“With your head on my shoulders we could wreck civilization!”

I haven’t followed the story surrounding The Pirate Bay closely, but I know enough to find no outrage at the recent conviction of the four founders. I don’t share what seems to be the typical libertarian revulsion at copyright laws. Although I agree they’re flawed as they’re written, there are legal ways for content producers to contract with customers that ignore the process. The system is broken but the free market created a work-around. So, I’m not ready to hoist a Live Free or Die banner on this issue.

That’s my short version. I like this longer, more detailed version from Eugenia’s Rants and Thoughts.

In my opinion, they are indeed guilty — they have been total assholes to lawyers who have sent them takedown notices over time. These dumbasses think that they are some kind of revolutionist heroes. Yes, a revolution is needed for copyright laws and the entertainment industry today, but these guys haven’t realized that in this day and age there is only one way to start a revolution: work through the existing system’s limitations and lobby extensively for new laws. Anything [sic] other approach will be shot down by the system and the corporations. This is not 1789 France. You can’t win with riffles, and picketing or rage anymore. You simply can’t ignore the laws. We live in a bureaucratic, corporation-led world, and so you will have to work through these constrains to change the world (e.g. via Creative Commons which is a clever approach that doesn’t cancel the current laws, so it can’t piss off the establishment to come after you). This Gandhi approach works: if you don’t buy the RIAA/MPAA-bound products, these empires will eventually fall, but it’s the only way to do it.

I’d change “corporation-led world” to a more general reference about special interests, but that’s mostly semantics based on politics. The basic idea is correct. If you don’t like the rules, refuse to participate or change them. Violating them instead is not a valid option.

Title reference here.

Seeking help from the Benevolent Giver of Rescue

I sent a letter to my Congressman today.

Congressman Davis:

I write to you with a heart and mind burdened by disillusionment with capitalism. I’ve plodded along for years, just being a good American. I pay my bills on time. I go to work every day. I own a home. I vote. I do my part.

Recently, I decided to improve my life just a little bit, adding a simple pleasure to my leisure time. I purchased a new computer (stimulating the economy!) with a Blu-ray drive. I now have better picture quality when watching movies. God bless America and her bounty.

But, and this is a surprise to me because I expected everyone else who shares this country to have the same understanding that each person’s actions affect the common good, but they don’t. The evil CEO at Netflix is being so very greedy, it’s disgusting. As I’m sure you know, Netflix raised its monthly membership fee by $1 for users who want Blu-ray rentals. They are picking my pocket. I want Blu-ray on my membership, but it should be free. I know you agree.

I have not budgeted for an extra dollar in my membership fee. When I signed up, I said to myself, “Self, $14.99 is the limit. And you will have Blu-ray access.” Now imagine my displeasure to learn that I can’t have what I want for the price I deserve. I know you share my displeasure. How much deprivation do they think is appropriate? I say none! I need to be rescued so that I don’t have to cancel my membership. So, I ask: what will you do for me?

Direct deposit would be nice, but I’ll accept a check each month. Just think, it’ll help the post office, so I can see the logic. I’m willing to accept that little extra inconvenience for myself if it’ll benefit the greater good. The obscene $1 hike doesn’t happen until November, so there is just enough time to pass legislation in the Congress so that my $1 arrives in a timely manner.

Also, I know there are millions of other people affected by this price-gouging. Just think, if there are 1 million people who must now pay an extra dollar each month, that is $1,000,000 of windfall profits for a service that should be free. Each month. That’s $12,000,000 per year. And I bet the number is higher. That can’t stand. We need a tax on windfall DVD rental profits!

Thank you for your serious consideration. Please do not let the DVD rental market seize up. I await your reply.


I urge you to do the same on this matter of national urgency.

Exercising judgment is family-friendly.

Continuing on my last entry, in his essay, David Cross also writes about children’s movies:

I have not seen the movie so I can’t really comment to whether it’s an “evil” or “dangerous” “piece of shit “or not. The reason I haven’t seen the movie is because I am not eight years old. I am an adult and don’t see children’s movies.

Exactly my sentiments. If you’re an adult and like movies aimed at children, fine. If you’re an adult who has children and like movies aimed at children that contain more universal themes and appeal, fine. See what you want to see, skip what you don’t want to see. But don’t pander to me that family-friendly is more than a euphemism for children’s movie.

As the presidential election gets going today, it’s clear that we’re going to hear a mind-numbing count of references to family-friendly culture. Blech. I don’t have kids now, but I expect to at some point in the near-ish future. I’m sure I would take my hypothetical kids to family-friendly movies. But I’m not going to stop seeing movies that are family-unfriendly. Or television shows or books or music or video games or whatever else interests me. Rather than dumbing down my life and denying myself what I’m interested in, I’ll exercise a little responsibility to know what is and isn’t appropriate for children to view.

If that means playing Call of Duty 4 after the kids are in bed, so be it. But politicians need to stop pretending that I should deny myself Call of Duty 4 because it isn’t suitable for an eight-year-old. I, like most adults, am not irresponsible. I do not need the guiding hand of government to intervene for me to understand the issue or to make intelligent decisions.

“I think I’m a little concussed.”

I’m a fan of Jackass. There’s still a 12-year-old boy inside me who laughs with such stupidity. And it’s quite libertarian to believe that no one should stand in the way of people doing stupid things to and with their own bodies. So I was quite excited to read that Jackass 2.5 would debut for free on The Internets today. When I checked the website, a curious sight met me:

There is no such thing as a “silly little registration process”. From the FAQ:

Can I watch jackass 2.5 without registering?
No. You must register and confirm your email address in order to watch jackass 2.5.

Microsoft is free to set whatever rules it wants in its license for Silverlight™. I’m free to refuse to give over my e-mail address, even though I have an account I use specifically to soak up the inevitable abuse such nonsense creates. I don’t care how likely or unlikely it is that Silverlight™ delivers “the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web”. Interpreting that as Microsoft-speak for “locking users into a restricted, ‘preferred’ experience” makes so much more sense.

And then, there’s this:

How long is the movie available?
jackass 2.5 will be available for FREE exclusively on this site until 12/25/07. Starting 12/26/07, you can rent or purchase Jackass 2.5 at BLOCKBUSTER® stores and blockbuster.com, and download it at movielink.com.

Content-providers are free to offer their material as widely or as narrowly as they please. But I refuse to participate in such silliness. That kind of closed-minded thinking is the mark of a dinosaur. I prefer Netflix to Blockbuster, and I’d never deal with the DRM madness of a site like movielink, in which the viewing experience is tied exclusively to the crap that is Windows Media Player. There is a business-model here that (unintentionally) excludes someone like me. I can live with that. How long can they live with that?

Title reference here.

Retelling the story of America’s Pastime.

The window for the cable industry to make a deal with Major League Baseball for its Extra Innings package is closing. (It ends Saturday.) As time clicks away, I fear that Bud Selig and Co. have no intention of honoring their public pronouncements. Fine, I’ve come to expect that. But I flipped on Field of Dreams this morning at the most awesomest part. When Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) delivered his monologue, he reminded me why I love baseball. Consider:

Here is the text of that monologue for those who prefer a quicker read.

Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack.

And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.

People will come Ray.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.

Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

Thank God Bud Selig didn’t write the screenplay for Field of Dreams. If he had, Terence Mann would’ve said that only baseball fans watching DirecTV driving a Mercedes SUV could pay the $20 per person and sit in the bleachers. He might make an exception and let people watching MLB.tv riding a Segway get in for $10.

The monologue’s closing wouldn’t be nearly as powerful then, I suspect. Oh… people will come, Ray. People will most likely come.

Forgive me if I can’t find my outrage.

I will not be upset by this story:

Citing the controversy surrounding the Dakota Fanning film Hounddog, the leader of the state Senate Republicans says he wants the government to review scripts before cameras start rolling in North Carolina.

I’m serious when I say I will not be upset. The headline – “Republican Scripts need reviewing” – is designed to outrage. Look at the First Amendment violation! I can buy into that. Except, I can’t.

That system, said state Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, would apply only to films seeking the state’s lucrative filmmaker incentive, which refunds as much as 15 percent of what productions spend in North Carolina from the state treasury.

“Why should North Carolina taxpayers pay for something they find objectionable?” said Berger, who is having proposed legislation drafted.

State Sen. Berger is correct. Why should North Carolina taxpayers pay for something they (might) find objectionable? I’d take him a step further, though, and ask why should North Carolina, or any taxpayer, pay for film production?

Berger pointed to South Carolina, which requires up-front applications from producers, who must attach a copy of their script.

Even so, said Jeff Monks, South Carolina’s film commissioner, the state does not assess the content of a proposed movie.

“Censorship is not part of our activity,” he said. The purpose of asking for the script is to see whether it conforms to the budget and schedule information producers are required to provide.

“We want to see if this film is doable and a good investment for the people of the state,” he said.

It’s not a legitimate government expense. Film producers will find cheap, quality locations without government help through competition. Movies are their investment. Taxpayer money spent to benefit producers is not an investment to the taxpayers. I’m sure North Carolina residents will not be sharing in the profits of Hounddog. This should be obvious.

With this story, the familiar refrain is always that he who pays gets to decide. This is true whether it’s customers buying vegan cookies instead of non-vegan cookies or a government buying film production instead of commissioning paintings. If you don’t want censorship, don’t take someone else’s money. The First Amendment protection against censorship only applies to your own dime.

(Source: Fark)

Can I steal a MINI if I spend $25,000 on football cards?

I don’t have much to say on Hollywood’s economic assertions about intellectual property piracy, other than to say that I’m sure it’s overstated, it will result in destructive legislation, and it will delay the industry’s entrance into the 21st Century of electronic distribution. In other words, it’s the typical nonsense from a dinosaur. However, this quote countering Hollywood’s nonsense is bogus:

It’s important to remember, however, that even though piracy prevents money from reaching the movie industry, those dollars probably stay in the economy, one intellectual property expert said.

“In other words, let’s say people are forgoing paying for $6 billion in movies by downloading or consuming illegal goods but end up spending that $6 billion on iPods, computers and HDTV sets on which to watch the movies, which leads to $25 billion in job creation in the computer/software/consumer electronics field,” Jason Shultz, staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in an e-mail.

The net economic effect of piracy is irrelevant to the intellectual property discussion. It does not matter that consumers spend their $350 on an iPod instead of movies. What matters is that $350 is not going to the company that created something of value to the consumer. There are many theories on how best to protect intellectual property and guarantee payment, most of them interesting. But the basic formulation of the problem does not include a community approach to evaluating economic spending. He who takes the risk should reap the reward.

Four-second movie review

I finally watched The Passion of the Christ last night. I found it stunningly amateurish. I don’t get the hoopla. It felt more self-indulgent than pornographic, as I’d heard. Jesus dealt with tremendous suffering, but Mel Gibson presented him as more superhero than messiah. And a drop of rain starting an earthquake? Fascinating. But the best part was the end, dealing with the resurrection. The square hole in the naked, perfectly-coifed Jesus’s hand? I laughed. Out loud. I imagine that’s not what Mel Gibson wanted.

I’m stealing the term “definitional elasticity”

As long as it increases tax-receipts revenue, any logic is acceptable. Increasingly, states apply irrational justifications to tax iTunes and other music download services.

In Kentucky and Washington, state law does allow the taxation of computer software. Washington law defines software as “a set of coded instructions designed to cause a computer…to perform a task,” which tax officials have interpreted to include music, movies and e-books.

“We use that same rationale on other types of files, such as music files or video files,” said Gary Davis, the state’s tax information and education manager. “We view them as similar because they cause some action by a piece of hardware to play them.”

Davis recited aloud the definition of computer software from Washington’s tax law and said he believed that data files, like an executable program, cause a computer to “perform a task.” He said, “I think it’s our policy that that’s exactly what a music file does in order to hear it.”

That definitional elasticity has alarmed online retailers, which say states are interpreting tax laws in ways never envisioned by elected officials or the general public. They would rather see the issue decided openly in state legislatures than behind closed doors by tax agencies.

On what basis could any rational human being interpret an mp3 file to be software that causes a computer to perform a task? The only software that causes a computer to perform a task has an .exe extension. That stands for “executable”. It’s a bizarre notion, I understand, but it’s universal. An mp3 file has an .mp3 extension. Click that without an mp3 player on a computer and the computer will do nothing. Absolutely nothing. An mp3 is data used by a program as a set of instructions to create sound waves through computer speakers. Next, I suppose Mr. Davis will determine that a ball rolling down a hill is being propelled by perpetual motion instead of gravity.

Perhaps the music download tax question is valid. I’m all for as little taxation as possible, but I understand that politicians aren’t reasonable people. At least understand that updating legislation is the way to deal with new situations. Loose reinventing of the same language only cheapens the constitutional basis. Instead, understand that the words mean what the words say.

I know it’s just a poll

Warning: Do NOT follow the link in this story if you do not wish to know potential spoilers for the new season of Alias. I wish I didn’t know, but I already did, so I read it. End of warning.

While reading this story about the new season of Alias, I noticed a reader poll in the sidebar. Consider:

The answers are stupid. Just like movie studios delayed disaster/terrorist films after September 11th, 2001, any new movie delays in the aftermath of new terrorism are attributable to obvious business logic. When a major calamity strikes a society, impacting most members, even if the impact is merely on an individual’s national pride, demand for calamity entertainment withers. Why would a movie studio, in the business of making entertainment money, release supply into evaporating demand? Yes, an event like September 11th was beyond any imaginable scale, so some sensitivity factors in (an assumption I’m willing to concede). But it makes up little of the overall decision, because what if the nation wanted that movie as a catharsis? Would the movie studio show it for free as a matter of sensitivity to the victims? Of course not.

To news outlets who offer such worthless content: if you’re going to bother me with silly, poorly-reasoned polls, show me an ad instead.