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

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Sunday, October 20, 2002
Music Review with an Agenda.
I've got a new post up at Blogcritics - my ten favorite recent downloads from - downloadable music that works (fans get affordable music and bands get paid!).
Saturday, October 19, 2002
Bush Inc. Seeks Cuts to SEC.
Did anybody think they were serious about cutting back on corporate corruption? Well, they weren't:

Less than three months ago, President Bush signed with great fanfare sweeping corporate antifraud legislation that called for a huge increase in the budget of the Securities and Exchange Commission to police corporate America and clean up Wall Street.

Now the White House is backing off the budget provision and urging Congress to provide the agency with 27 percent less
money than the new law authorized.

Of Snipers & Ballistic Fingerprints, Continued.
A while back, I printed excerpts from an email sent by a friend in the DC area who's understandably edgy about the still at-large sniper ... and understandably ticked off that the Bush administration is blocking efforts to implement ballistic fingerprinting. Since then, pressure has been building for the administration to reconsider. Click here for one of the best recent status reports.
Web Royalty Update.
If you're following the twisted story of web radio royalties (as I am), you'll find the latest at Blogcritics, where Eric Olsen reports how Jesse Helms's eleventh hour hold blocked the Senate from approving the compromise reached between the webcasters, RIAA and musicians, and how the organization charged with collecting royalties under the prior scheme will wait to see if the Senate can pass the bill in its lame duck session before the organization sticks it to webcasters.
Snows of Kilimanjaro.
Maria Godoy reports:
Once described by author Ernest Hemingway to be "as wide as all the world," the ice fields atop Mount Kilimanjaro have now retreated to their lowest surface extent in the past 12,000 years and could vanish within the next two decades, new research suggests.

Putting Stegosaurus in Charge of Evolution.
Great quote on the Hollings Bill:

Congress would be "putting the dinosaurs in charge of evolution" if Hollywood succeeds in obtaining a federal law that would restrict consumer use of digital video and music, a civil liberties attorney told an Associated Press conference.

Legislation introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., would require consumer electronics makers to equip devices with a built-in "copyright chip" that would enforce a government-approved encryption scheme.

"The content industry is saying, `We need to be able to tell the technology industry what they can and cannot build,"' Fred von Lohmann said Monday during a panel discussion on protecting intellectual property in the digital age. "That's what the fight is all about."

Thursday, October 17, 2002
Everything That Should be Up is Down, Continued.
As with job creation, economic growth, foreclosures and just about every economic indicator (including your IRA and mine), statistics on cleaning up toxic waste sites are moving in the wrong direction under the Bush Administration:

EPA said it completed cleanups at 42 of the nation's worst toxic waste sites in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, down from 47 in the previous 12 months and an average of 76 sites annually during the Clinton administration. ...

After EPA's inspector general said 33 projects hadn't received federal money three-quarters into the fiscal year, congressional Democrats and environmentalists accused the Bush administration of cozying up to polluters. Twenty-one of those 33 projects subsequently received funding.

Nonprofits Hit by Stock Slump.
One of the less obvious consequences of the economic downturn is that foundations have less money to give to nonprofits. (The Packard Foundation, for example, has a large proportion of its assets in H-P stock.) I've heard of a number of environmental groups that have been hit hard. This article has some stats.
Some Writers Just Need Categories.
In one of my early entries, I said Wilco had reached the point all good bands reach -- the point where it's silly to describe them by reference to any band but themselves. But it's really fun to watch critics struggling to fit them in a box -- some of them seem genuinely frustrated that they aren't easily categorized.
Tuesday, October 15, 2002
How to Fail in the Record Business.
Jack Kapicka's got 10 ways to ruin a business, inspired by the recording industry's efforts online. "It's easy to fail in e-business," he writes. "What's hard is failing magnificently. The Big Five music-recording companies have been transcendent in this respect. Their combined efforts have gone beyond killing their e-businesses and are close to destroying an entire industry."
Monday, October 14, 2002
Environmental News Trifecta.
The Good. International Forest Products (Interfor) has stunned environmentalists and industry watchers by agreeing to stop all logging in spotted owl habitat in British Columbia, Canada. The company is the second-most active logger in the endangered owl's habitat.

The Bad. Thirteen years after Exxon's Valdez ran aground and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, the company that put a drunk captain at the helm is still fighting in court to reduce its damages. And there is no end in sight.

The Ugly. The Bush administration is backing away from Clinton-Gore efforts to reserve water in sufficient quantities to protect national parks, national forests and other federal lands. Bush Inc. officials say the move is "an antidote to past federal excess."

(Thanks, Daily Grist.)
Sunday, October 13, 2002
Robbing the Future.
Dan Bricklin, co-inventor of Visicalc, discusses how copy protection could "break the chain" of archival techniques that has existed for thousands of years.
The Laboratories of Democracy -- or Not.
This week, the Bush Administration threw its weight behind the auto industry’s legal challenge to California’s mandate for electric and hybrid vehicles. Some, but not all, of the press noted that the White House Chief of Staff is a former lobbyist for plaintiff GM and the automobile trade association. This will not come as a shock to anyone that follows Bush Inc.’s environmental program. It’s one of my favorite topics (most recent post) -- but today’s focus is on two other under-reported aspects of this story.

First, this lawsuit is only the appetizer for the bigger debate. Although important, the zero emission vehicle rules are not the big enchilada. That would be California’s groundbreaking global warming bill, which was enacted this year. Already, there are plans to adopt similar laws across the country, powered by a grassroots movement that -- for the moment -- has the fossil fuels lobby playing catch-up.

Second, the administration’s action is layered in irony. Conservatives love to talk about states’ rights this and “laboratories of democracy” that, but the Clean Air Act -- one of the most successful examples of liberal government activism -- actually puts the principle into practice. A true bipartisan effort, the Clean Air Act gives states a great deal of flexibility. And California has always had extra authority to go farther even than other states. When something works in California, it tends to be adopted elsewhere. If something fails, well, then it was a good thing it wasn’t tried nationwide.

The authority granted states under the Act works the other way too. Some states, notoriously, will drag their feet and practically dare EPA to step in and take control of their program. But for better or worse, that’s how the Clean Air Act operates. The inevitable long term consequence of prohibiting states from experimenting with new environmental programs is one-size-fits-all national standards.

You might think that an administration infused with conservative principles would support an alternative to that future. As we’ve seen with this administration, however, conservative principles take a back seat to big business lobbying. How else can you explain their earlier decisions to turn the surplus into a deficit as far as the eye can see, to support the steel tariffs, or to expand subsidies for the timber industry? Genuine conservatives would make different decisions. But Bush Inc. always does what’s best for GM, even when it’s not best for the country ... and even when it contradicts conservative principles.
Hypocrisy Detectors Go Buzz.
Another columnist notices that Dick Cheney's Halliburton was Iraq's most reliable supplier. (I wrote about the first here.)
Scalia's Conflict.
Recess appointee Eugene Scalia is the Bush Administration's point person on the negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the longshoreman's union. Guess which of the parties he used to represent? Josh Marshall got the goods. Two more questions: will the mainstream media care? And will Bush reappoint Scalia when his recess appointment term is up? Remember, the reason he had to use the recess appointment process in the first place was Democratic opposition. Think of this as one more reason to keep the Senate in Democratic hands.
Lions Gate Utilizing Kazaa.
A blogcritics post finds an LA Times piece about the small studio Lions Gate using Kazaa to distribute trailers of their films and generate buzz. I predicted this, more or less. I was talking about the music biz, not films, but I'll take it. In any event, it's not such a bold prediction. Buzz is good, and buzz based on genuine fan enthusiasm is best.
Saturday, October 12, 2002
Are You Better Off Now Than You Were Two Years Ago?
No, no you're not. Henry Waxman has the facts at Why are you not better off now than you were two years ago? Because the Bush team is running the country into the ground. Daniel Gross, channeling Casey Stengel, shines the spotlight on the inept trio of Paul O'Neill, Don Evans and Lawrence Lindsey, and asks "Can't anybody here play this game?" It's true those three inspire dread -- not confidence -- in the economy. But the real problem with this administration's economic policy is the policy, not the staff.
Get the Gourds.
The best show I saw last month was the Gourds at Slims. This is the best review I've seen of their latest album, Cow Fish Fowl or Pig.
Not What You're Looking for in a Petting Zoo ... or a Hospital.

Zookeepers Suspended for Eating Animals

Mystery of Decomposed Body Baffles Hospital

Thursday, October 10, 2002
Get It While You Can.
There has never been a better time to buy a piece of America:
(Thanks, Wesley!)
Privacy Rights for the Maryland Sniper.
A friend living in the Washington, DC area confirms that life is tense, to say the least, with the sniper still at large. Says my friend:

Life here in Maryland is terrifying [last night I jumped when I saw a person in my window -- it turned out to be my own reflection] ...

You might think law enforcement officials would be thrilled about the development of a "ballistic fingerprint system" that would allow cops to trace bullets recovered from shootings. When it comes to Ashcroft and Bush Inc., you'd be wrong. My friend sums it up:

In a nutshell: The U.S. has the technology to create a database that would record the "fingerprint" from every gun sold. With the system, when police officers found a bullet in a body or a shell-casing at a murder scene, they could quickly learn what gun fired the shot, and who purchased it. The Clinton Administration wanted to create this database, but guess who blocked it? Yup -- the N.R.A. and their Republican puppets in Congress. And do you think Bush and Ashcroft are keen creating on this system? Nope -- it invades gun-owners' "right to privacy."

Update 10/13: Friedman has more, saying "Mr. Bush wants to rally the nation to impose gun control on Baghdad, but he won't lift a finger to impose gun control on Bethesda, six miles from the White House."

Tuesday, October 08, 2002
So the Country Doesn't Agree with the President?
From today's NYT on the Iraq vote:

"The strategy," one White House official said in recent days, "is to use the Congress as leverage, leverage to bring around the public, and leverage to make it clear to the U.N. that it's not only George Bush who is prepared to draw a line in the sand, it's the whole country."

(Thanks to Slate's Today's Papers for making this jump out at me. BTW, if you're a fan of Today's Papers, they've posted an address to donate to the Scott Shugar Memorial Fund.)
Monday, October 07, 2002
Tom Friedman Drives a Prius.
In fact, he drives it to do his part for the war on terror. Friedman also thinks history will judge Bush Inc. harshly for its indifference to global warming. All that in an interview with Rolling Stone. It’s not available online, so here are some excerpts:

In your book, you refer to “Mr. Bush and his oil-industry paymasters.” What do you mean?

I think these guys are bought and paid by Big Oil in America, and they are going to do nothing that will in any way go against the demands and interests of the big oil companies. I mean, let’s face it. ExxonMobile - I think this is a real group of bad guys, considering that they have funded all the anti-global-warming propaganda out there in the world. And Bush is just not going to go against guys like that. ... History is not going to treat them kindly on that score. ... We’re going to look back at these as the years the locusts ate everything. It’s in our power to deal with global warming, and it’s directly related to so many bad things that are happening out there. The fact that we haven’t done a thing - I mean, not a thing - shame on us, and shame on our leaders. And Bush will answer to history for that.

But we have done nothing to lessen our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

The column I wrote last year that got the greatest reaction was when I called for a Manhattan Project for energy conservation and independence. ... My wife and I - our first act post-9/11 was to buy a Toyota Prius, which gets fifty miles to the gallon. I am just not going to continue to run my life where, through the car I drive, I am creating a transfer payment of my dollars to the government of Saudi Arabia that are then passed on to some radical sheik in a Wahabi mosque. I’m sorry. If buying out little Prius will take money away from those guys, that’s a good thing for me.

Incidentally - and this is a topic for another day - Rolling Stone is going to have to figure out what kind of magazine it is, and fast - before it’s too late. Do they cover music, or just music gossip? Are they trying to sell to people who care about what Tom Friedman has to say or Jennifer Love Hewitt fans? I doubt that any magazine can be very good at both.
Good stuff in Blogcritics today, including an update on the webcasting royalty negotiations and an essay on the dying art of the road song. Apparently the webcasters and the RIAA have reached a deal that passed the House on suspension, but not before someone (an errant staffer perhaps) almost screwed it up by eliminating direct royalty payments to artists. Amy Harmon also has a piece in the NYT about the global reach of Kazaa, and Frank Ahrens explains how DVDs are changing the movie business in the Washington Post.
Sunday, October 06, 2002
Where Democrats Can Be Democrats.
Nathan Newman tells us what Democrats have done in California.

When friends and political analysts complain that Democrats have become more conservative than in past generations, I always have to ask—How would they know?

Democrats have not controlled the national agenda for decades: sure Clinton and Carter had nominal majorities in Congress for a couple of years, but GOP filibusters killed progressive bills repeatedly, forcing bipartisan deals to pass any legislation.

Newman chronicles the impressive list of good legislation Democrats have enacted recently in California. I’m not going to excerpt it, because you should read it all -- it’s a good list and pulling out a handful of bullets would ruin the effect. I live in California and I care about these things, but I’ve never seen it all in one place like this before.

But the impressive list of progressive legislation passed in California does highlight how misguided is rhetoric that says there is little difference between the parties. That rhetoric leads many progressives to waste their efforts on marginal third party efforts or avoid electoral politics altogether, rather than analyzing the real constraints of politics when the parties are deadlocked and Senate filibusters force compromises on any party without 60+ Senators.

The Smarter Bush Brother?
Jeb may not be dumb, but he makes up for it with arrogance. The man just doesn't respect his constituents enough to be governor. Click for the Daily Kos's take on why Jeb is in trouble. Click for my post on Jeb's "What is it with Democrats having a hard time voting?" crack and the link to donate to McBride for Governor.
Death by a Thousand Cuts.
Michael Milstein of Portland’s Oregonian is one of the best at covering environmental issues. Read this one to learn about another Bush Administration giveaway to the logging industry. Read this one to catch up on the Klamath River salmon die-off and the Administration’s (non-)response. Zizka has more on the Klamath dodge, which pretty much sums up their approach: “Cause of Salmon Die-off Unknown, but Certainly not Bush Administration's Fault.”
This is Your Brain on Kazaa.
John Scalzi, the editor of the IndieCrit journal dedicated to reviews of independent music, has a smart assessment of (“a bad idea”). This is the “just say no” campaign with Britney et al telling kids not to download music (proving that downloading music must be cool). This campaign reminds me nothing so much as the cringe-worthy anti-drugs ads from back in the day. And it’ll work about as well.
Radio killed the radio star.
Some links to read if, like me, you’re unhappy with the Clear Channel-ization of radio. One from Salon plus the letters written in response. Also, there’s this bit at Blogcritics. From Salon:

Consolidation has resulted in 10,000 layoffs, the demise of a beloved trade magazine, and a decline in programming quality. But industry execs are fat and happy. ...

Radio is in big trouble, and the demise of my beloved Gavin in March was only the tip of the iceberg. Did radio executives or NAB staffers know what they had done to radio? Did they hear the growing groundswell of protest, even faintly, whether it be coming from the streets or Capitol Hill? Or was it just business as usual, full speed ahead, to a world where Clear Channel rules all, and "local radio" is just a joke?

Following the Salon article are several links to other pieces on the state of commercial radio, including excellent ones by Eric Boehlert.
Saturday, October 05, 2002
Put Your Head in the Sand, Everything Will Be Just Fine.
Whatever you do, don’t read anything written by people that have a beef with America. You might learn something. And we can’t have that in our universities, now can we?

The University of California at San Diego has ordered a student organization to delete hyperlinks to an alleged terrorist Web site, citing the recently enacted USA Patriot Act.

School administrators have told the group, called the Che Cafe Collective, that linking to a site supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) would not be permitted because it violated federal law. ...

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said UCSD's reading of the USA Patriot act was laughably censorious.

"I think their interpretation of materially supporting terrorism is dreadfully overbroad and a massive threat to freedom of speech," said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE's director of legal advocacy. Lukianoff said FIRE was willing to represent the Che Cafe against the university, which must abide by the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech because it is a government school.

"All you'd have to do is declare someone a terrorist organization to prevent someone from knowing who the enemy is or what they stand for," Lukianoff said. "That's not how democracy works."

A friend sent me the link to this article without comment. The article links to both the student site and to the FARC site. Does that make the reporter a terrorist? What does it make me? My friend? And look at you - you read the thing, didn’t you? Better put your head back in the sand or there could be trouble.
Thursday, October 03, 2002
Sadly, Only One of the Following Three Items is Made Up.
From America's Finest News Source, RIAA Sues Radio Stations For Giving Away Free Music:

The Recording Industry Association of America filed a $7.1 billion lawsuit against the nation's radio stations Monday, accusing them of freely distributing copyrighted music.

"It's criminal," RIAA president Hilary Rosen said. "Anyone at any time can simply turn on a radio and hear a copyrighted song. Making matters worse, these radio stations often play the best, catchiest song off the album over and over until people get sick of it. Where is the incentive for people to go out and buy the album?"

According to Rosen, the radio stations acquire copies of RIAA artists' CDs and then broadcast them using a special transmitter, making it possible for anyone with a compatible radio-wave receiver to listen to the songs.

"These radio stations are extremely popular," Rosen said. "They flagrantly string our songs together in 'uninterrupted music blocks' of up to 70 minutes in length, broadcasting nearly one CD's worth of product without a break, and they actually have the gall to allow businesses to advertise between songs. It's bad enough that they're giving away our music for free, but they're actually making a profit off this scheme." ...

For the record companies and the RIAA, one of the most disturbing aspects of the radio-station broadcasts is that anyone with a receiver and an analog tape recorder can record the music and play it back at will.

In other news, Hollywood wants to block EFF's access to discovery documents in Craig v. Hollywood, on the grounds that EFF is a competitor. (Yeah, in the marketplace of ideas.)

Last true story: among the unintended consequences of the Hollings CBDTPA bill are that any newly manufactured digital hearing aids (and the TinkleToonz Musical Potty) will have to incorporate government-approved copy restriction technology. (There really does seem to be such a thing as the TinkleToonz Musical Potty, and the Hollings bill really would seem to cover it.)
Allard Again.
Something tells me the "so-called Sierra Club" is starting to get on Wayne Allard's nerves.
New Blogcritics - Rhapsody Rant.
I've got a new entry on Blogcritics.