It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for paying rent a mere 29 days past due. Sundays are for going to work in hopes of paying rent in a more timely manner next month. Sundays are for enjoying your last day of vacation before starting a new job.
The Occupy [city] movement has become- in the popular conversation- about income inequality. I don’t think that’s wrong- not exactly. But I do think that it misses one of the fundamental frustrations of modern existence: the growing sense that corporate actors are more important than human actors. Worse than that, there seems to be very little that we humans can do about it.
When I was a kid growing up in the (very liberal Bay Area), talking about gay people was basically the same thing as talking about child molesters. Given the underlying (incorrect, demented, awful) axiom, the reactions of ordinary people was (terrifyingly) sane. This was the genius of Harvey Milk’s strategy of having gay people come out of the closet. Gay people became normal. Sunlight disinfected- not the people themselves, but the reputation of the group. The arc of history of long, but it bends towards justice.
Despite how often I hear the opposite, every statistic I run into says that we as people are doing more of the “good” things, and less of the bad. For instance: crime is at all time lows. You have to admit, it’s getting better. It’s getting better all the time.
Note to marketers: sex can’t sell your product. It seems that people can be distracted by sex, but it is very rarely advantageous to distract people from the product that you’re trying to sell them.
It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for visiting Japantown and seeing parades. Sundays are for making your your kitty is still mending. Fridays are for taking your laptop to the local bookstore and writing a blogpost. Sundays are for seeing what I did there.
Somewhere along the way, we stopped looking at aborting a pregnancy as something that human beings did, and started looking at it as a political act. When we removed humans from the equation, when we stopped focusing on the ladies and started focusing on the fetus, it became very easy to create horrible conditions for the humans involved.
A doctor’s take on being forced to perform invasive and unnecessary insertions into a woman’s body.
Again, the American conversation about women’s health is a political conversation, rather than a conversation about healthcare. Were it a conversation about healthcare, we’d know the sheer number of women who take birth control pills to keep themselves from dying.
It is true that boy nerds are treated harshly for imperfect knowledge of things they love. That’s not relevant to any conversation about how lady nerds are treated for the same imperfections of knowledge. The problem that women are trying to address isn’t the harsh treatment itself- though that’s a real problem- rather, the problem to be addressed is the gendered nature of the treatment. The problem is that womanhood- an intrinsic quality of the person in question- is being used against the woman. This devaluing of half the human species is not something which should be tolerated. And sure. Along the way we ought to stop treating men poorly also.
Of course, all I’m really doing is begging the question. Once a side has committed itself to the idea that female personhood is a logical fallacy, we see how much trouble the whole species has gotten itself into.
I was taking a class on early 20th century European history, when I had the startling linguistic insight: “nation” was a synonymy for “race”. That was why the “nation state” wasn’t a redundant construction. Suddenly, the American Civil War made sense in a new context: would America be a “nation state”, or a “multi ethnic country”? Also: if “a language is a dialect with an Army and a Navy” (sorry Catalan), then this is a disturbing trend. If Americans are becoming more polarized politically and linguistically, how long until we stop seeing one another as belonging to the same multiethnic nation?
Best political ad of all time? It works as an effective “fuck you” to his opponent, while actually being incredibly upbeat about the candidate having achieved the American dream.
I don’t really care for the us-against-them tone of this article. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that my generation- and the generations after mine- are in a very different position than that faced by the Baby Boomers. There is simply less of everything than there used to be. The wealth of the nation has been spent on a single generation, and it will be the work of the next several to rebuild.
If we think about how civilization began, we realize that cooperation is key. Humans had to coordinate planting, gathering, and travel. During times of conflict or hunting, the winners were the ones who worked best with others, who laid traps and had devious strategies. It is therefore unsurprising that in making virtual warfare, we humans would be exercising the mental muscles of cooperation?.
This article overstates the extent to which our phone bills are the result of market failure. Comparisons to a European phone plan in which customers are expected to bring their own phone and pay only for data will skew heavily towards making American “pay for the phone as part of your monthly bill” plans seem even more unreasonable. That’s all throat clearing. It is unquestionably true that 2 year contracts lock Americans into deals which favor telecoms. The difficulty of switching plans makes it unattractive for new companies to enter the market. And without new entrants to the market, incumbent companies don’t see much reason to make things better.
Seems that Americans already have a flat tax. I wouldn’t mind tax simplification- where each dollar of income at a given tier is treated the same regardless of source. And eliminating deductions would make it incredibly easy for everyone to do their own taxes– or make it simple for the government to just send you a bill. But most Americans pay the same 1/5 of their incomes to the government. And that’s what conservatives seem to say they want…
The colony of Virginia was named after the “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth the First. So it is an incredible linguistic and historical accident which pitted virginity against love and marriage in one of the most important supreme court cases in American history. This case really did change the definition of marriage. America is even stronger for it. I may be biased, though. In a large sense it made my own family possible.
Many of the links from this week’s post are from the Slactivist, so you should probably be reading him on a regular basis. For now, let him share with you a fantastic and true American ghost story.
I’ve been making my way through the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Here’s why.
? Why had Germany delivered itself over to the raving exterminationist dictates of one man, the man Shirer refers to disdainfully as a “vagabond”? Why did the world allow a “tramp,” a Chaplinesque figure whose 1923 beer hall putsch was a comic fiasco, to become a genocidal Führer whose rule spanned a continent and threatened to last a thousand years?
A couple weeks back, I said some unkind things to you. Several of my friends and readers took offense at my words, and I think I understand why. First, I want to apologize. My first few drafts were unreadably dull. So I tried to be funny. And in being funny, I became very rude. Not merely rude, but rude in a way that sneered at an open wound. That’s bad behavior on my part. I am truly sorry.
Does someone who put their (literal) sweat, (probably literal) tears and (hopefully metaphorical) blood into a creative work deserve to be compensated for that time, effort, and energy? In the vernacular of my youth: Doi.
I think this is the basic disconnect between media creators and media consumers. Creators- you!- are lashing out in justified fury in an attempt to get people to stop copying your stuff. Their best efforts to lock down the fruits of your labor are being laughed at by the people they most desperately want to stop. Adding insult to insult? The number of pirates who spend 10 minutes with a game and declare that it’s terrible and not worth spending time on.
This would be enough to enrage anyone.
The problem is that customers are being hurt by this rage. Not “consumers”- that category includes the pirates. Customers. The problem with “Digital Rights Management” is that it only protects your rights, as the publisher. It does not protect my rights as a customer. In fact, it often strips those rights away. First Sale doctrine? Gone. The ability to use a paid-for product when your server shuts down? Gone.
I’ve seen arguments that since we customers are merely “licencing” games rather than “buying” them, that we ought never have had those rights to begin with. That is not an argument I believe, nor one I think leads to positive sum outcomes. The merits don’t honestly matter- what matters is that the rights I had previously thought myself to enjoy I no longer enjoy. And I’m basically powerless to opt out of the agreement.
I say “basically” because I do have some power. I have the power to not buy products which treat me this way. It’s not really an option I enjoy exercising. I enjoyed the heck out of Anno 1404, and really wanted to grab Anno 2070 when it came along. But then I learned that in order to have access to the really nifty parts of the game- the things that really differentiated it from its predecessor- I’d have to be online. So, no sale from me.
I’d heard amazing things about Assassin’s Creed, and so when Assassin’s Creed 2 came along, I was very tempted. Then I learned that in order to play it, I’d have to be always online. Not simply “online check at the beginning of a play session”, but “drop connection for a few seconds and stop playing the game”. My Comcast connection is flaky. I can’t even watch _YouTube_ for more than a few minutes without it needing to buffer. The idea of putting my enjoyment of your game at the mercy of Comcast seemed like an exercise in frustration. So I decided not to become a customer of Ubisoft for that game.
I’m not talking about a boycott. Nor, I hasten to add, am I talking about pirating your games. I’m simply talking about taking my money and spending it on other things. Civilization 5 is great. Magicka. Oh hell: I’ve spent more time playing RUSE– one of yours!– than I care to think about. The DRM associated with those games is fairly lenient; I can even play those games when Comcast decides to take the day off.
We’re not entirely at an impasse. Like I said, you guys are putting out some great games. In fact, when you released Assassin’s Creed on Good Old Games, I snapped it up. It was DRM free, and came with the sorts of goodies that I normally associate with “special edition”.
That makes me incredibly glad. It makes me think that you saw through the rudeness of my initial post and decided to change the relationship on your end. Your advances will not be rebuffed. Keep treating me this way, and I’ll do more than give you a hug– I’ll give you cash.
For those humans who follow the Western Christian tradition, today is Easter Sunday. For people of that branch of that faith, today is the holiest day of the year. In that belief system, a deity (people of that belief system understand there to only be a single deity) caused a woman to conceive a child, and that child grew up to be offhandedly executed by the mightiest empire in the world. So far, all well and good. This next bit is where “faith” comes into it.
Today Western Christians (next week for the Eastern Christians) celebrate the resurrection of their deity. 3 days after his death, Jesus got up, stretched his legs, and announced that- having been a blood sacrifice for the sins of the human species- he was back.
Apparently God meant what he said to Abraham.
For those who have faith- as I do not- in the truth of this story the willingness to give one’s life to atone for the awfulness of the human species gives someone tremendous moral authority. What Jesus is believed to have said and done between resurrection and ascension basically amount to showing his face around town, and telling his followers to get to work.
What things did Jesus say he wanted people to do? What terrible sins required the blood of a god to atone for? Moral authority to do what? Even the moral teachings of a deity must be tested against an external reference, unless we want Cthulhu to have unfettered access to our uncritical brains.
And so it seems to be that we should examine a brief part of Jesus’ teachings. For extra fun, read that passage while replacing every use of “hypocrites”, with “douchebags”.
What I read is an extended meditation on the virtue of doing the right thing for it’s own sake, rather than for the sake of being seen to do the right thing. Someone who gives bread to the hungry in order to be seen doing so may make someone better off, but they have mentally recategorized another human being from “person” to “prop”. It is impossible to love a prop.
So: people are supposed to pray in private, and not for specific goodies. What should people pray for? The first part of the prayer Jesus gives his followers is a reminder that they are not supposed to ask their deity for things- and “things” in this case counts for actions and outcomes as well. “Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.” So, you know. Christians technically can pray for a touchdown, or for a war to have a specific outcome. But if they do they’re contravening a direct command from their deity.
Interestingly, there is also an injunction against wanting forgiveness for infractions against that deity’s commands. “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” As a child, this was always the scariest, most terrifying part of the prayer– Christians are asking god to create a direct, 1:1 correspondence between what they have done wrong and wrongs which others have done. The only way to make good- the only way to attain heaven- is to forgive other people. It is not good enough to simply the the “keeper” of one’s siblings. Everyone is now, in an ultimate moral sense, yourself.
It’s Sunday morning. It’s time for some Reading Material!
The Occupy [City] movement was and is famously without a clear agenda. Much of this, I think, owes to the diffuse nature of the problem they’re trying to solve. American society has undergone a fundamental realignment in the relationship between Capitalists and Government. That previous sentence uses archaic language and isn’t really precise, so let me try again: The Occupy [City] movement exists to bring attention to- and protest against- the fact that the Republic is no longer Res Publica. This basic fact exists as a creeping, midnight suspicion in the minds of voters. It is not something that is generally spoken of in daylight hours. And yet here we are.
As an example of how America is no longer a Public Thing, I offer the existence of Zuccotti Park. Instead of taxing a company to create a park that would be owned and operated by the People of New York City, the City of New York mandated that a corporation would build and run a park. As a result of this, the First Amendment does not apply unless citizens ask the corporation to pretend that it does. Most malls- spaces that have replaced public marketplaces as centers of public consciousness- exist under these same strictures.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was a very bad governor. He rode to office on a promise to put a $5 billion hole in the yearly State budget, and fulfilled that promise within his first month in office. Most of his 2 terms were spent slashing services so that he could pay for fulfilling that promise. I shouldn’t be too upset with him, he seems to have entered politics as a joke that the rest of us didn’t get. The fact that his brand of crazy very bad ideas were considered not crazy enough moderate by half the major political parties in California tells us exactly where to lay the blame for the fiasco.
Frustratingly, innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not commit. This leads to a secondary problem of guilty people continuing to be free to perpetrate their crimes. It is often difficult to prove innocence, but every now and then we manage to. What happens then involves people admitting they made a mistake. That is an extremely difficult thing to do.
This is simple technique for being a genius. I’m not sure it’s really as good as its authors claim. Breaking down problems into component parts is the way my brain works naturally. When I’ve finished doing that, I don’t usually see a whole bunch of simple solutions- I tend to see a giant pile of new problems. Granted, this might well be a function of my own rather dysfunctional personality.
I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the murder of Trayvon Martin. It’s a sad, terrible affair, and I can only hope that justice is swiftly brought to the guilty.
Want to know how Trayvon Martin was murdered? American society is still Otherizing black people. That’s right: in 2012, people are still willing to publicly proclaim that a character they had (wrongly) perceived as white is deserving of less sympathy when she’s (correctly) depicted as being a person of color. I do think the solution to this is rather simple: our machines of cultural creation need to start inserting more persons of color- African American, Latino, Indian, Native American, etc- into their works. Indeed, some studio should spend a year making the default assumption that every unspecified ethnicity from is a random (non-white) ethnic group. We’d end up with movies that looked more like America, at the very least.
I’m embarrassed that I had never thought beyond the advertising potential of data aggregation. Kevin Drum is right: it’s the potential non-advertising uses that ought to scare us. We should- sneakily and quickly- put limits onto what the government is allowed to access. And create criminal charges for those who would gain that information with intentions other than sales.
It only took six months of internal inquiry, but the FBI has finally agreed that, in the future “training would conform to constitutional principles”. Bravo! Perhaps students will even be spared the knowledge that they can “bend or suspend the law”. Or, perhaps we could just dismantle the whole apparatus of internal spying?
The worst problems aren’t caused by getting the wrong answers. The worst problems are caused when the wrong question is asked. Ubisoft needs to stop asking “how can we decrease piracy”, and start asking “how can we derive maximum revenue from our products?”
I’m going to let them have a little formula:
We’re going to assume that a “unit” is a title, and for simplicity’s sake, we’ll pretend that title doesn’t have DLC.
1) We’ll start with the average revenue (to you, the rights-holding company) from each unit sold. Let’s call that “ChaChing!”. This number is simply what retailers kick back to you before any of your own costs are brought into consideration.
2) We’ll discover the average amount time players spend actually playing your game. The real number, not the marketing number on the back of the box. No one plays a game for “infinity”. We’ll call that “PlayTime(tm)”. The camelbacked capitalization lets me trademark that phrase.
3) Now we’ll find out how much the DRM solution costs for per minute of PlayTime(tm). Call that number “DirtyRottenPiracyRepellent”.
4a) Let’s next find out how many copies of your game were not bought because of the DRM. You didn’t know that people refused to buy some of your games because they didn’t like the way you treat them? Well. That explains a bit. So yes: that’s a thing. Some of us hate DRM so much that we won’t buy games we otherwise would. We’ll call this number the “OopsieDaisy” co(in)efficient.
4b) The OopsieDaisy coefficient can be estimated by seeing how many copies of a same-genera game with similar metacritic rating, but lacking your DRM solution, sold.
5a) Let’s figure out how many people who would otherwise have pirated the game decided to actually buy it instead. This number shall be called the “Jefferson” factor– named after US President Thomas Jefferson, a man who actually won a war against pirates.
5b) The Jefferson factor can be estimated by comparing the piracy rate of the game chosen in 4b to the piracy rate of your game. Simply subtract the percentage of pirated copies of their game from the percentage of pirated copies of your game. Warning: if the number ends up being negative (if your game has a higher piracy rate than theirs), you’ve already lost.
6) I think we’re ready to go! Take (Jefferson – OopsieDaisy) to find out how many extra copies we ended up selling. Call that number “Bonus”.
7) (PlayTime(tm) * DirtyRottenPiracyRepellent). Call this “TheRentIsTooDamnedHigh”. This is the cost of your DRM.
8) (Bonus * ChaChing!). This is the extra revenue that DRM brought us. We’ll call it “SecurePayCheck”
9) Now we (SecurePayCheck – TheRentIsTooDamnedHigh) and voila! We know how much it costs to bring in each additional sale.
10) Analysis. Obviously, I don’t have access to any of the numbers that would go into your calculations, but you- I hope- do! So let me ask: is the absolute value of Jefferson bigger than the absolute value of OopsieDaisy? If not, your DRM turned into a giant black hole. Is Jefferson bigger enough than OopsieDaisy that it offsets TheRentIsTooDamnedHigh? Was Jefferson actually a positive number? If it was a negative number, then your DRM actually managed to drive otherwise paying customers into the piracy ecosystem. Good luck fishing them out.
Notice what’s not included in this math: stopping piracy. Creating conditions under which people will not pirate your games is easy: either don’t release games, or release ones that are so bad people won’t invest their time. If piracy drops to zero, that doesn’t actually make your game a cent. The only reason that piracy hurts is when it takes would-be buyers and stops them from giving you money.
And Ubisoft digital boss Chris Early? Remember: “[it] Is [not] fair for [you[ to enjoy [my] content without [me] receiving some value for that”. So give me some value for this post. The rest of you can enjoy it without remuneration.
It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for cat sitting. Sundays are for lazy days in the rain. Sundays are for feeding the post-church crowd and hoping they leave enough money to help you pay your rent.
This week: Former American Vice President Dick Cheney finally received a heart. Pope Benedict the Sixteenth visited Mexico, causing many to wonder why the former Hitler Youth chose “the good” as his papal name. And also this week: NASA has found what may be liquid water on the Sol System’s hottest planet.
I’m having a hard time understanding why the Spiderman movies are being rebooted so soon after they launched. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the series– indeed, they were huge sellers. Overthinking it argues that Spiderman exists to teach children humility, among other lessons. It’s a bit breathtaking, if true. Society has demanded that we create a character who’s entire point is to suffer for our amusement, and- when he reaches personal happiness- is reincarnated to repeat the cycle. Ladies and Gentlemen: the Amazing, Webslinging Sisyphus!
It’s a typical story: single Dad raises daughter, daughter begins to like comic books, and… daddy doesn’t know anything about comic books. So he educates himself about his daughter’s interests, so that he can help guide her on her path to autonomy. No real moral here. Just a heartwarming story.
Even if you’ve never seen Casablanca, you’ve seen it. The movie is so good that every line and shot has been parodied and reproduced to death. And yet… and yet the movie is still fantastic. Apparently the Marseilles scene wasn’t really acting…
I find myself surprised that Encyclopedia Britannica is ceasing its print operations. It’s not that I expect anyone to be getting more use out those set of books than from the average set of paperweights. Rather, in the very near future, printed books will be status markers of their own. I have a Kindle, I love my Kindle, but a visitor to my home does not see my thousand ebooks. Instead, they see my thousand real books and know something about me. In the future, the only physical books we buy will be the ones that we want to show off. An encyclopedia seems well suited for that.
Google is huge. They’re so important that they have to actively fight against their name turning into a generic verb. To not be linked to by Google, to not be included as one of their search results, is to basically not exist on the web– and therefore to be outside of human knowledge. Google is required by the laws of many nations to remove links to certain pages known to discuss certain topics. “For example, no hate speech,” Depending on how they define “hate speech”, this is probably ok. “no death threats”, I, for one, hope they get local authorities involved when death threats are uncovered. “no incitement to violence”, again: depends on the situation, but generally agreeable. The situation in the US is certainly different than that in Syria; I hope Google makes that distinction. “no copyright-infringing content”. Wait, what? In Google-world, hate speech, death threats, incitement to physical violence, and copyright infringement are equivalent problems?!
Each of the stories today has been about the ability of a cultural artifact to shape the lives of those who interact with it. Each of those artifacts has been inside the control of a corporate entity- an unperson which is legally barred from doing anything that does not lead to increased shareholder revenue. Google has said that they will remove any story from any source that might contain “copyright-infringing content”. Finding if your content has been delinked is difficult, and requires a site owner to be vigilant. certainly no corporate entity would abuse that.
It’s Sunday Morning and I’m running to work. I’ll leave you with these thoughts:
Several weeks ago, a teenaged boy was murdered. His murderer bragged about the crime and was not arrested. The boy was black. The murderer was white.
This was not a hate crime. The murderer- so far as I know- does not realize that he has a deep seated fear and hatred of African American people. Rather, the murderer lives in a society that makes routine comments about how different African American people are. How “they” are less moral, more violent, and more aggressive. In bed? Better.
Putting all of that together, it is difficult to escape the conclusion: George Zimmerman pulled the trigger on a boy who was trying to “get away with” walking home. But it was American society- it was you and me- who handed George the gun and let him play hero. What are we going to do about it? How are you going to break the centuries of bad thinking? How will you help America atone?
Did Dr. Sues really say this? I don’t know. But I do love what it is saying.
Who a person’s enemies are says a lot about them. Perhaps more importantly is the lines along which they choose to attack their enemies. The brilliance here is that Tolkien is willing to tell Germany that The Great War was merely bygones, and that the contemporary unpleasantness is utterly transient. But racism? That’s unacceptable.
Republican economic nostrums are very bad for America. When the government spends money, it is possible to get positive return on investment. By removing that spending, we shrink the economy. And, of course, we return to the War of All Against All.
By breaking 300 million people into millions of 5,000 person pools, it’s impossible for Americans to get really good group deals on healthcare. And so we wildly overspend. Imagine how much healthier our economy would be if consumers had (say) 25% of their healthcare bills in their own banks, rather than in the insurance company’s banks.
Health Insurance is based on the idea that one person may or may not have a car accident, but that thousands of random people are unlikely to all at once. Once individuals are able to start stacking the odds in their favor, health insurance will start going away. Which, obviously, is why we need to have it be provided by the government.
Kevin Drum is wrong. The best Star Wars movie is Attack of the Clones.
Remember: the war against healthcare-provided birth control is a front in the war against birth control. And the war against birth control is a front in the war against enjoyable sex. If you’ve ever had– or want to have– enjoyable sex, let your congressperson know that they need to stand with the President, and against the birth control opt out.
When Americans were broke, we drove less. Now that we’re making more money, we’re driving more. This is causing gas prices to go back up. Gas prices may suck, but the alternative would be to… raise taxes to pay for a system of mass transit that would actually be useful. No right-thinking American would dare go along with such a plan.
StarCraft, actually, a large and growing esport, with a huge following. I like it. It’s like Football without the risk of concussion.
In 2012, America has a black president, and so therefore racism is over. Well. Kinda. Instead, we live in a society which doesn’t intentionally or formally create barriers between “races”, but rather has many informal and social ways of Otherizing non-white people. And when one of the leading StarCraft 2 teams discovered that one of their coaches was using the N-word… they had a choice. The reasons they made the choice they did are enlightening.
China is big. Very big. To say that it has 1 billion people is to underestimate it’s true population by a value larger than the entire population of America. Not only is China a huge country, but its population has been immiserated for centuries. They’re finally digging their way out.
All of this means that America will not be Earth’s predominant nation for much longer. We Americans need to get used to this fact. We need to prepare for it, and shift our minds to encompass what it might mean to be #2, #3, or even #4. Our national identity needs to become far less wrapped up in being the best, and more about defining the good life.
What is the American dream? What is the American Identity? Is it really so important to have a huge standing Army (as distinct from a large and capable Navy?
China will eventually overtake America as the world’s preeminent nation; America will not necessarily become impoverished. The world is not zero sum. Much as the 20th century saw England falling from it’s perch into a comfortable lifestyle*. America can- must!- manage the same lofty descent.
Unless we can get China and India into a nuclear war. That would be good for America.