually know them, and actually wanted to own the music, I bought it on Beatport for 5 bucks. It was worth it, of course, but that is really the only time I had been confronted with music that I wanted that I couldn’t easily get, without paying. (I have never used iTunes, by the way, for content. I consider it a pain in the ass.)

Until! Until… last month I signed up for, the online music sales service started by the record label Ghostly International in May 2011. They, a favorite label of mine, have recruited other really good labels, such as Stones Throw, Domino, Morr Music, Dirty Bird to be part of the service. Customers like myself choose a label and pay a monthly subscription fee, set by the label, to receive whatever content the label wants to send them. I signed up for Morr Music, a label out of Germany featuring cerebral, non-dancy electronic music. They give me an album a week for $10 a month. It’s working out great. I have new music served to me, and what’s more I am thrilled to be buying music again! Really. Possibly because I know that 70% is going straight to the label, a good label that I like and who probably shares as much revenue as possible with their artists; Drip gets 30% for disribution. What I am not paying for is plastic, marketing and distro to Clear Channel Communications, or record store overhead.

Ghostly, the way they talk, seem to be taking as an experiment. I guess they don’t want to go too bold, considering all the flux around digital. But what I would like to see is them offering packages if I buy more than one label, for example. I could also see a music promotion service, the companies which send promos to radio stations and probably bloggers in exchange for airplay/publicity, doing something like Drip for regular listeners. There were several that served my radio stations that I would pay for: Spectre was one of my favorites, though now defunct, and Terrorbird… I would consider paying for their stuff. Forced Exposure is awesome– at the college station, I convinced them to start sending us promos, but I had to really differentiate us, our station, in their eyes in order to get them to. As a grown up, I would probably pay them $30 a month, for the quality and variety of stuff they carry.

My Morr Music/ dashboard:


why there are no good PAN candidates

I have been wondering why the PAN ran such a weak candidate. Really, I had actually been kind of indignant about it. Until I found out why this weekend: all the good candidates were assassinated in helicopter crashes or shot, apparently.

I feel really gringo here in this situation. The more interest I develop in the Mexican elections, the more ignorant/naive I realize I have been on Mexican politics. As much as I would like to blame the Associate Press, I know I can’t. I vaguely understood that the country never really had problems with narcoviolence before Calderon because, before Calderon, the government had cooperated with the cartels. I also had formed the opinion that no matter how good your intentions are in cooperating with cartels, or in getting them to cooperate with you, the fact that your cooperation, for various reasons, has to be extra- or illegal, eventually leads to unaccountable governance. But I haven’t really been well-informed enough to substantiate these ideas, nor to see how true they actually are.

So today, I have signed in to update that, this weekend with my Mexican boyfriend’s family in Cuernavaca, we were discussing the presidential candidates, and two things emerged. The first is that my suegro, who was active in the foundation of the PAN, says he is going to vote PRD, just because he doesn’t think PAN has a chance and he doesn’t want PRI to get in. Others said they were pretty wary of the PRD candidate’s ego, for example my cuñada mentioned that she could see him turning into a Hugo Chavez. (Incidentally, someone else chimed in that the gringos wouldn’t let that happen. I pretended to be proud and Merican, but I am not so sure, actually. Rather than voice my doubt, I joked that perhaps Mexican emigrants in the U.S. would withold remissions transfers in protest.)

But anyway, then this second thing emerged. I, previously being kind of quiet because everyone else knows more about Mexican politics than me, finally blurted out, “¿Does the PAN really not have a better candidate than Vazquez Mota?” Everyone looked at me sadly and confirmed that, no, in fact she is the best they’ve got, bless her heart. I was kind of incredulous, so then an aunt softly explained to me that…

The PAN had actually had 3 promising candidates, but each of them had been killed, specifically shot or shot down in helicopters, over the last 4 years.


I had of course heard about those killings, but, not really understanding the background of any of the victims, other than that they were powerful, I had left the events classified in my mind as “generally murky dealings, probably narco-related.”

Those killings I’m sure were narco-related, but for me, realizing that all of the strongest, most credible presidential candidates were knocked off, it clicked that yes, of course the cartels are working with the PRI, dummy, and in probably quite definite terms.

I don’t actually assume that everyone calling themselves PRI is horrible, still. In some places, ie the border, people may not really have any choice. At the same time, I am kind of disheartened that Mexico isn’t raising more hell about this, if only because I think maybe the people who are most outraged feel like they have to hide it. Or even worse, maybe they don’t feel that way; maybe they are raising hell, and just not enough people are listening to them.

“silence,” by marianne moore

I actually posted this poem a year ago in an entry about a somewhat, but not completely, unrelated subject. The post wasn’t very good, either, and my Spanish was way worse then than it is now.

Anyway I’m not the biggest poetry fan, but I did study literature in college so I had to take some classes in it. I inevitably found some good ones and remembered them. This is one that I liked, from my Modern Poetry Since 1950 class with Professor MacGowan:


My father used to say,
“Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow’s grave
or the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self-reliant like the cat—
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth—
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.”
Nor was he insincere in saying, “Make my house your inn.”
Inns are not residences.

Marianne Moore, 1951

Recently I was hanging out with someone who cares about etiquette enough to talk about it. It made me think of this poem, of how to define decency, of poise, of the idea of word versus deed. Somewhere along the line, maybe in Modern Poetry class, I developed a sense that following etiquette properly, being decent, entails not talking about it.

I was going to say Moore’s father is breaking this maxim of silence with the line “superior people never,” but I guess as her father, he’s allowed. To instruct his daughter on how she ought to act.

Not sure what my excuse is for talking about it… I’m a blogger? I’m sharing a nice poem?

From the collection of glass flowers at Harvard (Hahvahd):

baby’s first mordida

I’ve been here two years and only now had to pay my first bribe. It was an extorted bribe, not a voluntary one. I paid it to get out of the supposed threat of a worse situation, rather than to attain some personal benefit.

My friend Dana and I got stopped on the street, in Lagunilla, while walking with 40-oz micheladas that we bought from an ambulatory vendor. Open containers are illegal in Mexico City, although generally no one cares. I now realize more clearly something about the concept of “legal grey areas”: they’re “grey” because they’re selectively enforced, by cops who want bribes.

Between the two of us, the cop (his name is Fernando) got away with $150 (about $12 US). Dana and I later decided it was worth it for the experience of having had to do it. We had both been in situations with Mexicans who had to pay bribes, but neither of us had ever negotiated one ourselves.

After analysis, however, I am pretty sure we could have just poured out our beers, “apologized” and walked away without having to pay anything. Not only was Fernando nervous– he kept asking us “¿Está bien?”– but he also used his cell phone to “call” a unit to take us away, rather than radio. Also, by the time the transaction was concluded we had attracted some attention from several good samaritans on the street, who argued with the cop in Dana’s and my defense. If we had gone with pouring out the beer and walking away, I think Fernando would have realized he was outnumbered, should he be so undignified as to try to stop us.

So I think we probably held the upper hand and therefore are suckers for paying him, but another factor is, being gringa, rational or not the first thing I thought to analyze about the situation was whether Fernando was carrying a gun, and in fact he was. The US has socialized me to be afraid of being shot by cops, so I don’t think I really had it in me to be so bold. But maybe I do now.

By the way, when we handed over our beers, Fernando did NOT pour them out. He also gave me his phone number, in case I ever want to pay him to help me get away with breaking any other laws.

For anyone interested in the details of how it went down: Continue reading

lauryn hill, “lost ones”

Favorite Lauryn Hill song. I’ve recently been accused of moralizing, but really I think it’s just that I’m thinking a lot recently about what’s smart and dumb, balanced and unbalanced. If those are morals I guess then maybe I have been. But I guess that’s why I am posting this song.

twin cities

Something that has blown my mind for a while is all the metropolitan areas straddling the Mexico-US border. It first occurred to me after a student of mine, a guy in Mexico’s immigration service (it’s called “migration” here, from Instituto Nacional de Migración), had to miss class one day because of a trip to Tijuana. He’s Cuban, btw. When he came back he very animatedly described to me the fact that the physical border barrier there extends out into the Pacific, to keep discourage people from crossing via ocean. He was laughing about it, actually… because it’s ridiculous.

But anyway, out of this conversation emerged further news to me, that Tijuana and San Diego are the same metropolitan area. They just have a freaking checkpoint and demilitarized zone separating them, kind of like Berlin during the Soviet era.

Check out this map of the border (click to enlarge). In fact several border cities have a counterpart directly on the other side, which makes sense. Border crossings are commercial and logistics centers; they provide jobs, which means that citizens of both sides with similar economic interests migrate to them. The “two” cities that develop on either side are politically separate, often linguistically separate, sometimes socioeconomically separate, and in some ways culturally separate, too.

However if you stop talking about cities proper and move on to urban geography terms, the combined population of the two cities is yes, a metropolitan area. It’s sort of like St Louis and East St Louis, or Chicago and Gary, or Oakland and San Francisco, or Brooklyn and Long Island, or Maryland-DC-NoVa. But these border cities have, well, the border.

Obviously Ciudad Juarez, Chuihuahua is a border city, the twin city to El Paso, Texas. Mexicans have joked to me that the mayor of Juarez lives in El Paso, but actually I don’t think it’s a joke.

Okay, and… Juarez is the murder capital of the world. This title makes it sound like it could be extreme street violence, but actually it is a war… 50,000 people have been killed in the narco struggles nationwide since 2006. In 2010 alone 3,000 of those people were killed in Juarez. That’s compared to the FIVE PEOPLE who were killed in El Paso that year.

Google directions, El Paso to Juarez:

Click to enlarge; 3.3 miles (12 minutes). War <–> No War. In a word, vom. Guácara.

I’m not saying I want the narco war to spread over the border. God help us all. I also realize that my comparison of St Louis-East St Louis to this situation would not be unharmonious.

But still… for fuck’s sake.

Screenshot from the video game Call of Juarez: the Cartel, by Ubisoft, released yesterday.

my business ethics

One of the reasons I like freelancing so much is that I get to juggle and pick and choose opportunities. I get some perspective on the business I am in, and business in general, through constantly reevaluating different opportunities and how to coordinate them.

A company in which I am teaching a small group (3 students) has just asked me for a proposal for classes for the entire staff (70). Considering I am not interested in starting an English school, I said I would pass the request to the director of the school that placed me with them.

Without ulterior motive I started thinking, “Wait that school kind of sucks. I don’t really recommend it. They would be better off with one of the other ones that I work for.” As this occurred to me, I was in my class with my small group from that company. So naturally I thought it aloud, sharing my idea with the students as it dawned on me. They sort of looked at me like, “No comment.”

Nevertheless, when I got home that night I sent the Managing Director of the company an email asking if he wouldn’t mind if I passed his email address to two other schools, to give him a little more choice and to give the schools a little more price competition. Obviously he was all for it. So I sent off some emails to my other schools, inviting them to propose and sending them the Director’s email address. I also disclosed to each that they were not the only school I was putting the company in touch with.

At that point, while writing those emails, I realized the other schools would give me a commission if it turns out I win them a new client. And while my actions are not exactly favorable to any of the schools, the odds are definitely in my favor (ahem, 100% probably) that this company will choose a school that I work for. Hm.

I am not doubting that I did the right thing in this situation, may the best man win, but it looks kind of opportunistic, back-stabbing, and self-serving from certain points of view. Considering that I, and I only, definitely stand to gain. Well me and the students/clients.

Also, I am not sure this would have happened if that thought about the first school sucking hadn’t occurred to me.

I straight up asked my students if they had a problem with me going to my other schools, and they acknowledged that it makes them uncomfortable and that they probably wouldn’t have done that. Do they see something ethically questionable about what I have done? Or are they speaking from a cuate-ist perspective?

I guess it would be less questionable if there were other schools that I don’t work for involved. But that is kind of out of my hands. I’m not a matchmaker. Also, as far as I am concerned, I put them in touch with the best schools I know… oops, crap. There is one I forgot about that’s good whom I used to work for. The one that had me with Migración and Luz y Fuerza. I will send an email now.

I’m growing up. Hey, maybe soon I will finally stop throwing teen/gangsta rap slang into my code-switchig mix.