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hoffmanThose of you who know me know that I have my share of issues with this whole “Occupy (Insert name of Street or City Here)” movement.  For the most part, my issues stem from a general lack of tolerance for hypocrisy.  I don’t take Teabaggers seriously because they whine about taxes while at the same time complaining about potholes that aren’t getting filled.  For much the same reasons I don’t have much use for people who wear designer jeans and drink Starbucks coffee while they Tweet on their iPhones about the evils of corporate America.

For the most part, though, my problems with OWS are not so much with the message as with the messengers.  While the issues surrounding economic inequality in this country are real and important, I don’t feel the reluctance of the white middle class to repay their student loans ranks terribly high among them.

As time has gone by, though, I find myself less and less enamored of the message behind the protests.  In fact, the entire movement has completely failed to impress me.  This concerned me at first, mainly because I felt I should be impressed.  Economic equality is just the sort of socialist idea I can really get behind, so on the surface it really appeared to be my kind of movement.  But once I looked hard at the movement – looked below the surface – I realized it’s not actually my kind of movement at all.

Why?  Because it’s got no soul.  It’s got no heart.  It is a movement that is incapable of seeing beyond itself.  Or maybe it’s just unwilling to.  It has been called an inherently selfish movement by many (myself included), although it may be more fair to call it ‘self centered’ or ‘self-absorbed’.

The 99 percent

I’ve heard the arguments – that we should endeavor to look beyond the iPhones and the designer jeans to the message beneath.  That the ‘message’ of OWS is in their words, not their behaviors (any 4-year-old can tell you differently).  Here’s a news flash:  the message is getting out to the world, and it is loud and clear.  But it isn’t necessarily the message OWS thinks it’s broadcasting.  If you bring a gun to an anti-war protest, your message is not one of peace, no matter what you say.

I have repeatedly seen attempts to compare OWS to the civil rights movement, as well as to the anti-war counterculture movements of the 1960s.  All of these attempts have failed, and in their failure they underscore the fundamental shortcomings of OWS.  Its lack of a soul.  Its absence of heart.

First off, lets dismiss any comparisons to the civil rights movement.  I’m sorry, but placing OWS into the same category with Freedom Rides is almost insulting.  Let’s face facts here, people – those actively participating in the major events of the American civil rights movement were risking a great deal more than a dose of pepper spray.  And while a faceful of pepper spray is not exactly a pleasant experience, in comparison to the civil rights movement participating in OWS is practically risk free.  They also were fighting for rights on a far different level than those claimed by OWS.  They weren’t looking for a bigger slice of the pie – they just wanted to be allowed into the restaurant.  Those occupying Wall Street may argue differently, but in the eyes of the law, the 99% have the same rights as the 1%  (in theory, at least).  This was not the case for African Americans well into the twentieth century.  Today, no African American can legally be stopped from drinking out of a public water fountain.  The importance of this statement cannot be understood by anyone who would compare OWS to the civil rights movement.

When the proponents of OWS compare it to the anti-war counterculture movements of the 1960s, they are on slightly less shaky ground.  But only slightly.  The movements of the 1960s – like OWS – were primarily white middle-class movements.  And this is pretty much where the comparisons end.  When we start looking for more similarities is when the self-absorption of OWS stands out.

In both cases, we’re talking about the (primarily white) middle class.  We’re talking about people who have every door open to them.  Who have every opportunity available to them.  Who have every right and privilege handed to them.  From this starting point, vastly different messages arose.

OWS looks to the gap between itself and the 1% and says to the world:  “This inequality is inexcusable.  We should not have to settle for what we have when these few have so much.  As a society, we should take steps to reduce what they have so that the rest of us can have more.”

In contrast, those protesting in the 1960s looked to the gap between themselves and those who had less and said to the world:  “This inequality is inexcusable.  We should not allow members of our society to have so little when we have so much.  As a society, we should take steps to increase what they have, even if it means decreasing what we have.”

The movements of the 1960s were selfless (this is not to say that there were no egos involved).  They were about ending war.  They were about treating each other fairly.  They were about striving toward equality by giving – not by taking.

Those on the ground in the 1960s also saw inherent flaws in American consumer culture.  They too saw rampant consumption and pervasive greed, and they feared the results of them.  Their response to it, though, was almost opposite to OWSers – they opted out.  When they saw a culture of avarice that they felt had eroded their society and threatened their world, their response was to turn their backs on it – not to demand more of it.  Thus the term ‘counterculture’.

If OWS had occurred in the 1960s, iPhones wouldn’t have been used to Tweet about it.  They would have been used as firewood.

The counterculture movements of the 1960s possessed something that OWS sadly lacks.  They had heart, soul and yes – even magic.  Because of this, they gave birth to greatness.  Heroes don’t give birth to movements – movements give birth to heroes.  The 1960s produced the likes of Abbie Hoffman and the rest of the Chicago Seven.  (The civil rights movement produced even bigger giants.)

This is the soul that OWS lacks. And without it I feel it is doomed to failure. Where is its Hoffman, its Dylan, its Joplin, its Baez?

Speaking of which, where in hell is the music?  How is it that this movement has inspired so little?  Oh – I know that the people on the ground have been attempting to write songs.  I’ve listened to some of them.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

And I was going to continue my decades-old practice of ignoring Third Eye Blind, but I will go so far as to give them 10 bonus points for offering their song as a free download.  And then I’ll take 5 of those points away because one of the places they posted it is their Facebook page.  However, you’re fooling yourself if you see their “anthem”  as anything other than a thinly-veiled attempt to resuscitate their dead careers.

The 1960s, though, produced music of a different sort.  The kind of music that never goes out of style.  The kind of music that understands that peace is the answer to war, love is the answer to hatred, and generosity is the answer to greed.  The kind of music that shines light into dark places and makes flowers grow there.

The kind of music that can somehow magically transform half a million sweaty, mud-caked, tripping hippies into Stardust.

internet When I attended Oxford about a decade ago, I took an amazingly interesting  class called ‘British Perspectives of the American Revolution”.  The woman who taught said class was fond of pointing out that the United States of America is really an experiment, and a young experiment at that.  Whether we can call it a successful experiment will have to wait until it reaches maturity.

I think of that statement often when the internet comes up in conversation.  If the United States is a young experiment, the internet is in its infancy.  For some reason, people today don’t seem to realize this.  Even people who were well into adulthood before the internet went mainstream somehow manage to forget that there was life before modems.  While this circumstance always makes me laugh, it becomes especially funny whenever a new Internet Apocalypse looms on the horizon.

Like this latest crap about Google/Verizon and net neutrality.  I’m sure you’ve heard about it – the interwebs are all abuzz and atwitter about it (I’m sure they’re all afacebook about it as well, but I have no way to verify it).  In a nutshell, it’s a proposal of a framework for net neutrality.  It says that the net should be free and neutral, but with notable exceptions.  You can read the proposal here.  First off, don’t let the title of the piece scare you.  Although the word ‘legislative’ is in the title, here in America we don’t yet let major corporations draft legislation (at least not openly).

Anyway, the release of this document has Chicken Little running around and screaming his fool head off.  In all his guises.  Just throw a digital stone and you’ll hit someone who’s whining about it.  One moron even believes that this document will destroy the internet inside of five years.  Why will this occur?  Ostensibly, the very possibility of tiered internet service will cause the internet to implode.  Or something like that.

Let’s put that one to rest right now.  The internet isn’t going away any time soon.  It won’t go away simply because it is a commodity that people are willing to pay for.

Allow me to repeat that, this time with fat letters: it is a commodity.  The problem we’re running into here is the mistaken belief that a neutral net is some sort of constitutionally guaranteed human right.  We’re not talking about freedom of expression here (except in a most tangential fashion).  We’re talking about a service – a service that cannot be delivered to us for free.  Truth is, net neutrality is an attempt to dictate to providers the particulars of what it is they provide.

A neutral net would be one in which no provider is allowed to base charges according to site visited or service used. Period. It’s not about good versus evil, it’s not about corporations versus the little guy, it’s not about us versus them. What it is about is who pays for what. Should I get better access than you because I pay more? Should Google’s service get priority bandwidth because they pay more?

Predictably, our initial response to these questions is to leap to our feet and shout ‘No!’ (and believe me, kids – I’m the first one on my feet).

But should we?  Seriously – what other service or commodity do we buy that follows a model anything like net neutrality?  Chances are, most of you get more channels on your TV than I do.  Why?  Because you pay for it.  I probably get faster down- and upload speeds than many of you.  Why?  Because I pay for it.  Many people today get data plans (read: internet) on their cell phones.  Why?  Because they pay for it.

Doesn’t this happen because the service provider dedicates more resources to the customers who receive more and/or better service?

And then there are the fears about the corporate end of the spectrum.  As one pundit put it:  What would stop Verizon from getting into bed with Hulu and then providing free and open access to Hulu while throttling access to Netflix?

The short answer is:  Nothing would stop them.  The long answer adds:  Net neutrality wouldn’t stop them either.  Does anyone really believe that net neutrality would stop Verizon from emulating Facebook by forcing customers to sign into their accounts and click through 47 screens before they could ‘enable’ Netflix streaming?

And I may be missing something here, but Verizon getting into bed with Hulu and throttling Netflix sounds like a standard business practice to me.  I’m not saying I agree with it, just that it doesn’t strike me as being unusual.  The university I attended was littered with Coke machines.  Really.  Coca-Cola was everywhere on that campus.  Like death and taxes, it was around every corner and behind every door.  But Pepsi was nowhere to be found.  It simply was not possible to procure a Pepsi anywhere on the grounds of the university.  Why was it this way?  Simply because Coke ponied up more money than Pepsi did when push came to shove.  Oddly, nobody ever insisted they had a right to purchase Pepsi.

Why – exactly – do so many of us think that the internet should be exempt from the free market?

Gather ‘round children, and let me tell you a story.  It’s about a mythical time before there was television.  In the midst of that dark age, a Neanderthal hero invented the device we now know as TV.  In those early times, the cavemen ‘made’ television by broadcasting programs from large antennae built for the purpose.  Other cavemen watched these programs on magical boxes that pulled the TV out of thin air.  Because TV came magically out of thin air, it initially seemed to be free of cost.  The cavemen who made the programs and ran the stations paid for it all through advertising.

Eventually, TV became valuable enough for everyone to desire it.  This led to the invention of cable as a means to get programs to the people who lived too far away from the antennae to be able to get TV out of the air.  Because putting cable up on poles and running wire to people’s houses costs money, the people at the ends of the wires were charged for the service.

It wasn’t long before the cable providers hit upon the idea of offering cable to people who didn’t need it, but might want it.  To get more channels, or to get their existing channels at a better quality.  Unsurprisingly, there was much yelling of “I will not pay for something I can get for free!”, but as you know it didn’t last long.  In short order cable went from ‘luxury’ to ‘necessity’.

Does any of that sound familiar?  Can you see a pattern beginning to emerge?  Let me give you a hint:  It’s about money.  The internet has never been free.  It just appeared to be so because someone else was largely footing the bill (or at least it seemed that way.  Truth is, you’ve been paying for it all along, and the coin you’ve been paying with is personal data).  The internet – like so much of our world – is market-driven.  Don’t kid yourself into thinking otherwise.

And I hate to say it, folks, but it looks as though the market is moving away from net neutrality.  The simple fact that it’s being talked about so much is a clear indication that its demise is imminent.  To be honest, I’m not so sure this would be a bad thing.  In the short term, a lack of net neutrality would pretty much suck.  In the long term, though, it could very well be the best thing for us, the average consumers.

You see, while money drives the market, the market drives competition (as well as innovation).  If our Verizon/Hulu scenario actually came to pass, it wouldn’t be long before another ISP appeared in town, one who wasn’t in bed with Hulu and was willing to offer Netflix (providing, of course, that there was a demand for such a thing).  Eventually, we get to reap the benefits of price and/or service wars (much like cell service providers today).  In fact, this could help solve one of America’s largest internet-related problems – the lack of adequate broadband providers (you’d be surprised how many Americans only have one available choice for broadband).

I don’t think we really need to fear losing net neutrality, even if it is legislated away.  If enough of us truly want to have a neutral net, sooner or later someone will come along and offer to sell it to us.

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Justice So the next-gen iPhone scandal continues apace.  For those of you scratching your heads, the Readers’ Digest version:

An engineer from Apple reportedly ‘lost’ a prototype of the next version of the iPhone.  An unidentified man ‘found’ said iPhone (I say ‘lost’ and ‘found’ because we have only the unidentified man’s word for the veracity of this scenario).  Despite the fact that the mystery man found a plethora of information about the engineer within the iPhone itself, rather than returning the device (or turning it over to the authorities) he chose instead to sell the phone for $5,000 to Gizmodo.

Gizmodo, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is what is commonly referred to as a Gadget Blog.  Also referred to as Technology Porn, it is one of many such blogs that make their living by gushing over the latest and greatest high-tech gadgets in the marketplace.

Jason Chen is the blogger at Gizmodo who subsequently posted an item about the iPhone.  Gizmodo even went so far as to post pictures of the iPhone in a dismantled state.  And they stepped way over the line by posting the name of the engineer who ‘lost’ the phone (the lie they told to justify this bit of sensationalist crap is that they were ‘protecting’ the engineer because Apple wouldn’t dare fire him after Gizmodo posted his name.  As if Apple wouldn’t just go ahead and fire an engineer who misplaced such a device anyway).

This all raised a pretty big stink out in the interwebs, and much discussion of the issue occurred.  And then it pretty much faded away.  That is, until Friday, when law enforcement officials showed up at Chen’s house with a warrant and took away a truckload of electronics in the form of computers, hard-drives, cameras and whatnot.  Naturally, many assume that Apple is behind the warrant.  Personally, until this development I suspected Apple of being complicit in the whole story in an attempt to garner publicity for their new device (I’m sure they could use some after the lack of excitement over the iPad).

Anyway, you can imagine the gnashing of teeth surrounding the whole affair.  The warrant evidently stated that the gadgetry seized from Chen’s residence may have been “used as a means of committing a felony” or could “show a felony has been committed.”  It seems pretty clear that Chen and Gizmodo knew damn well that they were breaking the law (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they didn’t know it was a felony).

Gizmodo, through their COO, is claiming that the warrant was invalid because Chen should be covered by state and federal ‘shield’ laws because Chen is a journalist.  Journalists’ notes, pictures, data and such are not supposed to be seizable by warrant.  Rather, courts are supposed to subpoena the journalist for such items.

I’m sorry, but I really have to draw the line at this ‘journalist’ crap.  Calling Gizmodo (or the bulk of the rest of the gadget blogs) ‘journalism’ is pure douchebaggery and an insult to all true journalists in this world.  Have you read any of these blogs?  Their ‘stories’ consist of no more than a few paragraphs (often only one) that take one of two forms:  the first is a direct copy-and-paste from a real article the ‘author’ then links to.  The second is just a hastily-scrawled, poorly written and invariably misspelled blurb (I would like to dispel the fiction that misspelled words in articles posted on the internet can be excused simply by calling them ‘typos’.  Originally, typographical errors described spelling errors that occurred during the type-setting part of the publishing process.  This was a phenomenon specific to printed media, and the distinction was made to point out that the error was beyond the author’s control.  In the case of articles published on the internet, misspellings are solely the responsibility of the author, and are indicative of a lazy and/or sloppy over-reliance on spell-checkers).

Edward R. Murrow was a journalist.  Bill Moyers is a journalist.  Journalists go to dangerous places and take personal risks to report stories that are of actual import to human beings.  Journalism is most certainly not about the latest celebrity break-up.  Nor is it about the latest shiny bauble up for sale.  There is a world of difference between news and gossip.  The business of journalists is news.  Blogs, on the other hand, are most often in the business of gossip.

If, for some bizarre reason, there are state and federal laws protecting gossips (or douchebags), then Chen should enjoy their protection.  If no such laws exist, Chen and the company he works for should get spanked.  Hard. What they do is not journalism, and they should not be allowed to wrap themselves in journalism’s protective blanket just by claiming they deserve it.  That blanket should be reserved for people who have actually earned it.

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internet By now, you may have heard about the recent case concerning Net Neutrality.  It got a lot of air time on the geek sites.  Most of it was fairly accurate, some hyperbolic.  There are more than a few who termed it Bad News for the cause of Net Neutrality.  From where I’m standing, though, the decision looks like Good News for the cause.  I’ll tell you why.

First, let’s take a look at Net Neutrality.  Wikipedia has a decent article on the subject.  If you have the time and feel so inclined, give it a read.  For the rest of you, I’ll give it to you in a nutshell:

The internet is still fairly new, and therefore so are Internet Service Providers (ISPs).  At the onset of general, commercialized internet availability, ISPs simply provided a sort of blanket access.  For the most part, internet access was largely just a question of on or off.  In the early days (those dark but exciting days of dial-up), customers were often charged by usage – you may remember offers of so many minutes per month for a flat fee.  Much of this eventually graduated into unlimited usage, a move that pretty much solidified with the advent of widespread broadband.  And until fairly recently, this was the status quo.

For the providers, however, the status was not as quo as they would have liked.  The idea of charging general, flat fees put a serious twist in their knickers.  Especially because these newer ISPs were often utilities (phone and/or cable companies) that were used to fleecing customers in a highly detailed fashion.  So they focused their energies into devising new and seemingly justified ways to charge their customers more.

What they came up with was a service-based model.  The idea here is that some internet usage (the ‘service’) uses more bandwidth and therefore should cost more.  Streaming video uses more bandwidth than sending email (the argument goes), so shouldn’t the person streaming video pay more than the person sending email?

For those of you wondering, the answer is an emphatic no.  There are a variety of reasons for the fat letters, but I’ll only address my two favorites.  The first is that the connection you are paying for is already limited.  You’re already paying for a certain amount of bandwidth, and I’ll guarantee that very few of you ever approach it.  And in most cases, you’re not always receiving the bandwidth you think you’ve been promised (read the fine print).  The second – and far more important reason – is that the only way your ISP can know whether you are sending email or streaming video is if they stick their noses where they don’t belong.

And yes – you all know my position on privacy and the internet.  While there is no real privacy on the internet, this does not mean we should invite further invasion from our ISP.

Anyway, the various ‘service-based’ pricing schemes proposed are called tiered service by the ISPs.  They’re called price discrimination by those who oppose them.  And Net Neutrality is the idea that pricing by content and/or service (by any name) is a basic violation of our rights.

Okay.  Now let’s move on to the recent case.  If you’re so inclined, you can read the decision yourself (PDF).  The upshot is that a few years back, some Comcast customers found that their bandwidth was being throttled because they were sharing files peer-to-peer.  A couple of Hey-Corporate-Dirtbags-Americans-Have-Rights type organizations got involved, as did the courts and the FCC, and Comcast got spanked.

Although Comcast complied with the ruling, they also challenged it, the result of which is this recent decision.  And what the actual decision amounts to is simply this:  That the FCC does not actually have the authority to regulate an ISP’s network management practices.

This decision has been regarded by many as a blow against Net Neutrality.  I disagree, because I can’t really convince myself that taking control of internet service away from the provider and giving it to the government would constitute any sort of victory for Net Neutrality.  Especially when we look at the details.

The original ruling presumed the FCC’s authority over ISPs based on The Communications Act of 1934 (that’s right – 1934), specifically the vaguely-worded 4th Section of said Act, which states:

The Commission may perform any and all acts, make such rules and regulations, and issue such orders, not inconsistent with this chapter, as may be necessary in the execution of its functions.

This, despite the fact that a previous ruling (previous to the Comcast ruling – later than the Act of 1934) found that:

cable Internet service is neither a “telecommunications service” covered by Title II of the Communications Act nor a “cable service” covered by Title VI.

This recent ruling was about the FCC and its authority.  In the end, absolutely nothing was decided on the subject of Net Neutrality.  And I would argue that the FCC being no longer considered to have regulatory authority over internet service based solely on a vaguely-worded, ill-defined, 80-year-old Act is rather a victory for Net Neutrality.

It’s not that the FCC shouldn’t be thrust into the role of watchdog for Net Neutrality, it’s just that they should only do so if they themselves are subject to rules that are written specifically to address the issues at hand.

It’s a very, very bad idea to give a government agency a free hand.

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Arrrrrrrrr!I hear X-Men Origins was leaked.  So now copies are spreading about the internet like wildfire.  And the studio is squealing like a stuck pig.  I even saw one pundit (I don’t remember where) who tried to tell me that illegally downloading movies takes food off the tables of all the poor schmucks who work in the industry (in a word:  Bullshit.  I used to work in the industry – there are obscene sums of money involved in even low-budget films.  We don’t have to worry about the paychecks of the working class of the film industry.  Especially because their jobs are well over and paid for long before there’s any kind of product to be ‘pirated’).  But the studios want us all to sympathize with their pain.  Want us to see the ‘problems’ that internet ‘piracy’ causes.  Their argument, in a nutshell, is that people who download movies are stealing from the studios because if they (the ‘pirates’) couldn’t download the movies, they would purchase them instead.  Setting aside all the inherent flaws in this argument, let’s take a quick look at the legal process of purchasing a movie.  Our case study will be the Disney film Bolt, my two-year-old’s current favorite movie.

First off, we have to pay the studio just to find out whether or not we like the movie (there was a day, you know, when record stores would let you listen to an album before buying it.  Really).  In this particular case, the question isn’t  whether we like the film, but rather whether our son does.  We are careful and conscientious parents, so we don’t let our boy watch movies until we’ve seen them first.  So it’s off to the in-laws’ so the boy will be well taken care of while we check out the show.  Thirty-five to forty dollars later, my wife and I have learned that the movie is fine for the boy to watch.  Cost breakdown:  $20 for our tickets, $15 to $20 for refreshments (when it’s just the two of us, we ALWAYS get refreshments, because we love them so, but also because refreshment sales is the only real profit our local cinema makes.  You DO know that the overwhelming majority of ticket sales goes to the studios, right?).

Now we can move to the next step, which is finding out whether our son likes the film.  This time we go to a matinee, and we bring some of our own snacks (no theater sells any form of snack food we’re willing to feed our son), so we spend less money.  Let’s say 15 to 20 dollars.  When it’s all said and done, we find out that our son does, indeed, like the movie.  And it’s only cost us somewhere in the area of fifty to sixty dollars to learn this.  Let’s call it $55.

Since we’ve learned that the boy likes the movie (loves it, actually.  He’d watch it 5 times a day if we’d let him) we now have to buy the DVD, to the tune of $25.  This brings us to the nice round figure of $80 invested in this movie.

Then, my wife reads an article about marketing in movies, and she tells me about it over dinner.  So the next time we watch Bolt, I watch with a more discerning eye.  I notice that, during the course of the movie, we repeatedly see a U-Haul truck.  Not a made-up company, but U-Haul.  And I realize that this is happening because U-Haul gave Disney a great deal of money for it to happen.  I also realize that this particular marketing campaign is not directed at me, but rather at the two-year-old sitting next to me.

A smart and long-term investment on U-Haul’s part, actually.  Someday – years from now – my son is going to move somewhere.  And when he does so, he’s going to rent a U-Haul.  He won’t do so because they offer a better product than anyone else, or better customer support, or better prices.  He’ll do so simply because he feels kindly disposed toward them.  Because during this formative time of his life, those trucks and that company are becoming intricately associated with things (and people) that he loves dearly.

And when he moves again, he’ll rent from U-Haul again, even if his previous encounter with them entails sub-standard equipment, half-assed customer service and over-inflated prices.  And he’ll have no idea why he’s doing so.

In a nutshell, Disney got paid a lot of money to program my son. And many, many other children.  Even worse, I paid eighty dollars to have this occur.  And my family is just one of tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?  Millions?) of families affected just by this one studio and this one film.

And the studios want us to believe that someone else is the bad guy.

Twittification:

  • RT @DavidCornDC: Democracy dies in the darkness. It also dies if journalists pay more attention to tone than substance. 1 hour ago

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