Robbed by a Fountain Pen

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Yes, as through this world I've wandered / I've seen lots of funny men / Some will rob you with a six-gun / And some with a fountain pen. - Pretty Boy Floyd

Why Robbed by a Fountain Pen?

What Are Your Website Policies?

BJ Blogs For:

Monday, September 30, 2002
Don't Let Dubya Near a Supermarket Scanner.
Brownstein writes:

When it comes to the economy, the Bush family is on an intergenerational losing streak.

Nearly halfway through his term, President Bush's economic record is beginning to look a lot like that of his father, former President George Bush. That isn't good news for the younger Bush. Or for the economy.

Most key measures of economic well-being for average families declined under the first President Bush. Then, after an unsteady start, almost all of those same measures improved during Bill Clinton's eight years in the White House.

Now, under the second President Bush, the trend lines are pointing down again.

Read the article -- the facts are all there: poverty (up), median income (down), unemployment (up), job growth (down), and so on. My favorite statistic: the economy has created only 733,000 total jobs in the 68 months that the two Bushes have been in office. That's 10,779 new jobs per month under the Bushes. Under Clinton, the economy created an average of 236,635 jobs per month--for a total of nearly 23 million new jobs during his eight years.

And don't tell me it's just a coincidence.

Every president eventually owns his economy. The buck really does stop in the Oval Office, especially when Americans have fewer of them in their wallet.

... unless these economic trends reverse direction, sooner or later Bush may find himself vulnerable to the gibe that Al Gore aimed at his father in 1992: "Everything that should be going up is going down, and everything that should be going down is going up." That's one bit of family history Bush would probably rather not relive.

Gillmor on Valenti.
A few days ago, I noted that Dan Gillmor provided space in his blog for Jack Valenti to make the studios' case that, without strict copyright laws and tough controls on digital media, misuse of technology will kill the motion picture industry. Now, Gillmor has posted his response.
I'd Love to See What "Appropriate Actions" The Monks Have In Mind.
The Associated Press reported that the Buddhist monks of the famous Shaolin Temple are registering "Shaolin" and "Shaolin Temple" as trademarks with the Chinese government. The temple has also set up a firm, Henan Shaolin Temple Industrial Development, to safeguard the temple's name and ban its "abusive use" in commercial activities.

The monks of Shaolin Temple want the world to back off a little. And they're hardly the sort of monks you want to agitate. ...

With the claw of international commerce at its door, the Buddhist temple with the martial-arts tradition made famous by dozens of kung fu movies is fighting back — and not with its hands and feet — to safeguard the Shaolin trademark from opportunistic marketeers. ...

"To those who abuse the name for commercial purposes, we're going to take appropriate actions," Qin Daliang, the new consortium's general manager, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Forrester Campaign In Disarray.
Fanatical Apathy:

Losing Bob Torricelli is going to hurt a lot of people, particularly those who paid top dollar for him. ...

But no one is going to be hit harder than Torricelli's opponent, Doug Forrester. I mean, just look at this guy's website (and do it now, before his operatives change it); it is genuinely hard to find stuff about Doug Forrester on it.

With only a month left, it might be too late for Forrester to run as anything but Not Bob Torricelli (and given Forrester's political views and the state he's running in, that's certainly for the best). But the problem is that Forrester will now be running against somebody else who's also Not Bob Torricelli. And New Jersey folks might be more likely to vote for a Democrat who's Not Bob Torricelli than a Republican who's Not Bob Torricelli.

Anyone know about New Jersey's residency requirements? Bill Clinton for Senate!
Saturday, September 28, 2002
Diseases desperate grown.
One of the nice things about democracy -- as opposed to, say, hereditary monarchies -- is that blood feuds don't make for good diplomacy.

"There's no doubt his hatred is mainly directed at us," Mr. Bush said of Mr. Hussein. "There's no doubt he can't stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time."


Bush's father says he has "nothing but hatred" for the man he spared at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

"I hate Saddam Hussein, and I don't hate a lot of people," he told CNN earlier this month.


A few days ago, Jeanne D'Arc noted that Shakespeare knew Hosni Mubarak better than Rumsfeld does. Shakespeare might have recognized this crew, too.

(Side note: when I saw Junior's quote Friday morning -- it was the Quote of the Day on the NYT daily email -- I thought it would make waves in the blogosphere. With one or two exceptions, it didn't.)
Better than Ebay?
Want an interesting gift for the office holiday party? Or an emotionally-scarring toy? Click here. (I know, I know, I have a link to this site in the previous post -- it's "wrong but not illegal" -- but that was just too oblique. If I had any readers, I really wouldn't want them to miss this site.) (Thanks, Debbie!)
Is Even Counterfeiting Good For Business?
I strongly believe that a little song sharing between friends should be considered wrong nor illegal, and that it is almost certainly good -- not bad -- for business. But I’ve always assumed that good old fashioned piracy -- making copies of CD’s, software, t-shirts or whatever and selling them on the street corner -- is both wrong and illegal. (Some activities are wrong, but not illegal; others are illegal but not necessarily wrong. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Sam Williams, writing in Salon, theorizes that in some cases, even outright counterfeiting may be good for business. His case study: Microsoft in China.

Evidence is mounting that cracking down on software copyright infringement may not be good for business. ...

The argument for allowing piracy boils down to two words: network effects. Without a critical mass of users, most software products tend to wither and die. Conversely, the more users a software product acquires, particularly a consumer-oriented software product, the more valuable it becomes. This is especially true for operating systems, which require significant third-party support from application developers to stave off obsolescence. In fact, it was Microsoft's overwhelming dominance of the P.C. software marketplace in the mid-1990s that forced many economists to reexamine the issue of software pricing.

Starting with a 1994 paper by Amherst researcher Lisa N. Takeyama, economists and policy researchers began advancing the argument that having a large illegal user base might actually boost vendor profitability. In a 1999 paper titled "A Strategic Approach to Software Protection" economists Oz Shy and Jacques Thisse examined instances in which companies faced with certain duopolistic market settings dropped software protection as a marketing strategy and benefited from the decision.

The Salon piece appeared a day after Reuters reported that KPMG is advising clients to focus on giving customers what they want rather than fight a futile battle against unauthorized copying.

Of course, network effects work differently in software than they do in, say, music. In software, having a large installed base is the key. In music, what you want is exposure. Still, this is interesting.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the more savvy music biz people put good tracks on Kazaa to generate buzz even while their trade groups complain about it.
Snomo Whitewash.
Thursday, the Billings Gazette reported that Harry Reid has obtained documents from a government whistleblower that he said show that the views of the Bush Administration's own experts were never heard when EPA considered new restrictions on pollution caused by snowmobiles:

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., a longtime opponent of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, released documents that he says shows the Bush administration disavowed its own scientists' advice when developing the new standards.

Staff members at Reid's office said a "government whistleblower," whom they did not name, approached Reid with documents showing that the Department of Interior removed comments urging the EPA to take specific measures to curb snowmobile emissions that contribute to haze and smog.

The comments, apparently part of a draft letter from the Interior Department on the snowmobile rule, were removed before the final version of the letter was sent.

"The Bush administration pulled the teeth out of the comments and cut the legs out from under its own scientists," Reid said in a statement.

Of course, this administration is developing quite a track record for silencing experts that disagree with the adminisration's preferred results. (Dwight Meredith has a great summary at P.L.A.)
Focus on Special Interests.
This week, EarthJustice and Public Campaign released “Paybacks,” a comprehensive analysis of contributions to Bush-Cheney and the RNC from companies that have benefitted by Bush Administration moves to weaken environmental safeguards. It's not just that mining, timber and oil industry figures have been able to buy unprecedented access to decision-makers (although they have). It’s also that -- to an overwhelming degree -- mining, timber and oil interests are the Bush Administration.

Over the next few days, I’ll post a few of the more juicy tidbits from this report and other outlets. Call it a Robbed by a Fountain Pen special series. Today’s episode: J. Steven Griles, the #2 official at the Department of the Interior, a long-time lobbyist whose clients included the National Mining Association and Arch Coal, a major practitioner of mountaintop removal mining. Making a mockery of federal conflict of interest rules, “Mr. Griles was directly involved in the Bush administration’s decisions to weaken Clean Water Act rules for the mining industry.” (See Paybacks 12-13.)

And as Eric Pianin reported Wednesday in the Washington Post, there is more:

When several senators voiced concern in May 2001 that his extensive lobbying ties might conflict with his new job as deputy interior secretary, J. Steven Griles insisted it wouldn't be a problem. ...

Within weeks of taking office, Griles began a series of meetings with former clients and administration officials on regulatory matters important to several of his former clients.

Griles, 54, says he has violated neither his pledge to the senators nor federal guidelines meant to curb conflicts of interest. Some environmental groups disagree, however, and a U.S. senator has called for an investigation. ...

A review of Griles's activities shows that he has met frequently with some of the energy industry leaders he once represented. ... He also took part in a meeting on Sept. 10, 2001, with a dozen top executives of another former client, the Edison Electric Institute, to discuss Bush administration plans to relax clean-air enforcement actions against aging coal-fired power plants but to seek tough new industry-wide standards for emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. ...

While maintaining contacts with former clients and industry associates, Griles had at least 32 meetings with executive branch officials on pending mining and clean-air regulatory matters that were of concern to several of his former clients. Those meetings occurred between July 27, 2001, and Feb. 20, according to the logs.

For his part, Griles says:

The president said he wanted this administration to be held to the highest ethical standards, and I don't want it ever to be said that I didn't.

Too late, Steven!
Friday, September 27, 2002
Occupations of the Heart.
If you missed Body and Soul the last couple of days, you missed a great back-and-forth between Jeanne D'Arc and some of her readers triggered by Dick Armey's asinine remarks about "occupations of the heart." To catch up, start with Jeanne's original post and then read the letters and Jeanne's responses in a series of posts starting here. (She printed my email, even though it was one of the least interesing notes she received.) Armey said:

"I always see two Jewish communities in America. One of deep intellect and one of shallow, superficial intellect.

"Conservatives have a deeper intellect and tend to have 'occupations of the brain' in fields like engineering, science and economics. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to flock to 'occupations of the heart,'" which Armey defined as people with jobs in the arts.

And then P.L.A. sensibly pointed out:

If Mr. Armey is correct, and if his characterizations apply across religious lines, he must be a flaming liberal because he sure is dumb as a box of rocks.

Thursday, September 26, 2002
On a Right Wing and a Player.
That's the Post's headline, and I can't much improve it.

The odd couple of the right wing came to town yesterday to launch their feisty new magazine, the American Conservative.

At the lectern of the National Press Club stood Pat Buchanan, 63, the pugnacious pundit, three-time presidential candidate and would-be generalissimo of a populist "pitchfork brigade." Next to him, looking perfectly aristocratic in his elegant gray suit, was Taki Theodoracopulos, 65, the Greek gazillionaire playboy who was arrested in 1984 while walking through British customs with 23 grams of cocaine in a bag that was dangling out of his back pocket.

This unlikely duo inspired the inevitable wiseguy question from the press: Pat, you're famous for your espousal of family values and your opposition to unfettered immigration. But your co-editor is a famous philanderer who was busted for cocaine. Isn't he exactly the kind of immigrant you'd like to keep out of this country?

For a moment, Buchanan looked startled. Then he smiled. "I don't think he came across the Rio Grande," he said.

Oh, in that case ....
Opinion Leaders Trail Popular Opinion, Iraq Edition.
Sometimes voters are way ahead of the pundits and the politicos - most people saw though the Clinton "scandals" long before the talking heads, for example. Here's a CBS News poll that shows what people think we should do about Iraq. (Hint, it's far more sophisticated than the "opinion leaders" seem to think.) (Thanks, Atrios.)
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
For the Record.
This is the text of Al Gore's speech on Iraq. (Hint, it's not what you'd guess listening to the punditocracy. But then, you could have guessed that, right?)

Update: should have mentioned this is "as prepared" not a transcript. They have an audio link too.
Adam Felber Succeeds Too Well.
In this post, Adam Felber (Wait Wait Don't Tell Me) explains why he doesn't want to run a political blog. Unfortunately, it's really good. So good, in fact, that he'll just have to keep it up. His fans won't stand for any less. (Thanks, Two Tears!)
I'd Be Pretty Surprised if this is What God Had In Mind.
In fact, I'd be shocked.

A few days ago, a school in Oakland that's set to stage the play about Matthew Shepard received a hate fax from a church in Kansas. It's the second such message to Bay Area schools.

School officials at Bishop O'Dowd High School were stunned Thursday afternoon when they received a fax laced with crude anti-gay messages and threatening to protest the school's upcoming theater production about the murder of a gay Wyoming college student.

Earlier in the week, a single-page flier containing similar threats was sent to Newark Memorial High School, which also intends to stage the production of "The Laramie Project."

Both messages were sent by the Westerboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.

The fax sent to Bishop O'Dowd, a Catholic school in East Oakland out near the zoo, referred to school priests and nuns as "faggots" and "dykes" and alluded to recent homosexuality scandals in the Catholic Church. ...

Behind the fax is Pastor Fred Phelps, who has been spreading his anti-gay views in the wake of the killing of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard.

"We hope to deliver the message that God hates fags," said Shirley Phelps-Roper, attorney for the Westerboro Baptist Church and daughter of Pastor Phelps. "You can think of our church as a publisher to remind this generation there is a God, there is a day of judgment and that it is not OK to be gay."

I heard about this from a friend whose kid attends the school. Wasn't planning to attend, but now wouldn't miss it. There's more:

Westerboro Baptist Church is known for its extremist views and maintains Web sites including and

"September 11 is simply a beginning. God Almighty sent those planes to punish the nation for spitting in his face and disobeying his commandments," said Phelps-Roper. "This is a nation of hedonists."

U.S. sent Iraq germs in mid-'80s.
Of course, they were an ally then.
Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Darn That "So-Called Sierra Club."
Monday, The Note quoted a new Zogby poll showing that Wayne Allard’s campaign is sinking like a rock, and Ted Strickland is now within the margin of error. Meanwhile, the “Sierra Club” has been having quite a bit of fun with Allard’s inept campaign staff.

First, Allard’s campaign attempted to burnish his enviro credentials by claiming membership in the Sierra Club. From the Club’s press release setting the record straight:

Senator Allard's campaign falsely claimed to the Denver Post that the Senator received an honorary membership from the Sierra Club. The membership card used as "proof" was in fact a membership solicitation mailed to thousands of Colorado residents.

In order to activate the membership, the recipient must pay the introductory membership fee (currently $25). Sierra Club's member service records show that while Senator Allard was the recipient of solicitation mail from the Sierra Club, he is not, and never has been a Sierra Club member, either through honorary membership or through paying any dues to the Sierra Club. ...

In an effort to help the Senator avoid more such embarrassing misunderstandings, the Sierra Club offers the following guidelines:

Top Ten Ways to Tell That You Are Not Actually a Member of the Sierra Club

10. Upon further inspection, you realize you're actually a member of the fanclub for Seattle Mariners' Outfielder Ruben Sierra. * ...

5. You vote to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (S. 517, Vote #71, 4/18/02; S.Amdt. 2955 to S. Con. Res. 101, Vote #58, 4/6/00)

4. You try to attend a Sierra Club meeting by flashing your collection of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale bottle caps. *

(Items with an asterisk couldn’t be verified; the others are on the record.)

Then, Allard’s campaign changed course and attacked the “so-called ‘Sierra Club’” for criticizing him. From the Allard release (reprinted by the Sierra Club):

DENVER - A liberal, partisan front group that calls itself the "Sierra Club" today launched an attack television ad against U.S. Senator Wayne

Allard for voting similar to another Senator the group endorsed.

During a news conference today at the state capitol to unveil its negative ad, the group was silent on lawyer-lobbyist Tom Strickland's polluter clients.

"The so-called 'Sierra Club' is attacking Senator Allard for allegedly voting against the environment while the front group supports lawyer-lobbyist Strickland who became wealthy representing a company convicted of violating air pollution laws," said Allard campaign manager Dick Wadhams.

Now, Wayne Allard's never had a reputation as one of the, well, swiftest, bunnies in the Congressional forest. But this is just too much fun.
Monday, September 23, 2002
Consumer Electronics Association Stands Up.
Dan Gillmor has a speech by Gary Shapiro, the chief of the Consumer Electronics Association, in which he argues that downloading is neither illegal nor immoral. His recommendations:

I submit that policymakers should follow some basic principles:

First, do no harm. If we had previously heeded the concerns of the creative community, we would have no radio, no TV, no VCR, no computer, no e-mail and no Internet. Yet each of these technologies has enhanced the revenue stream for copyright owners.

Second, advances in technology should not be restricted. We cannot even imagine today what future advances we will choke off if we artificially restrict technology. If we can envision technology connecting the poorest in the world to medical information, to education and to a better quality of life, we should be careful about stifling its growth. Advances in technology also can supply tools to content providers to help them manage digital rights in a manner that takes into account consumers’ expectations.

Third, claims of harm should be greeted with great skepticism. Not every recording is a lost sale. It actually may represent a stream of future sales. Artists from Chuck D to Janis Ian to Courtney Love support home recording rights for practical business reasons.

Fourth, copyright owners have a high burden of proof before any technology should be restricted. Broadcasters and the motion picture industry have come close to making the case that redistribution of free, over-the-air broadcast television over the Internet is harmful to the concept of free over-the-air broadcasting. This is an area where careful legislation or regular legal review, respectful of consumer rights and expectations, may be appropriate.

Fifth, copyright owners should continue developing ways to protect their content at the source, rather than insisting that the burden should be on the device that plays it. Perhaps they should consider a more flexible business model that focuses on keeping honest people honest. But, the corollary here is don’t sell CDs that don’t work on many CD players.

Finally, any restrictions on technology should be narrowly crafted, define limitations on abuse by copyright owners and define legitimate consumer recording rights and expectations. ....

Gillmor also makes space for Jack Valenti to make his case.
Sunday, September 22, 2002
More About The Music Biz.
In keeping with tonight’s theme, check out these intelligent pieces about the sad state of the recording industry:

Doc Searls points to an article by Dan Bricklin called “The Recording Industry is Trying to Kill the Goose That Lays the Golden Egg,” which tells it like it is:

The RIAA would have you believe that there is a simple fixed demand that is then diminished by any copies people make on their own of music obtained from others. That is clearly too simplistic a model for almost any emotionally-charged buying behavior. ...

For example, demand can occur when you learn of a musician you've never heard before through hearing one or more of their songs "for free". You find out about the "new" musician through friends, radio, and other means. (For example, some musicians are getting their big "break" by having one of their songs used as the music in a commercial.) After sampling the music enough times you may decide that you like it enough to buy an entire CD, or perhaps previous recordings from the musician. As you become a "fan", you may start collecting posters, CDs, and other tokens, and attend concerts. When new recordings are released, you are primed to "add the latest" to your collection. ... The model of exactly what role familiarity plays in purchasing is very important and is ignored in the simplistic "downloading is bad" theories. "Free music" has always been a factor in demand (remember the dual deck cassette player/recorders?), you just have to figure out how it fits in to the entire picture.

Music that you download at the suggestion of others, or in response to hearing something else by that artist, counts as sampling just like listening on the radio (maybe more so, since you get immediate gratification and your tastes are taken into account by your friends). The importance of radio sampling, and the problems of the cost of "paying" for it, is of great interest to the music industry, as you can see in their writings about consolidation and payola. "Marketing" music through means such as music videos and radio playing is a major cost to the music industry -- "perhaps the most expensive part of the music business today" according to the RIAA.

(For more information on how downloads can help business, check out this work by Forrester Research.)

Edna Gundersen, in USA Today, provides a great backgrounder on the ongoing contractual conflict between artists and labels. The bad news: artists get the shaft. The good news: Gundersen finds evidence that things may be changing for the better.

"The record companies are like cartels, like countries, for God's sake," singer/songwriter Tom Waits says. "It's a nightmare to be trapped in one. I'm on a good label (Epitaph) now that's not part of the plantation system. ...."

He advises new artists to "get a good lawyer and don't ever sign away your publishing rights. Most people are so anxious to record, they'll sign anything. It's like going across the river on the back of an alligator."

Waits joined the artists' coalition in hopes of exposing the industry's shadowy business practices.

"Artists really do need to communicate and organize," he says. "Don Henley is willing to get a haircut and go to Washington. I'm all for that."

(Via blogcritics.)

Here's a great piece excerpted on Blogcritics by Noisy-Le-Grand leader Lars Murray on why mp3's and CD's aren't an either/or proposition:

Why I still buy CDs:

1) The sound quality is uniform
2) They are reliable (burned audio and MP3 CDS still don't always work in all my devices)
3) I like collecting them
4) I like supporting bands (regardless of your view of label practices, Soundscan numbers help a band)
5) I can rip songs from them for compilations and MP3 players
6) I can rip them for traveling and leave the original at home
7) I like to have the artwork
8) They are manageable

What is not so good about about CDs:

1) At 17.99 list, they are overpriced relative to DVDs
2) They relatively bulky; a pain to travel with.
3) I cannot legally buy a decent compilation in many genres
4) I am reluctant to risk $14+ on a CD if I have not previewed it and like at least three tracks
5) A lot of stuff I want is not in print.

What is good about MP3 sharing and ripping:

1) Purchases made in the last couple of months (some new albums, some I had never paid attention to) that would not have happened without P2P
Dusty Springfield
The Vines
Lee "Scratch" Perry
Andrew WK
Buck Owens
Waylon Jennings
Guided By Voices

Artists previewed but not yet purchased, in all but one case because the original albums are not available, or the available compilations omit important tracks:
Faron Young
Porter Wagoner
Gerry And the Pacemakers
The Adverts
Ian Dury
Flying Lizards

Rhapsody Product Review-slash-Rant About the Music Industry.
Last week, I tried out a trial subscription for AudioGalaxy’s Rhapsody service.

With this service (which is apparently the same as’s Rhapsody) they want me to pay $9.95 per month for access to about 17,000 albums by over 7,000 artists. Musicians and songwriters get paid for each listen.

I will not be continuing the subscription. Here’s why.

When I first signed on, I quickly found a CD I liked. It took me a few moments of searching for the “download” button before I realized there was none. This is a streaming audio service only. So, there is no way for me to listen on my stereo, in my car, or on a portable player - only at my computer. In short, it’s a $10 per month jukebox. And I’m just not going to pay for a jukebox unless it comes with the saloon.

The experiment almost ended there, but found myself wondering, late at night and in the shower, what other CDs I’ve been meaning to try, and looking forward to getting to work to see if they were available on Rhapsody. I thought maybe this technology has promise after all, and decided to continue the experiment. (Footnote: when I went back to write this review, I learned that it is possible to buy a subscription that allows you to download 10 tracks a month, at least on the version. That's an insult.)

I soon ran into two other problems. First, the software seems to have glitches. Specifically, the buffering system sucked, so songs were continually interrupted while the network caught up. This glitch ruins the experience, and would be reason enough not to subscribe. But it can be fixed.

The second problem is more fundamental. Like all online services I’ve tried, Rhapsody has some glaring gaps in selection. Most critically, it does not have most of the new releases I looked for. Especially for a service that is listen-only, that’s a real downer. If I could be persuaded to pay $10 a month to dial up CD’s on demand, it would have to be for new releases.

For example, on September 11, I decided I wanted to start the day with The Rising. It wasn’t there, so I listened to Darkness on the Edge of Town instead. (Footnote: that record is every bit as good as I remember it, but it seems younger than I remember it. Oh, right, I’m older.) Rhapsody had catalog, but not new releases, for many other artists I tried - Spoon, Tom Waits, Warren Zevon, David Bowie. It had the new Westerberg, but not his alter-ego Grandpaboy. It had Don Byron’s latest, and Elvis Costello’s. It had the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi, but not In a Priest Driven Ambulance.

Other artists were either missing entirely (Aimee Mann), or were represented by only a tiny slice of their music (Brian Eno). Some of the acts missing completely, like Captain Beefheart, probably won't bother much of their audience. But they’re also lacking anything by the Beatles.

Annoyingly, a number of the CD's that were available were missing two or three songs. For example, DJ Shadow’s latest was available, but with only 3 songs. I dialed up Charles Mingus’ record Epitaph, a “unified, 18-movement work” scored for 30-piece jazz orchestra. But it too was missing a few key songs - an omission that in context pretty much ruins the point of putting it online at all.

Still, the music Rhapsody did have turned out to be good promotion for the record industry. After listening to a long list of records on my wishlist, I’m going to buy all but one of them. (Here's a sample: Epitaph, You Are #6, Stereo, and Black Brown and Beige.) Of the records I heard, only one got demoted to “buy later, if at all.” That’s why it is so frustrating that the industry seems unwilling to let me hear things online before buying them - it’s great promotion.

After all that, what online music service would I Pay for?

First, let the record show that I am willing to pay for music online. Sure, I can get a free version of most songs on a file sharing network. But the quality is inconsistent, and putting together an entire album is a huge pain in the ass.

For my money, the industry can compete with free. They just have to give me easy, and do it at a fair price.

There are two models that might make sense. First, they could charge a monthly fee and allow downloads. That's the model. (I’ll review that next; I'm a fan, despite its flaws.) Second, they could have a free or nominal monthly charge for a jukebox service like Rhapsody, plus an option to pay for each download. Given that the label wouldn’t have to pay for distribution or producing the disk, they could probably charge far less than retail and still make money. For either model, I'm assuming that file compression will continue to get better, so a download really is "CD quality." Right now, mp3's and similar files are notably inferior to .wav files.

Finally, once I get a copy, I need to be able to move it to CD or an mp3 player. That’s only fair. And if I make a mix for a friend, consider it promotion.

Here’s my deal: if the industry offers me a good online product at a fair price, I promise not to put the files online for the world to copy. Sure, a second group will always seek out free, but given the hassle involved and a genuine desire on the part of most fans to see bands get paid, I’ll bet more people would join me.

In their Quixotic quest to eliminate the second group, the industry is throwing away an opportunity to make money off the first, and in the end, all of us are poorer for it.

Update 9/23: Amy Harmon, writing in the NYT, explains why the Beatles aren't on Rhapsody, and other copyright clearance mysteries.
Pants and Anti-Pants?
The NYT had a front page story on the creation of anti-matter:

Physicists working in Europe announced yesterday that they had passed through nature's looking glass and had created atoms made of antimatter, or antiatoms, opening up the possibility of experiments in a realm once reserved for science fiction writers. Such experiments, theorists say, could test some of the basic tenets of modern physics and light the way to a deeper understanding of nature. ...

Weird as it sounds, antimatter is a normal feature of the real, unfictional universe. Scientists see the creation of antihydrogen atoms is the first step toward testing some physicists' deepest notions about nature, which hold that antimatter should look and behave identically to ordinary matter.

Does this mean the Onion wasn't joking when they reported that scientists had created Quantum Slacks?

"For decades, we conducted level-one physics experiments in which we collided individual subatomic particles in a highly controlled laboratory setting," Chang said. "But an array of technical hurdles kept us from taking the next logical step: colliding pants."

Preliminary tests conducted last month at the Haggar Pants Propulsion Laboratory in Dallas indicate that the quantum slacks, generated by smashing together two larger sizes of slacks at near-light speeds, defy scientific explanation. ...

Said Chang: "We placed the pants in a casual lawn-party setting and discovered them to be functional and comfortable. But, against all logic, in subsequent tests the pants performed equally well at a formal business luncheon. This represents a baffling, 'Schrœdinger's Pants' duality. The results even fly in the face of Einstein, who preferred wool trousers." ...

More exciting, Kohl said, is the potential for gaining insight into the very origin of trousers itself—a breakthrough he described as "within walking distance." ...

"If we can stabilize a pair of these slacks long enough for in-depth study, perhaps by confining them in a radiation belt powerful enough to stop them from slipping into other dimensions, we have a good shot at proving our theory," Chang said.

The only danger, he noted, is the prospect of creating anti-pants. This would derail the experiment by annihilating any pants the original pair comes into contact with, leaving only nude space.

(For some reason, the Onion does not keep this article in its online archives. Fortunately, the linked site above has quoted it for posterity.)
Catching Up With "President" Bush.

George W. Bush, For the Record:

There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again.

If you watched The Daily Show (and you should watch it every day) you saw the video ... and believe me, the White House transcript just doesn't do it justice. Watch "Shame on You."

The Washington Post's Rick Weiss reported that the geniuses at HHS are replacing scientists whose conclusions do not match the Bush Administration's pre-ordained political views. I guess that's easier than adjusting the policy to fit reality. As excerpted by Ted Barlow:

The Bush administration has begun a broad restructuring of the scientific advisory committees that guide federal policy in areas such as patients' rights and public health, eliminating some committees that were coming to conclusions at odds with the president's views and in other cases replacing members with handpicked choices.

In the past few weeks, the Department of Health and Human Services has retired two expert committees before their work was complete. One had recommended that the Food and Drug Administration expand its regulation of the increasingly lucrative genetic testing industry, which has so far been free of such oversight. The other committee, which was rethinking federal protections for human research subjects, had drawn the ire of administration supporters on the religious right, according to government sources.

A third committee, which had been assessing the effects of environmental chemicals on human health, has been told that nearly all of its members will be replaced -- in several instances by people with links to the industries that make those chemicals. One new member is a California scientist who helped defend Pacific Gas and Electric Co. against the real-life Erin Brockovich.

(I got to Barlow's excerpts via War Liberal.)

The Post's Eric Pianin reports that the US EPA and Army Corps of Engineers "revealed plans to reconsider the extent to which the government can prevent unlawful industrial pollution in non-navigable waterways and wetlands":

The Bush administration announced [Thursday] that it will consider new rules for enforcing the Clean Water Act, prompting concern among environmentalists that the government may sharply scale back protection for hundreds of thousands of miles of small streams, tributaries and wetlands.

The State of New Jersey dumped Christie Whitman's signature air pollution program, the "model" for her efforts as Administrator of EPA:

In a slap at the environmental policies of former Gov. Christie Whitman, the McGreevey administration plans to scrap an air pollution control program that her environmental commissioner once touted as a national model.

Calling it a failure, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell said the state will pull the plug on the Open Market Emissions Trading program, which allows industries to pollute the air more than the government allows if they buy "credits" from companies that have reduced emissions below allowable levels. ...

"Our review of the ... program at the outset of the McGreevey Administration has led me to conclude that the program has failed," Campbell said in an Aug. 13 letter to the EPA. "The program's ostensible clean air benefits were limited by the failure to include safeguards to ensure that the program would in fact reduce emissions."

Monday, September 16, 2002
Interactive Ono.
Visitors to the recent Yes Yoko Ono exhibit at SFMOMA got even more art than they bargained for:

The white telephone art prank started out innocently enough when a couple of friends at the show grew curious about the phone, which was accompanied by a sign that read something like, "Wait for Yoko Ono to call." Never content to wait by a phone, one of the friends -- let's call him "Erik" -- picked up and got a dial tone. But with a stern-faced docent looking on, he quickly hung up. Undaunted, Erik's roommate, "Cooper," grabbed the receiver and dialed his own cell phone. Up popped the white phone's number on Caller ID.

"So, of course, I called," says Cooper. "It rang, and a crowd immediately gathered around the phone, but the docent, a Filipino woman, saw what was going on and was like, in her broken English, 'How did you get that number? How did you get that number!' I just sort of pretended not to understand her and walked away."

The next day, a few friends were at Cooper and Erik's for brunch. On a whim, they decided to call. Using a speakerphone, "Megan" -- who, fortuitously enough, happens to be a very funny comedy writer -- launched the first "You Can Call Me Yoko" performance art piece.

(From SF Weekly's Dog Bites - scroll down to "You Can Call Me Yoko Ono."
Fishvan fishvan who's got the fishvan?
Sunday, September 15, 2002
And People Wonder Why We Don't Trust Ashcroft.
From a book review in today's SF Chronicle, "The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist," by Fred Jerome:

Was Albert Einstein an undesirable alien to be deported? Was he a Communist? A Soviet spy?

Yes indeed, J. Edgar Hoover was convinced of all that and more. So for years the powerful director of the FBI pursued a vendetta against the pacifist, the civil rights defender, the early anti-Fascist and the witty, popular scientist whose major sin, perhaps, was to support a kind of one-world brand of socialism.

In The Chronicle last June, investigative reporter Seth Rosenfeld exposed the criminal lengths to which Hoover went to topple Clark Kerr from the presidency of the University of California and nearly destroy free speech on the UC campus.

Rosenfeld's articles revealed the power that Hoover used so ominously. And now Fred Jerome, a journalist and media consultant, has revealed in fresh detail another effort by the once-formidable FBI director to harass and destroy an enemy.

... Because of Hoover's monomania, the FBI pursued Einstein until the scientist died in 1955. But after all those agents, all that time and God knows how much money, Hoover never pinned anything on Albert Einstein because it was a bum rap from the start.

The Celebrated Jumping Frog Gets New Safeguards.

The croaking California amphibian that Mark Twain made a celebrity edged back from oblivion Thursday when a federal agency adopted a plan to stave off extinction of the red-legged frog.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the final blueprint of a recovery effort designed to protect the frog's few remaining populations and restore freshwater enclaves conducive to breeding.

... Scientists believe the historic range of the star of Twain's short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," stretches from Point Reyes National Seashore inland to Redding, and south to northwestern Baja California.

Now, the rusty-bellied frog survives only in three regions at populations numbering more than 350 animals -- Point Reyes National Seashore, Pescadero Marsh in San Mateo County and Rancho San Carlos in Monterey County.

... The habitat designation identifies lands on which federal agencies, along with private landowners who seek federal permits, are prohibited from activities that interfere with the frog's resurgence. The recovery plan sets forth the guidelines for the frog's comeback.

Federal agencies must closely follow the recovery plan when they manage lands or approve private actions, but the plan is not binding on private landowners.

For the Record: this critter is the largest native frog in the western United States, ranging from 1.5 to 5.1 inches in length. (Link to full story.)
When Government Goes Bad.
In the post directly below, I describe a governmental success story. This is not a follow-up. From Molly Ivins:

Here's another to add to our growing list of needed corporate reforms. When some poor company -- caught in endless coils of red tape, strangled by mean government bureaucrats, its last gasp of entrepreneurial energy driven out by nasty investigators -- is finally forced to pay for some slightly overzealous bit of capitalist behavior, what is that poor company to do? Write the fine off on its taxes, of course.

Yes, incredible as it sounds, when corporations are fined for breaking the law, they can deduct the fine from their tax bill. This puts the rest of us taxpayers in the unhappy position of subsidizing corporate misbehavior.

This revolting situation is now being "looked at" by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.

Kudos to The Wall Street Journal for bringing this one to the public's attention. ...

This policy should not be tossed aside lightly. It needs to be thrown aside with great force.

Unfortunately, the original WSJ article is pay-only. Hopefully this will get some more attention.
And Now for Some Good News.
A story in Reuters notes that air quality in New Delhi, India, is getting better:

Five years ago, the Indian capital was rated as one of the most polluted cities in the world, continually shrouded in an eye-stinging smog of foul gas and noxious fumes.

No longer. Pollution levels in the wheezing metropolis of about 13 million people have come down significantly since the government cracked down on exhaust-belching vehicles and closed down smoke-spewing factories in the late 1990s.

"There has been a 25 percent reduction in pollution levels since 1995. Sulphur dioxide in the air is within prescribed limits and suspended particulate matter has also come down," said Dilip Biswas, chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board.

"Now you can see the stars at night," he told Reuters.

Does this mean Bjorn Lomborg is right after all, and environmental problems just aren't that big a deal?

Nope. The environment doesn't get better on its own - it gets better when elected officials put in place laws to make it better. But experience has shown that when they do put strong laws in place, they generally work. In other words, contrary to the rhetoric on the right, sometimes government is part of the solution, not the problem.
Falling into the Ocean.
Joseph Verrengia, writing for the AP, draws a fascinating sketch of an Alaskan island village that recently voted to move the entire town because of warming temperatures and rising sea levels.

SHISHMAREF, Alaska ...

Weather dictates survival in the Arctic. Always it has been the fearsome cold that meant life or death. Now, Native Alaskans are alarmed by a noticeable warming trend.

Average temperatures in the Arctic have risen more than 4 degrees since 1971 ....

[T]his is still a very rustic village. Its forlorn breakwater of sandbags, tires and rusting vehicles, is often breached by storms. Recently, four homes tumbled into the sea as villagers huddled in the Lutheran church.

Fuel and water tanks teeter just a few strides from the brink. Another gale or two and the entire island -- a half-mile at its widest, 10 feet at its highest -- could be inundated.

[The town’s] ancestors simply would have loaded their dogsleds and mushed inland. But in modern times, moving a town means Shishmaref's 600 residents must vote.

It will cost at least $100 million, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says.

... It's an upheaval many Americans might face in coming decades.

In June, the Bush administration submitted a report to the United Nations acknowledging for the first time that climate change is real and unavoidable. The administration recommends adapting.

Thursday, September 12, 2002
Today's Episode of Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley.
In the entries below, the Silicon Valley versus Hollywood angle was a storytelling device. Hal Plotkin takes a more literal approach to the Berman-Coble legalized hacking bill:

... Howard Berman (D-Hollywood) and Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) recently coughed up an incredibly vivid example of how easily government officials can unintentionally screw up the economy. The authors of economic textbooks will, no doubt, be in debt to this pair for decades. But the Howards are sure to be decidedly less popular with the tens of thousands of high-tech workers who won't have jobs, thanks to the dubious achievement of these politicians.

... The legislation ... would make it legal for copyright owners to sabotage peer-to-peer (P2P) file-trading networks if they think their rights are being infringed. The proposal does not specify what type of sabotage would be permitted, but the early guessing among experts is that it would include intentionally mislabeling files (called "spoofing"), flooding servers with so many requests that they crash (called a "denial of service" attack) or circulating viruses that disrupt file trading. The bill's authors say the move is necessary to prevent or at least impede further pirating of songs, movies and other copyrighted digital goods over the Internet.

... Fortunately, the bill's immediate chances of passage appear slim, according to several congressional sources. Longer-term, however, efforts to achieve the same goal could gain momentum, thanks to expected financial backing from the entertainment industry. Early opponents include Silicon Valley's entire congressional delegation, which consists of Anna Eshoo (D-Atherton), Mike Honda (D-San Jose) and Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose).

Unfortunately, the damage has already been done.

Even if it doesn't pass, just introducing the bill has hammered another nail into the coffin that contains hundreds of once-promising P2P business plans. As a consequence, most Silicon Valley venture capitalists won't touch those business plans with a 10-foot term sheet. ...

It's as if someone had proposed a law in 1965 to make it legal for anyone to burst into offices and burn IBM punch cards because their use was putting stenographers out of business. You can imagine the wonders that would have done for the economy. ...

The Berman-Coble proposal's utter unworkability makes its introduction even more outrageous. Put simply, record companies will never be able to hire enough programmers to outcode the hackers who are always eager to participate in just the type of digital warfare the Howards have proposed to unleash. The only real question is how many innocent parties will be caught in the crossfire as computer users suddenly lose files, the reliability of their networks or the stability of their computers.

... "It resembles a form of vigilante justice without regard for due process or the potential impact on innocent and legal users of content," Eshoo said in a statement released to SF Gate this week.

... That's why it is not enough that Berman has drawn fire from Silicon Valley's defenders in Congress. Something more dramatic has to happen before the investment community will start writing checks to P2P startups again.

... That's why the time has come for Silicon Valley's enlightened congressional delegation to put some real heat on their job-killing colleague from Hollywood. There must be some other front that could be opened in this fight that would help him gain a deeper appreciation of the damage his actions are causing to everyone other than his campaign contributors.

Come to think of it, if Democrats Eshoo, Honda and Lofgren were to join forces with the House's near majority of anti-Hollywood Republicans, it's possible they could cause so much damage to Tinseltown's interests that the studios would be making disaster movies about it. At the very least, a coordinated legislative counterattack would make Berman and his colleagues think twice before they hastily push more people out of work.

The Casual Arrogance of Inherited Power.
In their less guarded moments, the Bush Bros. reveal their Marie Antoinette-like disdain for the people. Here's Jeb, for the record:

"What is it with Democrats having a hard time voting -- I don't know," Bush said.

Let's say we answer that question this November. Click here to contribute to McBride for Governor.

Fuel Efficiency for National Security.
Another one from ENS:
The Bush Administration must rethink its energy policy if it is to succeed in the war on terrorism, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director James Woolsey said today. Woolsey served from 1993 to 1995 as President Bill Clinton's first CIA director, and previously as an arms-control negotiator for the United States in Europe.

Speaking on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon at the independent energy and environmental research center, Resources for the Future, Woolsey called on the president to reduce U.S. dependence on Middle East oil by:

* encouraging the use of more fuel efficient hybrid cars
* generating ethanol from biomass or waste
* beefing up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to one billion barrels
* increasing Russian oil production by 50 percent

"I have not been pleased with the president's energy policy, to put it mildly," Woolsey said. "I admire President Bush's effort in the fight against terror, but his energy policy goes against what he is trying to accomplish in that war."

... Critical of both the Administration and Congress for rejecting plans to tighten fuel economy standards, Woolsey said the move to highly fuel efficient hybrid cars must be encouraged.

What Do People Value About Their National Forests?

People who live in the Southern Appalachians want their national forests protected, show recent surveys by the Southern Research Station (SRS) of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

The surveys by the SRS Recreation, Wilderness and Demographic Trends Unit in Athens, Georgia, found that area residents want the forests managed to protect clean sources of water, preserve natural landscapes for future generations to enjoy, and provide wildlife habitat.

... Residents gave lower values to managing national forests as sources of raw materials, as grazing ranges for livestock, and for tourism.

(Links for ENS Article & Survey.)
Very Low Indeed

A NEW LOW IN SOCIAL SECURITY SLANDER. First Republicans started accusing Democratic candidates of wanting to privatize Social Security -- a preposterous lie. Then they claimed that the media were unfairly using the word "privatize" to describe GOP "reform plans" -- another lie. But this is the worst yet: According to our friends at Campaign for America's Future, GOPAC -- Newt Gingrich's old organization, you'll remember -- has started running ads targeted to black voters in Missouri that pitch Social Security as "reverse reparations."

Unidentified Woman: You've heard about reparations, you know, where whites compensate blacks for enslaving us. Well, guess what we've got now? Reverse reparations. Under Social Security today, blacks receive twenty one thousand dollars less in retirement benefits than whites of similar income and marital status. In the U.S. of A., white men live seven years longer than black men. One third of the brothers die before retirement and receive nothing. Almost half the married sisters lose their husbands before they rank Social Security spousal benefits. President George Bush proposed reforms that help our community in three ways. First, we get a higher minimum benefit. Second, our women get their fair share in their spouses Social Security. And, third, blacks get retirement accounts with real financial assets. So the next time some Democrat says he won't touch Social Security, ask why he thinks blacks owe reparations to whites?

(Via Tapped.)

We Believe You.
UPDATE: Spinsanity, among others, reports that they have pulled the ad. GOPAC says it is all just a big mix-up.
Warren Zevon is a Great American.
That's all I have to say.
I Think I Speak for All Men When I Say ...

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists in the United States have come up with news that may help millions of men -- they have succeeded in growing major parts of penises in the laboratory.

The test tube penile parts were successfully used to rebuild the members of rabbits who -- after rest and recuperation -- put them to the use that rabbits are famous for.

... But he also said the technique was at an early stage and that it would be a while before the technique was tried with human tissue.

The scientists had only been successful in growing the erectile tissues of rabbit penises -- not the entire organ -- and in all cases the erect member had the reduced firmness of a 60-year-old against that of a more virile 30-year-old.

... rabbits live to be 60?
Monday, September 09, 2002
Buy These CDs.
If you missed Kelly Hogan's 2001 release "Because it Feel Good," as I did the first time around, don't deny yourself the pleasure any longer. Hogan, ex of the Jody Grind, sings like an angel, and she's almost certainly the first person to cover the Statler Bros. and Randy Newman, not to mention Charlie Rich, on the same disk. The two originals, especially Sugarbowl, are even better. Buy it direct from Bloodshot Records or listen to snippets on CDNow.

Like Because it Feel Good, Joe Henry's Scar was also released in 2001. And like BIFG, it was sorely underappreciated. Henry doesn't sing like an angel, though--unless it's a chain-smoking angel. This is a voice that would be right at home singing Heart of Saturday Night-era Tom Waits songs, or maybe angry Elvis Costello songs if it didn't have Henry's own characters to sing about. I'll never understand why this record wasn't a big hit with music fans. The sidemen alone are worth your money (Marc Ribot, Brad Meldau, Brian Blade, and Ornett-freakin-Coleman). Click here to listen to snippets (try track 3 for Henry's voice, or track 7 for a pleasantly inaccessible yet funky instrumental passage).
Hollywood v. Silicon Valley II.
Technlogy two-fer: First, Claire Tristram, writing in Salon, also runs with the Hollywood versus Silicon Valley angle (see below), but gives the edge to Hollywood until the technologists (and I might add the consumers) get their act together. Second, BoingBoing has a product review-slash-rant on a new Toshiba mobile phone that demonstrates--again--why consumers often lose with Hollywood-style digital rights management: it doesn’t work.

Tristram reports (in a non-Premium story) on the replacement of Sonicblue CEO Ken Potashner by a new executive named Greg Ballard:

Since assuming leadership in 1998, Potashner had managed to embroil his company in noisy legal battles with investors, employees, competitors, the government of Taiwan, the recording industry, and 29 film and broadcasting companies.

... "The difference between Ken and me is that I would prefer not to have 29 media companies suing us right now," Ballard says. "Ken thrived on it. My judgment is that we're better off without it."

... For a small and struggling company ... Sonicblue has had an outsized impact on the evolution of digital media devices. It was the first company to bring MP3 players to the U.S. market (through its subsidiary Diamond), after weathering a long and costly lawsuit with the recording industry. It was the first to market a portable device that played both store-bought and self-burned CDs. And it was the first, significantly, to allow customers of its ReplayTV personal video recorders to skip commercials instead of fast-forwarding through them, and to send recorded television programs over the Internet to others.

Now, it seems, Sonicblue’s leadership seems determined to avoid litigation with Hollywood, even if it means less compelling products:

"I don't want to get sued every time we do something," Ballard says, without equivocation. "If I'm in a product meeting and I'm offered a choice of two features, one which will trigger a lawsuit, and one not, I'm inclined to choose the one that will not, even if our lawyers think we can win."

... That only sounds like smart business, of course. But it's also very sad. Maybe Potashner's reckless urge to make products on the edge of permissible copyright law was driving his company into the ground. Then again, if Sonicblue had been operating under Ballard's direction in 1998, you could still be waiting for an MP3 player today.

Here’s Cory Doctorow, writing in BoingBoing:

Toshiba's new digital music player shows us more evidence that (consumer electronics) + (digital rights management) = ass. ...

... for "security" reasons, the Mobilphone will only play music that has been encrypted with Toshiba's proprietary cipher. The encryption happens when you use Toshiba's software to synch your Mobilphone with your PC. Now, leave aside for the moment that this means that without (illegally, under the DMCA) reverse-engineering the crypto, no vendor except Toshiba and its licensees will ever be able to deliver a client for the Mobilphone (so forget about Linux, BSD, Mac or device-to-device apps), and that if Toshiba's fly-sized attention-span wanders away from the device, you'll be stuck holding a 5GB boat anchor.

Yes, leave that aside, because there's an immediate, non-hypothetical reason that Toshiba's brainless crypto-scheme is a stupid, anti-customer idea. The encryption of your music happens on the fly, as you synch your Mobilphone with your PC. That encryption process is CPU-intensive, so much so that it slows the USB 2.0 interface to USB 1.1 speeds. ...

Pracitically speaking this means that synching ten albums takes eight minutes instead of fifty seconds. I have an iTunes "Advanced Playlist" that grabs 5GB of random, high-rated music from my pool of 20GB of MP3s and synchs them every time I plug my iPod in -- it takes a minute or two. With the Mobilphone, it'd take all afternoon. Rip. Mix. Wait.

(Thanks, BoingBoing!)
Sunday, September 08, 2002
The New North-South Divide.
Here's the National Journal on the battle over technology-based copyright protection schemes, which they frame as a titanic struggle between North and South (California):
Hollywood versus Silicon Valley. Over the past year, the two mega-industries have been locked in a highly public fight in Washington, unable to agree on how to keep the Internet from becoming a pirates' haven. The stakes are high, because the outcome of the battle will help define the computers, televisions, digital videodisc players, and yet-unimagined electronic devices of the 21st century.

These two giants have clashed before. In the late 1970s, the movie studios feared that the newly developed videocassette recorder would slash theater revenues. Hollywood filed copyright-infringement lawsuits against VCR manufacturers. In a 1982 congressional hearing, Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, compared the VCR to the Boston Strangler. Hollywood lost that fight in 1984 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios that consumers have a right to tape television broadcasts for watching at another time or on another machine.

The legal principle is that a consumer can make "fair use" of copyrighted material. But copyright expert Peter Jaszi, a law professor at American University, also points out that "a very important part of the Sony analysis is that new information technology that benefits consumers is a presumptively good thing."

Hollywood has never been comfortable with that definition of "fair use," and in this era of digitized content, the movie industry's discomfort has turned into alarm. The studios could live with piracy in an analog world, in which videotapes degrade with each reproduction. But today's Internet-based digital technologies permit broad and instantaneous distribution of digital copies, each one just as high-quality as the previous version. That cuts to the heart of Hollywood's distribution system and eats into studio profits, even as it simultaneously creates new revenue opportunities. Hollywood now makes more money on videocassettes than on box-office sales.

Obviously, Hollywood has a right to be concerned, and Valenti makes some good points. But on the whole, the solutions they propose seem designed to protect their business model more than their intellectual property.
Death To Web Radio?
CNET News reports on a new study suggesting that the Library of Congress may have killed the goose even before it starts laying golden eggs. Like most things involving the record labels and consumers these days, both lose.

Jupiter Research said royalty fees could bankrupt Web radio stations by forcing them to pay more to play songs than they could ever make up in advertising revenue--a prediction that's already come true for dozens of stations that have ceased their Webcasts because of the payments.

"While listening to online audio is up...streaming music has yet to produce a survivable--let alone profitable--business," the report said.

Researchers said the only viable Web radio formats over the next 18 months to 24 months appear to be talk and sports radio.

The report comes three months after the Library of Congress implemented controversial royalty fees requiring Webcasters to pay labels .07 cent every time they play a song for a single listener. Although the labels complain the fees are too low and will not adequately compensate artists, Internet radio stations warn the payments will cripple their ability to deliver Webcasts. Both sides are asking a court to reconsider the fees.

Can someone explain to me why record labels don't want the record buying public to hear their music on web radio? Don't they pay regular radio stations to play their music?
Molly, You're excused.
Read this:

Excuse me: I don't want to be tacky or anything, but hasn't it occurred to anyone in Washington that sending Vice President Dick Cheney out to champion an invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein is a "murderous dictator" is somewhere between bad taste and flaming hypocrisy?

When Dick Cheney was CEO of the oilfield supply firm Halliburton, the company did $23.8 million in business with Saddam Hussein, the evildoer "prepared to share his weapons of mass destruction with terrorists."

So if Saddam is "the world's worst leader," how come Cheney sold him the equipment to get his dilapidated oil fields up and running so he could afford to build weapons of mass destruction?

Ummm... did the terrorists win?
That's the question Atrios asks upon reading an Associated Press summary of "some of the fundamental changes to Americans' legal rights by the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act following the terror attacks." Note the understated headline (in the Newsday online version) "Overview of Changes to Legal Rights."

* FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION: Government may monitor religious and political institutions without suspecting criminal activity to assist terror investigation.

* FREEDOM OF INFORMATION: Government has closed once-public immigration hearings, has secretly detained hundreds of people without charges, and has encouraged bureaucrats to resist public records requests.

* FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Government may prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they tell anyone that the government subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation.

* RIGHT TO LEGAL REPRESENTATION: Government may monitor federal prison jailhouse conversations between attorneys and clients, and deny lawyers to Americans accused of crimes.

* FREEDOM FROM UNREASONABLE SEARCHES: Government may search and seize Americans' papers and effects without probable cause to assist terror investigation.

* RIGHT TO A SPEEDY AND PUBLIC TRIAL: Government may jail Americans indefinitely without a trial.

* RIGHT TO LIBERTY: Americans may be jailed without being charged or being able to confront witnesses against them.

Background on Bush Administration "Healthy Forests" Logging Proposal
The Environmental News Service has a long (several thousand words) backgrounder on the Administration's new logging proposal, pieces of which have now been introduced in Congress, and the contentious House hearing on the subject. Unlike most articles on the subject, this one includes actual information about the proposal, and identifies the members of Congress that will be critical to the debate.

The first piece of the Bush administration's proposal would aim to reduce forest fuel loads in areas that pose the greatest risk to people, communities and the environment, including forests around community water supplies, the wildland-urban interface, and areas affected by forest disease and insect infestations.

This proposal would extend a blanket exemption from all environmental analysis, public comment, and administrative appeal to fire management projects on millions of acres of federal forest lands with high fire risk. The proposal also mandates "expedited" interagency consultations regarding the impacts these projects might have on endangered species.

The proposal would not apply to designated wilderness areas, but could apply to eight million acres of inventoried roadless areas that are now classified as high fire risk. On these lands, fire management projects would be conducted "notwithstanding the National Environmental Policy Act" (NEPA), the law that requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their actions. ...

The next piece of the proposal would authorize the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to enter into long term stewardship contracts with the private sector, nonprofit organizations and local communities. The stewardship contracts would retain contractors to thin trees and brush, and removing dead wood, in exchange for the economic value of the wood they removed. This controversial proposal has been criticized as providing incentives for contractors to remove the largest, most valuable trees. ...

The third proposal would repeal the Appeals Reform Act that was a rider to the fiscal year 1993 Interior Appropriations Bill, which imposes certain procedural requirements on the U.S. Forest Service when administrative appeals are made on forest projects. The proposal would allow appeals of forest management decisions, but specifies that any court ruling could "not provide for the issuance of a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction," and would give courts up to one year to reach a final decision. ...

A fourth administration proposal would establish guidelines for courts to use when ruling on challenges to fuels reduction projects such as mechanical thinning or prescribed burns, requiring courts to "give deference to any agency finding" that the long term benefits of projects outweigh their short term risks. ...

The departments are also working on a fifth legislative piece, addressing the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan's original promise of a sustainable habitat and forest economy, which will be sent to Congress at a later date. In addition, the departments are working with the Council for Environmental Quality to develop draft regulations and policy guidance to reduce the time and cost of planning and improving collaboration with local governments on hazardous fuels reduction projects.

I hadn't been aware of # 3, but I think I have to admire the proposal, at least for its shamelessness. It's a "win-win" proposal. The enviros can sue all they want, and the companies can log all they want while the suits are pending.
Wednesday, September 04, 2002
Clearly the Right Man for the Job.
I was out this weekend, so maybe this story got the attention it deserved. But somehow I doubt it. This Seattle Times article is the only coverage I've seen regarding the utterly unscientifically and unsupportable views of Bush's new fire czar. And I wouldn't have found that if Grist Magazine hadn't dug it up for me.

The man chosen to head the Bush administration's wildfire prevention program doubts the existence of ecosystems and says it would not be a crisis if the nation's threatened and endangered species became extinct.

Allan Fitzsimmons was named yesterday to be in charge of reducing fire danger on lands managed by the Interior Department. But Fitzsimmons' background as a free-market policy analyst and his writings for libertarian and conservative think tanks have alarmed environmental groups across the West. The groups say Fitzsimmons' appointment confirms their fears that the recently announced program the administration calls the Healthy Forests Initiative is a smokescreen for a return to unfettered logging. "How can a man who doesn't understand ecological systems and community values for wildlife run a program that's supposed to protect forests and communities?" asked John McCarthy, spokesman for the Idaho Conservation League. ...

In "The Illusion of Ecosystem Management," published in 1999 by the Political Economy Research Center, which says it applies market principles to environmental problems, Fitzsimmons says ecosystems exist only in the human imagination and cannot be delineated. Federal policies, therefore, should not be used to try to manage or restore them, he wrote.

In another paper, entitled "Ecological Confusion among the Clergy," Fitzsimmons criticizes religious leaders who encourage their parishioners to worship God by protecting the environment. ...

Of course, Fitzsimmons has a doctorate in geography, so maybe he is actually qualified to tell ecosystem biologists they don't know what they're doing. And the clergy.

Grist's headline? Fire Him. (Scroll down.)
Piracy Can Be Beneficial to the Music Industry.

The RIAA's site was rather subtly and relatively humorously defaced this morning. While I'm not a big fan of this kind of vandalism, it's refreshing to see it pulled off with some wit.

(Thanks, BoingBoing!)
Also: scroll down once you get to BoingBoing for some serious news on broadcast flag.

Tuvalu, I'd Be Upset Too.

Wednesday the government of tiny Pacific island state Tuvalu said it planned to launch lawsuits within a year against the United States and Australia. Both have rejected the Kyoto climate pact.

The country, which is only 13 feet above sea level at its highest point, faces oblivion if the scientists' gloomy scenarios prove right and global warming causes the sea to rise. Tuvalu is blaming the polluters.

Reuters article here.
Warning to America from German Environmental Extremist Banker.
The second most interesting thing about this oped by Norbert Walker of Deutsche Bank Group is its premise:

Yet at this very moment the most powerful country in the world stands to forfeit much political capital, moral authority and international good will by dragging its feet on the next great global issue: the environment. Before long, the administration's apparent unwillingness to take a leadership role — or, at the very least, to stop acting as a brake — in fighting global environmental degradation will threaten the very basis of the American supremacy that many now seem to assume will last forever. ...

... when a country that emits 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases acts as an uninterested, sometimes hostile bystander in the environmental debate, it looks like unbearable arrogance to many people abroad.

The administration seems to believe it is merely an observer — that environmental issues are not its issues. But not doing anything amounts to ignoring a key source of world tension, and no superpower that wants to preserve its status can go on dismissing such a pivotal dimension of political and economic — if not existential — conflict.

In my view, there is a clear-cut price to be paid for ignoring the views of just about every other country in the world today. The United States is jettisoning its hard-won moral and intellectual authority and perhaps the strategic advantages that come with being a good steward of the international political order. The United States may no longer be viewed as a leader or reliable partner in policymaking: necessary, perhaps inevitable, but not desirable, as it has been for decades. All of this because America's current leaders are not willing to acknowledge the very real concerns of many people about global environmental issues.

What America Is All About.
Last Wednesday's most important column.

The ruckus being raised by conservative Christians over the
University of North Carolina's decision to ask incoming
students to read a book about the Koran - to stimulate a
campus debate - surely has to be one of the most
embarrassing moments for America since Sept. 11.

Why? Because it exhibits such profound lack of
understanding of what America is about, and it exhibits
such a chilling mimicry of what the most repressive Arab
Muslim states are about. ...

As a recent letter to The Times observed, the problem with
the world today is not that American students are being
asked to read the Koran, it is that students in Saudi
Arabia and many other Muslim lands are still not being
asked to read the sacred texts of other civilizations - let
alone the foundational texts of American democracy, like
the Bill of Rights, the Constitution or the Federalist

The fact that they ignore such diverse texts is the source
of their weakness, and the fact that we embrace them is the
source of our strength. What we should be doing is driving
that point home, not copying their obscurantism.

Back to Blogging.
After a week off, I'll try this blogging thing again. Since I haven't told anyone about my new hobby yet, and almost certainly have no readers, I can take a week off with no guilt. Camping by the lake beats hell out of blogging any day.