Unmistakable Marks

Warranted Genuine Snarks

Moral Suits

Via Slashdot, a news story about Hollywood’s anti-piracy efforts. While it’s mostly a good article, it misses the point in one big way:

The music industry’s approach has contributed to a decline in downloading but has also produced a powerful public backlash, angering millions of its customers. That is one reason, among others, that Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, said that his industry would not be following the music companies’ path any time soon.

“I’m not ruling out anything, but at this moment we don’t have any specific plans to sue anyone,” Valenti said. “I think we have learned from the music industry.” ...

The movie industry, he said, has to ask itself what the music industry should have asked years ago: “Why do they want to steal from us?” The answer, he said, is simple: “Because you won’t sell them what they want.”

Well, no. Actually, they want to steal from you, because then they can have all the free music they want.

Which is why the music industry has been trying desperately — and, I think, mostly successfully — to change cultural norms. Back when Napster was hitting big, nobody was worried much about the ethics of music sharing; yeah, there were some ethics discussions here and there, but to people who were sharing music, they were abstract and irrelevant, like debating the morality of going 65 in a 55 zone.

No matter what the music industry folks said, regular people treated music sharing like taping shows off HBO or copying a computer game. (Aside: That latter is a case where the industry didn’t move aggressively enough to fend off piracy, and it’s now culturally okay. Over the holidays, I was visiting my in-laws; talking to their Flanders-esque, goody-goody, clean-cut kids, I was shocked when I found out that the games they were playing were all pirated — and neither they nor their ultra-moral parents had any problem with that.)

Then the music industry started suing. They shut down Napster, they shut down the biggest pirates, they started going after kids who were just “innocently” downloading music. And people started to shift their attitudes, because anything that can bring you into court and forced to pay a hefty fine isn’t just a casual and meaningless etiquette violation — it’s something big and serious. Downloading a low-quality copy of “The Final Countdown” isn’t worth a risk of going to the courthouse.

When geeks talk about copy protection, they largely ignore this social dimension. They focus on the fact that copy protection can be broken technically, but ignore the reality that people don’t want to be part of a criminal underworld. So, sure, you can download DeCSS from hacker sites and copy all the DVDs you want; but for regular people, DVD copying is verboten in a way that VHS copying never was; it’s not something that people do, it’s something that hackers and pirates do. And as long as the industry keeps directing lawsuits at DeCSS, so that the only place you can get it is those illicit hacker sites, it’ll stay that way.

As for backlashes: Whatever. Everyone’s outraged at a few dozen things, and only a few nuts really have the time and inclination to boycott all the companies they want to boycott. Besides, hating the RIAA is perfect for the music industry, because it’s the most faceless and abstract entity possible. Hating the RIAA won’t keep me from buying a CD of Lowell Liebermann’s Piano Concertos; nor, I suspect, will it keep many others from buying whatever music they want to buy.

Comments | December 27, 2003

National Insecurity

In a turbulent, confused and insecure time, it’s important that we have a leader who is strong and clear-eyed in the defense of our national security. Instead, we have George W. Bush, who apparently can’t tell the difference between having a gun and thinking it’d be kinda cool to have one:

In the debate over the necessity for the war in Iraq, few issues have been more contentious than whether Saddam Hussein possessed arsenals of banned weapons, as the Bush administration repeatedly said, or instead was pursuing weapons programs that might one day constitute a threat.

On Tuesday, with Mr. Hussein in American custody and polls showing support for the White House’s Iraq policy rebounding, Mr. Bush suggested that he no longer saw much distinction between the possibilities.

“So what’s the difference?” he responded at one point as he was pressed on the topic during an interview by Diane Sawyer of ABC News.

Fortunately, Bush’s giggly, hair-tossing, “like, you know, whatever” approach to national security hasn’t caused any real harm or anything. Right? Er.

For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

“This is a very, very important part of history and we’ve got to tell it right,” said Thomas Kean.

“As you read the report, you’re going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn’t done and what should have been done,” he said. “This was not something that had to happen.”

Appointed by the Bush administration, Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, is now pointing fingers inside the administration and laying blame.

“There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed,” Kean said.

Comments | December 18, 2003


Adam Cadre, author of fiction both interactive and non, uses a book review as an excuse to muse about the nature of interactive fiction.

It’s a rambling, personal sort of article, and one that’ll make the most sense to someone who’s familiar with contemporary IF, but the most interesting passage to me is the one that explains why you probably aren’t familiar with contemporary IF:

Interactive fiction and American comics are both caught in a trap described by Scott McCloud in Reinventing Comics . There was a time (the 1940s) that a diverse lineup of comics, while not of very high quality, sold very well to a wide demographic: boys and girls, and men (GIs read millions of 'em). Then came the hammers: first, censorship (largely thanks to one Fredric Wertham) killed American comics for adults. The surviving companies managed to hang on thanks to the success of one genre, superheroes — and responded by ditching the rest of their output, maximizing their short-term profit at the expense of the health of the industry (not to mention the artform). Comics were now just for boys. And then came the day that other media (eg, video games) proved superior at entertaining boys, and in order to survive comics companies had to hang on to their existing audience, the last generation to get hooked on comics when they were ubiquitous. Today, American comic books are written for a cult of a hundred thousand men in their 30s. Some of those books are really good! Some of today’s best writers are working in superhero comics, turning out fare that’s sophisticated, intelligent and entertaining. But it’s all tailored to the initiated, an increasingly tiny group. ...

IF’s history didn’t follow exactly the same track, but there are some parallels. ... [J]ust as comics are tied in the popular imagination to Batman punching the Riddler in the nose accompanied by a “POW!” sound effect, those who’ve heard of IF tend to associate it with grabbing treasures and hitting trolls with swords — or, if they’re slightly more familiar with it, they associate it with figuring out the fifteen steps to get out of the Babel Fish room. Mazes. Finding keys. Puzzles. The miscue here wasn’t genre, the way it was with comics — Infocom was pretty good about diversifying the genres it offered — but about positioning IF as a form of gaming. Yeah, Infocom gave lip service to the storytelling angle, but seeing the gray boxes wedged between Karateka and Ultima IV said a lot more than the press releases. Customers at Software Etc. had a different set of priorities from those next door at the B. Dalton. They weren’t looking for literary pleasures; they wanted to play a game, and graphics were primitive enough that a screenful of text was more pleasant to look at. And then came the day that graphical games proved superior at entertaining gamers, and IF’s audience evaporated down to a cult of a hundred men in their 30s. Most of those who might enjoy a Shade or a Galatea are put off by the interface, having been blissfully unaware of IF as it came and went, and not feeling particularly motivated to learn about it now; meanwhile, those who aren’t put off by the interface are disappointed because Photopia doesn’t make them fix a toaster.

Comments | December 15, 2003

Alleged Super-Geniuses

Patrick Nielsen-Hayden counsels against over-estimating the political genius of the Bush folks, and Matthew Yglesias provides evidence for their sub-genius nature in the form of a New York Times article which states:

Still, Dr. Dean's ability to energize Democrats and potentially attract new voters, while raising large sums of money without the benefit of an established national reputation, has generated some concern within the Bush campaign, where much of the early betting had been on Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri as the most likely nominee.

They, these allegedly brilliant practitioners of devious and subtle political arts, they thought that Gephardt was going to win the nomination? Gephardt?

Comments | December 11, 2003

The Pussification of America

Lore Sjoberg, of the late Brunching Shuttlecocks, bemoans the growth of the nanny state:

Clearly, one sign of the increased wimpiness of our society is that we no longer use actual candles on our Christmas trees. The same cultural nannies who have banned those slightly-serrated butterknives from eighteen states, and who successfully campaigned to have street curbs in Cincinnati covered in ankle-protecting velour, have now convinced us that precariously attaching live flame to a dead, resin-exuding tree is somehow dangerous. The fact is, I don’t know anyone who has died in a tree-candle fire. I don’t even know anyone who suffered burns to more than about a third of their body. Mark my words, if this keeps up we’ll soon see prominently marked fire exits in all public buildings.

Comments | December 9, 2003

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