politics


There’s a feeling, and to my knowledge it doesn’t have a name, that people seem to share. Sometimes, you’re told something, and you can just tell, without being able to fully explain why, that what’s being said is bullshit. I call this feeling cole*.

An example of something that gave me, and gives most people a sense of cole are those ads, usually at the beginning of a DVD you’ve already bought, telling you not to download movies. The argument (set to obnoxious jump cuts and pounding music) is that since you wouldn’t steal a purse, a TV or a DVD, you shouldn’t download movies because it is a form of theft, and therefore exactly the same thing. Except, as that feeling of cole in your gut tells you, no, it’s not.

But why isn’t it? What makes it different, and why does that influence so many people who would not steal a purse to feel that the theft of a film via downloading is not wrong? Here we get to our subject, the ethics of theft. Fortunately, the words we need to describe this already exist. First up is dispossession.

Dispossession is the denial of a person or persons’ access to or use of a thing, service or location. When you steal a purse, you have dispossessed the owner of that purse. They are no longer able to use that purse, or any of the objects inside of it. Stealing a DVD from a store dispossesses the owner or owners of the store of the DVD and the subsequent income from retail. They have now lost money since they purchased the DVD originally with the understanding that it would be sold.

For most of history nearly all theft has been dispossession in one way or another. It is only with the introduction of photographic, photostatic and digital copies that theft without dispossession has become common. In these cases the essential nature of theft is changed, and with it, our ethical understanding of the seriousness of the offense has been massively altered. Essentially, the primary reason theft offended people was that it deprived the rightful owner. In cases where that is no longer true, people now tend to see this dispossessionless theft as a victimless or nearly victimless crime. A lack of victim means the degree of offense is dramatically lessened.

It doesn’t vanish though, and that brings us to the other axis upon which ethical judgments of theft are considered: valuation. Where dispossession is an essentially binary consideration (either someone has been dispossessed or they have not), valuation introduces a great deal more granularity, and also serves to explain why the downloading of a film is, while certainly not on par with stealing a TV, still essentially unethical.

Valuation is a complex term, but for our purposes it means the assessing of value or worth, and the method of the assessment we are concerned with is implicative, meaning not a formal assessment, but an attempt to determine one’s assessment of value based on their actions.

Going back to our purse example, assuming a thief has snatched a purse, stolen the money or other valuable goods and then thrown the purse away, their valuation of the purse itself is roughly $0. It was worth taking for its contents, but beyond that is essentially trash, and since it might eventually serve as evidence of their crime, could even be said to take on a negative value.

Now we apply this to theft via download. Essentially, the person who downloads a movie without purchasing is saying “I value this at about a gig of hard drive space, and a little time tracking it down.” Unfortunately for the people planning to make money from sales, it’s very difficult to buy groceries with a gig or so of some other guy’s hard drive space.

Alternately, it is possible for a theft to increase the value of that which has been stolen. There is the classic example of stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family. Now we’ve taken a loaf of bread, value: $2, and turned it into food to keep your family alive, value: multiple human lives. In this case the ethics of theft, which we compute almost instantly and automatically, tell us that this has become an ethically sound act. We have increased the valuation of the stolen item so much that it is agreed to have been worthwhile. See also: E.T. Stealing a bunch of stuff to call for a ride home.

With that established, copy theft enters a grey area very quickly. What about a TV show that is off the air and not available by legitimate means? The value of the product, per the copyright holders is almost impossible to determine, which means the theft of the object can almost be construed as an increase in perceived value. Then there’s broadcast television, where if a viewer is not a Nielsen Family, the value of their viewership, whether watching the original broadcast or a downloaded copy is essentially 0, so is there actually a devaluation taking place during the latter?

Largely, this grey area exists because our ethical systems have not had time to catch up with the new scenarios of action offered to us by advancements in technology. Additionally, the questions of value (how much a thing is worth to each person, and who exactly is receiving what) continue to evolve in complexity**. It will be interesting to watch our culture adapt to answer these questions in the coming years.

*Named for James Cole, my sixth grade teacher and the person responsible for giving me this feeling more often than anyone I’ve ever met. Honestly, I’d like to thank him for instilling such a complete distrust of authority at such a young age.
**A popular bit of rationalization, one which I myself am not above using, is that while my actual valuation of a product is quite high, my willingness to support the structures that have been built to profit from that product is rather low. Do I want to support a musical artist whose work I enjoy? Absolutely. Do I want to do so when more than 97% of that support is siphoned off before reaching the artist? Not always. Should distribution channels receive recompense for the work and cost required for disseminating art? Yes. Should they be allowed to bloat up like the record and film industries have? Of course not. The line is then, wavering, and often poorly marked.

What do you get when you combine overpriced housing with lenders who have had all meaningful regulation stripped away by business friendly conservatives?

A recession!

 
 
This isn’t funny, it’s just true.

The still active Neo Geo Pocket fan community* is, for the most part, extremely liberal in its political views**. And I’m talking actual extremely liberal, not the “extreme liberal” in Fox News terms. We are talking about “Socialism is a fundamentally sound practice” being on the more conservative side with “Anarchy + Social Programs” being the preferred form of government for several of them. As a result, Barack Obama, while certainly the preferred candidate, did not bring about universal cheers of joy.

I like Barack, but the fact is, he’s really not liberal enough for me in several ways. I want a President who will take a firm stance in favor of things like Equal Marriage rights; who will actually support an Equal Rights amendment for women; who would work on some kind of reasonable immigration reform; who would be willing to lift the absurd sanctions on Cuba, and put some on China until they sort some of the environmental and human rights violations; who would make the massive cuts and restructuring needed in our defense department***; and on and on and on. That’s not Barack Obama.

So why am I excited? It honestly has less to do with Barack****, or the specifics of his platform than it has to do with the people who voted for Barack, and the tone of his platform. For several years now, really, dating back to Nixon, Leo Strauss, and the birth of the Neo Conservative movement*****, the driving force behind these people, and yes, it is a small, specific group, has been fear. Fear of our enemies, fear of the danger out there, and the promise that only they can protect you, and only if you shut up and do what they say. Otherwise the commies/terrorists will get you. And if you stand up to this fear, if you reject their proposal, it is simply because you WANT TO LOSE.

And Lord, how this has worked. For the last several years, the enemies of the United States have been at their strongest not in Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan, but in the minds of the American people. We have imagined an enemy that, for the most part, does not exist. We have given this enemy a funding and motivation he does not have. In responding to this enemy, we have actually helped create a perfect environment for him to grow and develop. And we have done grievous harm to the rule of law and the soul of our nation. The things we have allowed in the name of safety have been abominable.

And that’s what made this election important. When presented with one more election where the choice was between an old soldier who will protect you from a danger that doesn’t exist, and a largely unknown quantity, the people of the United States did not do what we have done for so long. We did not vote with fear, we voted with hope.

Sure, this is only the very beginning, but if you’re in a car being driven straight for a cliff, you have to take a little relief when the driver finally takes his foot off the gas.

 
 
 
*Yes, this is a real thing.
**Basically everyone except Jeremy. Also a surprising number of them speak Dutch natively, coming from either the Netherlands, or the Flanders region of Belgium.
***It’s difficult for the mind to process just how much money we’re spending of defense, and how badly a lot of it is being wasted. We’re using F/A-18s as bombers, which is a lot like using a Porsche to pull a semi trailer. Meanwhile, soldiers hit the ground as recently as six months ago without combat armor. We’re going to spend more than $1,000,000,000,000 on it in 2009. To give a little perspective, that’s more money than anyone has spent on anything since the advent of commerce.
****Though I think he’s a good politician who has held forth solid plans on issues like Security, Health Care and Energy.
*****The parallels found between this culture of fear and that which was used to found fundamentalist Islam is examined wonderfully in the documentary The Power of Nightmares.
******Nothing to see here.

Is Barack Obama Black?

The answer is Yes, No, There’s No Such Thing as Black. This is the problem with being a pluralist.

Yes:
Well, he’s certainly black enough for the media. You’ll notice how rare it is that anyone discusses his heritage on his mother’s side, that being boring European standard issue. It’s pretty simple, you look at the guy, and he looks black, and that, for better or for worse, is what being black is. It means people are already worrying about things like assassination. There are people, disturbingly many of them, who will refuse to vote for him BECAUSE of the melanin in his skin, and the country his father was born in. The man is black.

No:
Barack Obama is not a Black man. Being a Black man in America means something. It means something about where you grew up, where you went to school, and what your parents, and your parents’ parents were able to do for a living. It means something about the images you saw on TV that represented, or failed to represent, your life. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, and did some of his growing up in Indonesia with his step-dad because apparently Ann Dunham has jungle fever. He does not, and cannot represent the Black American.

There’s No Such Thing as Black:
The point of all this is, of course, that “Black” isn’t one thing. How Black is Obama? Is he Half Black because of his heritage? Is he All Black because of his looks and the One-Drop Rule? Is he Not Black Enough because he didn’t grow up in the same lifestyle as the average Black American? “Black” by itself means so many different, often contradictory things that it doesn’t mean anything. Does a person’s heritage give you a head start in making some guesses about their history and culture? Sure. So does knowing that they grew up in a mountainous region. So does knowing if they’ve ever been a member of a country club. So does reading their bumper stickers. The terrifying thing is the degree to which we tend to allow information like this limit our views rather than expand them. A person’s heritage, region, culture and political views should serve to deepen the picture, not to define it in totality.

These words are a link to another page. This page is about the aesthetics of the counter-culture, and the failure there-of.

If you are not interested in that, we will also be discussing The Reflex by Duran Duran, the best band ever to get their name from Barbarella*. Here are the lyrics. They are insane.

You gone too far this time
But Im dancing on the valentine
I tell you somebodys fooling around –
With my chances on the dangerline
Ill cross that bridge when I find it
Another day to make my stand, oh..
High time is no time for deciding
If I should find a helping hand, oh..

So why dont you use it
Try not to bruse it
Buy time dont lose it

(chorus)

The reflex is an only child, hes waiting in the park
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isnt that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does leaves you answered with a
Question mark

Im on a ride and I want to get off
But they wont slow down the roundabout
I sold the renoir and the tv set
Dont want to be around when this gets out

(chorus) (chorus)

The reflex is an only child, hes waiting by the park
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isnt that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does is an answer with a
Question mark

(chorus) (chorus)

The reflex is an only child, hes waiting by the park
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isnt that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does leaves me answered with a
Question mark

Oh, the reflex what a game hes hiding all the cards
The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark
And watching over lucky clover isnt that bizarre
Every little thing the reflex does leaves you answered with a
Question mark

What the fuck is that song about?

 
 
 
 
*Fuck You Matmos!

previously Things you should know about Ireland.

In Paris food is very expensive and very cheap, alternately. If you are paying someone to bring you the food the odds are good that the service will be poor, and you never have one consistent waiter. Instead everyone on the staff bumbles around inefficiently, and they always forget your water. Also, your wife, who doesn’t eat much meat, will find ordering very difficult. This will be the expensive kind of meal. However, if you just buy fresh bread, fresh fruit and some cheese, then take it on the Metro down to the Cité station, and eat it in the park outside Notre Dame it will be the best meal you had in the city, and also the cheapest.

In Montmartre there are a lot of famous places. You will walk into a place that says it is a Tabac, where you should be able to buy a phone card. When you get inside, it will be oddly familiar, and you’ll ask the very harried waitress if they have phone cards, and she’ll say “ce n’es pas un tabac, vraiment.” Then you’ll realize you’re in the café from Amélie. They’ve pulled out the Tabac to make room for more seating. A few days later, right at the bottom of that street, you’ll go to the Moulin Rouge, which is alternately kind of dumb and amazing. The Can-Can will be excellent, and at one point a naked lady swims in a transparent tank with some pythons.

In the tiny elevator at the Eiffel Tower, which is not really that tiny but so packed with people it feels tiny, there is an Italian couple. All four of you will be amazed by the view, and the building itself, which feels built in a way no other building ever has. You will take pictures for each other, but you will forget to take a picture of them, and you will never learn their names.

In the Sacré-Cœur, you will make jokes about God, and Catholicism, and your friend will light a candle for his Grandparents. You will feel a little guilty for the jokes. You will decide that $7 is too much to look at bones, so you won’t go into to catacombs.

In Montmartre again, on your first day, you will walk down to the Boulevard de Clichy, where there is an adult movie theater next door to a McDonalds. You will have never seen that many pictures of naked women on a public street in your life.

In the underground Metro station you will realize that any city without some kind of non-road rapid transit is a bullshit city.

In the modern art museum there will be a great many works that you really like, but it will all be diminished by the two blank canvases in the room all the way to the left, and back. There is an author’s statement there, but if you read it, you will know it is bullshit.

In Paris there is a train you can take to Versailles, where you will just go straight to the Palace. And Palace is the word. The interior is decorated and made up to the point that when you are finally finished, the entire place was simply draining. The audio tour will be interesting, but strangely positive. There will be no indication in it that the levels of excess displayed were anything but appropriate and worthy of your awe. The Gardens though, those are amazing. More than a mile, at the end of which is another god damn palace, this one constructed with what appears to be the bulk of the extant pink marble, which you frankly do not have the energy to bother with.

In the comic shop on Rue Lepic almost all the comics will be hardbacks. This will impress you.

In the apartment you rent, on Rue Lepic, right next door to the comic shop, you will be comfortable. Strangely comfortable. You will find yourself becoming so at home that you spend large periods of time inside, laying in bed and watching a channel that plays nothing but short films. You will wonder why they don’t have a channel like this in the U.S.

In Avignon there is a train station with what is, definitively, the worst parking situation in the world. You will drive through seven times trying to figure out where the hell your rental car is supposed to go, and in the process you will perform several illegal maneuvers, and do minor damage to the car. You will have something of a breakdown at one point. You will return the car in a rush, run to the train, and hurt your shoulder by leaping onto the train to block the automatic door from closing.

I call pretty much everyone dude. This includes my boss, his boss, his boss, and my wife. Some people get uppity about this, usually for one of two reasons:
1. Dude is not a sufficiently respectful term. Now, fortunately none of the people in my life who this could be an issue with think so, but I have to disagree. The word dude comes from 1880’s New York slang meaning a well kept or image concentrated gentleman. Sure, the word has drifted a fair distance from there, but I like the idea of it functioning as a cross-gender-cross-culture-cross-class all purpose salutation or appellation of general friendliness. Also, people who complain about shit like that are assholes, and generally don’t deserve any respect.
2. Girls should not be called dude. There’s a school of thought that referring to members of both genders by the same term (specifically human, mankind, congressman, or other terms that use masculine specific terms as the baseline) is offensive and reductive, but I disagree, especially in cases like this, where I’m not referring to something broad like the history of our species using male specific terms, and am instead using what I consider to be a gender inspecific term for an individual. However, if I had to use a gender specific alternative, it certainly wouldn’t be dudette. That ending isn’t so much a feminization of the word as it is an inferiorization. It translates, roughly, to “minor dude”. If you’re going to use a feminine gender determinate version of dude, try the original form of Dudine, or the slightly later Dudess. I personally prefer Dudess because it sounds like she’s both a dude AND a princess.

Almost all the managers I’ve ever met are shitty. I mean, they might be good at their specific field, but they’re not good managers. A good manager is good at managing anything, more or less. Sure, there are specific skill sets. Some are better with the organization, others are better at being cool under stress. But the central duties of a manager never change:

  • Make sure everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing.
  • Tell them when they’ve done a good job.
  • Ask them why they’ve done a bad job.
  • Do your part in getting it done.

Do that, and people will follow you into hell.

This post will be Geek centric, and so, for our excluded members, I offer the following alternative post:

Sometimes when my friends are having problems, I will say:

DO NOT WORRY! EVERYTHING WILL BE OK!

but secretly what I mean is:

DUDE, THIS IS NOT EVEN A PROBLEM. YOU NEED TO STOP BEING SUCH A BABY.

I feel a little bad about it, but then I remember that I almost died and stuff, and it feels reasonable again.

Now for the Geek part:

I am, as anyone who cares about the subject would expect, anti DRM. Mostly. I sum up my argument thusly:

the noble newspaper stand

Now, some of you might be saying “That’s a picture of a newspaper stand.” And you’d be wrong. It’s actually a picture of a giant balloon shaped like a newspaper stand. However, the point is valid, and I’ll explain.

Newspapers cost very little. A quarter most days, a buck fifty on Sundays. One of the primary distribution vectors is the newspaper stand. The barrier to access is very low (drop in the coins) and the potential for redistribution or theft is very high (hand off the paper, steal more copies). Yet no newspaper ever went broke from losses suffered due to the lax rights management of newspaper stands. This is because they make buying SO EASY that many people buy, offsetting any people who may choose to steal.

I feel that in general, this is the direction that digitally distributed media should move. The payment process has to be about as easy as getting some coins from your pocket and dropping them in the slot, and delivery equally simple. Now, currently, this isn’t usually the case. Apple’s iTunes is about as smooth as this gets, but it fucks up on the other end.

Use.

I was given an MP3 player by my office. It’s not an iPod though. In fact, its firmware is explicitly designed for use with Real Networks’ Rhapsody software. This is a lot like a newspaper stand selling papers you can only read with special glasses. If I’ve bought rights for a media, I should have the use determined on my end. Burn to a CD, add to my MP3 player, stream through my home stereo, or (and here’s a big sticking point) send to a friend.

There are a bunch of ways to deal with the passing on of media, but none of them are very customer friendly, and I can’t help but feel that a business focused on getting people to pay them will be more successful that a business focused on stopping people from stealing. And what are they stealing?

Remember, people will use the “But digital is so easy to copy and reproduce!” as an argument for why it has to be harder to steal. That’s retarded. That means that your losses to theft are almost nothing, because there was so much less overhead. Thieves are thieves. They’re going to keep stealing. You need to make it so easy and convenient to buy that you make money from the honest people. And what do newspaper stands teach us? Most people, faced with a cheap, easy way to buy something, will take it.

BUT WAIT! There’s one BIG exception here, which is something I think content providers should get behind full force: subscription services. I still expect a certain amount of freedom in how I use my file while I have access to it, but it’s pretty reasonable to make sure it only plays on devices that will stop playing it when it expires, and to limit my ability to share. The secret to success here is that the charge is monthly, and likely automatic, and the ease is almost total. So while I can grumble about not being allowed to burn a CD, I’m currently streaming the theme from Ghostbusters, and well aware that while I’d never PAY for it, I’m glad to pay for ACCESS to it.

It’s really common and popular to make fun of the President right now, and while I’m all for people saying whatever they want, there’s one thing they need to consider:

George W. Bush’s mom is really fat.

President Bush has a fat momma. It’s bewildering to me that this crazy, pasty, chubby, old lady isn’t getting more time. After all, she raised the idiot. She donated a bunch of money to Katrina relief that was earmarked to be spent only on software by one of her sons. Neil I think.

Anyway, she’s fat, which is always funny, and she’s a pretty awful person, which means it’s OK to make fun of her. I think it’s important that we all add this to our President insulting repertoires. You know. To keep from getting stale.

And finally, to inaugurate this new practice, allow me to cast the first stone.

The President’s Momma is so fat, she is at a seriously increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. She should seriously consider a new diet and exercise plan.

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