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24 September 2000

"To believe yourself to be brave is to be brave; it is the only essential thing."
-- Mark Twain, via the Mark Twain Quote of the Day page, via Windowseat

Oh right, I used to write for a website once, didn't I...

Funny how easy it is to get out of the habit.

Sorry for the unannounced month-long hiatus, I'll try to get back into a groove now that my life is finally settling down again.

Thanks for the many nice comments on the piano piece; there'll be another one along in the not-too-far future. :)

So, where to begin...I have about 50 links sitting around waiting to be posted, not too many of which still matter. I'll start with current things and work backwards over the next week or so (or until I get tired of it).

Many interesting pieces lately from the New York Times. First, is capital punishment really a deterrent?:

  • States With No Death Penalty Share Lower Homicide Rates [New York Times]
    Indeed, 10 of the 12 states without capital punishment have homicide rates below the national average, Federal Bureau of Investigation data shows, while half the states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the national average.

    In Honolulu, [a] prosecuting attorney, Peter Carlisle, said he had changed his views about capital punishment, becoming an opponent, after looking at the crime statistics and finding a correlation between declines in general crimes and in the homicide rates. "When the smaller crimes go down — the quality of life crimes — then the murder rate goes down," Mr. Carlisle said.

    Therefore, he said, it was preferable to spend the resources available to him prosecuting these general crimes. Prosecuting a capital case is "extremely expensive," he said.

    By the very nature of the gravity of the case, defense lawyers and prosecutors spend far more time on a capital case than a noncapital one. It takes longer to pick a jury, longer for the state to present its case and longer for the defense to put on its witnesses. There are also considerably greater expenses for expert witnesses, including psychologists and, these days, DNA experts. Then come the defendant's appeals...

    [Milwaukee D.A. E. Michael] McCann prosecuted [Jeffrey L.] Dahmer, but the case did not dissuade him from his convictions on the death penalty. "To participate in the killing of another human being, it diminishes the respect for life. Period," Mr. McCann said. He added, "Although I am a district attorney, I have a gut suspicion of the state wielding the power of the death over anybody."

My personal opinion is, state executions are not a deterrent, they are if anything an encouragement to violent offenders. They lead by bad example -- by saying it's OK for the state to solve its problems by killing people who did Vile Thing X, is it so great a leap for a citizen to conclude that it's OK for him/her to kill someone who is known by them to have done Bad Thing Y?

Yes, yes, it's a faulty parallel for someone to make, but it rings more true to me than the argument that someone supremely angry at an acquaintance will stop himself and say 'but wait...if I'm caught, it's the chair for me... naw, better not.' The Times article does a good job of questioning the deterrence argument; I'm interested to see if anything comes of it.

The NYT Sunday Magazine has an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the various late-night comedy shows, their political humor and its biases:

  • The Stiff Guy vs. the Dumb Guy [NY Times]
    Leno: "How many Ralph Nader jokes do you hear? You don't. Here's a guy, he comes out and tells it like it is. My job's over!"

    Some guest shots yield bitter fruit. Take the March [Letterman] interview with Bush. (The Bush campaign, it should be noted, declined several requests to be interviewed for this article.) ...[retelling of Bush's bizarre heart-surgery joke]... Letterman traded shrugs with one of his producers, Rob Burnett. The audience actually booed. In three minutes, Bush had confirmed his late-night (modern translation: "popular") image as a flyweight who gibbers when he is off script.

    Within the intricate calculus of bias in comedy, "The Daily Show" is the smartest television show in the country today. Fully embracing the staleness of politics and the media that cover politics, it satirizes the whole game. In a 30-minute format, the show consistently offers the sort of nuanced and complicated comedy that would meet with a grisly fate on the other late-nights. ... Without fear of puzzling his audience, [Jon Stewart] refers to Joe Lieberman as a man "ready to build that bridge to the 59th century."

I certainly wouldn't recommend the late-night shows as one's only source of political news like one of the interviewees [shudder], and I don't find much that Jay Leno does funny in the least, but I do find The Daily Show in particular to be very refreshing at the end of a day.

Really long, fascinating mix of different bigshots' views on Napster, digitization, artists' needs and so on. RIAA president Hilary Rosen's first comment is on target; the rest of her diatribes are fairly useless IMHO. The whole thing's worth at least skimming...

  • Is It Theft, or Is It Freedom? 7 Views of the Web's Impact on Culture Clashes [NY Times]
    Gene Kan/Gnutella: If it's on your computer, it's in a file. So, if one wants to get anything done on the Internet, it's going to involve the sharing of files. It's easy and getting easier. FTP, IRC, e-mail, Usenet, AIM, the Web and now Napster and Gnutella are all great ways to share files. Improvement of file sharing is one of the best things that can happen to the Internet, because it is one of only a few things that we use the Internet for. The most interesting advance that Napster made was to create a narrowly focused system which combined the searching for files and the sharing of files.

    Esther Dyson/ICANN: [The big deal is] Because record companies lose revenues, natch. It's that simple. The problem is that record companies now charge so much (and deliver so little to the artists on the other end) that people feel justified in stealing. Both sides are behaving badly.

    Hilary Rosen/RIAA: ...a record company [contributes value] by investing in the "creation of the demand" for an artist's music. I don't think that will change. Helping an artist create the demand for their music is a critical factor in their careers. ... That process does not come cheap in the physical world -- or in the online world.

    Kevin Smith/Director: With music, there's a high chance the downloader will still wind up buying the CD. For those who would download movies off the Net, the chances of them actually then paying to see the movie theatrically as well are slim. ... File sharing of film on the Net would hurt the movie biz more than file sharing of music can hurt the music biz.

    David Boies/Lawyer: An industry at war with its customers is an industry in trouble. The RIAA and its members are making users mad as hell, and these users will find a way not to take it anymore.

    Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): I think the challenge is daunting, and may require charging lower prices than some companies want to now, but I think most people will pay for music and movies, knowing the source is legitimate, provided it's widely available. On the other hand, people may not be willing to pay exorbitant prices when riskier -- but free -- alternatives exist. The problem is we do not know now because very little, if any, legitimate product is being offered at any price.

    Kevin Smith: I think the file sharing may lead to stronger albums, if you ask me. Consumers are tired of blowing 15 bucks on a CD that contains only one single they like. Why blow the cash when you can just download the one single you want to hear? If this happens enough, maybe the music biz will take note and try to produce more than one-hit-wonder albums.
    Being that I rarely if ever see any back-end on the flicks I've made, it's not like I benefit from the prosecution of file sharers. Eat the rich, I say.

    Hilary Rosen: Sen. Hatch incorrectly (but articulately!) suggests that record companies provide only manufacturing and distribution and are therefore afraid of the non-physical world. The fact is that the true expense and importance of any middlemen between artist and fan is when they create the demand for the artist's work itself. That is what record companies do most of the time.

Ms. Rosen is right in the context of the "mega-score", where someone vaults from obscurity into having a huge huge hit record; this is not necessarily every musician's goal, or at least it's not realistic to think everyone could reach it (though I'm sure A&R people try to sell the dream to whatever musicians they sign).

"Making enough to get by while still making music" is, I believe, what 'success' means to many musicians, but that's not something the record industry seems interested in helping them work toward, nor do I think the record industry's 'demand creation' practices are necessary for musicians to achieve it. So, I believe Rosen and her ilk will be increasingly less relevant to the distribution of music over time.

A side note: while many (perhaps most) of Senator Orrin Hatch's views differ enormously from my own, I think he's really got a good handle on digital-convergence and online copyright issues [should I add '... for a Senator' or not... decisions, decisions... nah]. I think it may have something to do with the fact that he's also a musician who's actually made and sold records, so he actually has an understanding of the artists' point of view.

In a related story, Courtney Love (whose music I'm thinking I'll have to check out sometime if she keeps this up, though I haven't been tempted before) keeps up her recent pattern of gutsy truth-telling:

  • Courtney Love demands some cash [Upside]
    In the nine months since it filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against (MPPP), Universal Music Group has said over and over again that it is battling the online music portal to protect the financial interests of its legendary stable of performers. After it said as much in court papers, a federal judge ordered to pay Universal between $120 million and $250 million in damages on Sept. 6.

    But Universal recording artists will never see a dime of that cash, one of the label's most prominent musicians, Courtney Love, now says. And so, the Grammy Award-winning singer says she will turn the tables on Universal and ask a court to fine the company for stealing her music.

  • Love's original message [via Scripting News]
    I call this racketeering and so should you.

This recent report from the CSTB might prove valuable reading for anyone looking at online intellectual-property issues... (I haven't read it all yet, but I have it on good authority that it's high-quality):

And I just can't finish this entry without pointing to some fine commentary on the Bush campaign over the past few weeks:

  • This Modern World, 9/18/2000 [Salon]
    ...isn't he basically admitting that he reneged on the first promise he ever made his wife -- in the interests of political expediency?

Over-the-top Chris Hitchens piece on Bush's supposed dyslexia... if nothing else, it at least makes you wonder...

  • Why Dubya Can't Read [The Nation, via Robot Wisdom]
    His brother Neil is an admitted dyslexic. His mother has long been a patron of various foundations and charities associated with dyslexia. How plain it all now seems.

    The rhetorical and linguistic train wrecks in the speeches of Reagan and Bush Senior were of a different quality ... the problem was chiefly syntactical. The additional humiliations of Dubya derive from utter failures of word recognition.

    Aides now remember the times they presented the governor or the candidate with that crucial briefing paper, only to see him toss it on the desk and demand a crisp, verbal, "bottom line" summary of its contents. Decisive, right? Wrong.

That last point bothers me immensely; if true (and it has support from sources other than Hitchens), the Republicans would not elect Bush, they would elect "Bush's Aides", an un-scrutinized set of folks who can tell Bush whatever they think will get the 'right' answer out of him without fear that he'll go read up on his own and catch them in a lie. At least Gore is an avid reader of policies; his decisions seem like they would come from his own research.

And, John Scalzi hits exactly the right note on Bush's mangling of 'subliminabominable':

  • John Scalzi's Whatever, 9/13/2000 []
    To tell you the absolute truth, I'm far more troubled by the fact Bush doesn't appear to know the word "subliminal" than I am by any suggestion that subliminal advertising was attempted by the RNC. "Subliminal" ain't that uncommon a word, folks. I think we can reasonably expect the potential leader of the free world to be able to pronounce it correctly.

What disturbs me about Bush's slips is that right after each one, he doesn't seem to realize he's made a mistake. Most people, if they misspeak, will back up and fix the error; Bush just barrels on ahead, which makes me suspicious that he just doesn't realize it. If he would just re-state what he meant, correctly, there would be no 'Bushisms' craze.

Steve's summary of the 2000 election: Gore is a liar and a cheat and doesn't deserve to be elected... but Bush is downright unequipped to do the job. Please vote your conscience.

I may repeat this a few times between now and Election Day.

All the pundits and politicos say "it'll be a close election". This sounds like an eminently reasonable prediction, perhaps even one formed with special inside knowledge, until you think about what it would mean for someone to say the opposite. If it was a journalist, they'd be canned for bias (even if they were basing it on simple observation); if it was a politician, they'd be pilloried for either overconfidence or subversion.

I say it's the safe, default, meaningless prediction, and therefore a coward's prediction. My prediction is, Bush will lose, big time. If I'm wrong, then, well, I'm wrong, but that is in fact what I think.

More soon... at least, I intend more soon...

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