Monthly Archives: March 2013

Rights and Privileges

I didn’t have a clever variation of an equal sign .GIF to use as a profile picture, but let me go on record as saying that I unequivocally support equal rights for people. Specifically, I support marriage equality. But, in a broader sense, I support “rights” which, by definition, really ought to be “equal” for everyone.

Rights that aren’t equal are privileges (“private laws”). I can’t say that I support a lot of privileges. It really gets my goat when people say “Letting someone else have what I have diminishes MY thing.” Does letting more people get married diminish your marriage? Only if you get off on having something that other people can’t have. Does granting citizenship to people make your struggle for citizenship meaningless? Can you imagine if civil rights leaders in the 50’s thought like that? “Well, I had to work hard and risk everything for equality. If you don’t have to work as hard as I did, you shouldn’t get the benefits I fought for. It diminishes my struggle!”

Rights don’t diminish when they’re distributed; they’re strengthened. It’s privilege that’s diminished. It’s really petty to think that what you have is only worth having so long as other people can’t have it.

 

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Filed under Philosophy, Politics

Fighting Obtuse with Obtuse

When I was in school (which was quite a long time ago), I was probably a real pain in the butt to my teachers. When they offered up writing assignments, my favorite thing was to take their premise and run off in a logically defensible but clearly unintended (and usually wrong) direction. I’d play by their rules, but if their rules left me room to play, I loved to do exactly that to the greatest degree I could get away with.

So, imagine my join when I read this:  ND lawmakers define life as starting at conception, in bid to outlaw abortion.

The upshot is that the folks in North Dakota intend to convey full “personhood” rights at the moment of conception. So, in order to achieve a desired result (“outlaw abortion”), they’re going to pass into law something that is not true. When you do that, you leave the door open for some pretty strange scenarios.

First of all, note that life begins at conception (egg meets sperm), not at pregnancy (implantation in uterine wall). Those are two very different things. There can be a gap of several days between them, and, more to the point, the number of conceptions that result in pregnancy is well south of 100%, and this often happens without anyone even knowing about it. Under the proposed North Dakota law, this presents an obvious problem. This is a person now, not just two cells that bumped together in the night (or maybe at noon, if you’re into that sort of thing). I wonder how North Dakota intends to ensure the safety of these “people”? The kind of surveillance required to make certain we can account for all of these “people” would make the trans-vaginal ultrasound look positively non-invasive in comparison.

Of course, even if a pregnancy occurs, there’s no guarantee that it will result in birth even if you ban abortions. Twenty percent of all pregnancies result in miscarriages, most of which occur in the first trimester

“Many women don’t even know that they’ve had a miscarriage (since they hadn’t known they were pregnant), thinking that it’s just a particularly heavy menstrual flow.”

Again, this event takes on much greater significance if all conceptions legally have the full rights and legal protections of a person. While we tend to regard these kind of miscarriages are spontaneous events, but that doesn’t mean that the odds of a miscarriage can’t be affected by factors like activity or smoking or drinking. That suggests the possibility of criminal culpability should a miscarriage occur even for someone who doesn’t know she’s pregnant. Someone’s got to protect North Dakota’s most defenseless citizens!

Wait, did I say “citizens”? Scratch that. It turns out that the constitution makes it pretty clear that one of the qualifications for citizenship is “birth.” You’re not a citizen until you’re born. So…that little mass of cells that have all protections due a person do not have the protections due a citizen. Go ahead and play around with that one for a while.

I could go on and on about how North Dakota’s law allows one to claim dependents on tax forms at a surprisingly early stage, or, sheesh, literally dozens of other implications of this law, but I think the point has been laid out.

Yes, I’m being willfully obtuse about this. But, I’m not the one claiming that personhood is conferred at the moment of conception. I’m just laying out the conclusions one can reach if you start from that clearly bogus jumping-off point.  That’s what you get when you try to pass a fiction into law. You get mocked. And you really, really deserve it.

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Hello World indeed

I’m in the process of porting from Blogger over here to WordPress. The interface and tools over here are significantly better than what I’ve been using. That’s saying damned little, of course. Blogger never achieved even LiveJournal-levels of sophistication.

So, let’s take this one out for a spin and see what we wind up with. This could be a lot of fun…or at least less-aggravating than the old joint.

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Inner Dialog Via Other People’s Blogs

Yesterday, I posted, among other things, an unreasonably defensive comment on Amanda Palmer’s experience at SxSW this year. One theme I’ve been beating into the ground lately is that artists are ill-served by licensing their work exclusively through old distribution channels that produce physical reproductions of the artists’ work (CDs, books, etc.).

This morning, Charlie Stross responded to…well, ok, he wasn’t responding to me at all, but he might as well have been:

Why I Don’t Self-Publish from Charlie’s Diary

The short version is that the creation of a book requires a lot of skills that have nothing to do with “writing cool SF novels” and he’s essentially outsourcing those business and production tasks to people who are good at them so he can spend more time doing what he does well and enjoys. That’s a great point. One thing I usually fail to mention when I’m on my soapbox is that most artists are in it for the art, not for the business minutiae, the supply chains, the marketing, and all that other stuff. There’s value in having someone else to do all of that work. And really, only the artist can make the decision as to how interested they are in the other aspects of the biz and how much of it they’re willing to farm out and how much money and/or control they’re willing to give up for the convenience.

I’ve overgeneralized about these manufacturing and distribution middlemen. They’re not all the same. Many small record labels are DIY affairs by people who love music but can’t actually create music (not that I can relate to that). Some distributors take less and add more value. My qualms are with the big guys, the CBS/Warner/Elektra/Atlantic types that squat like toads between artists and fans and require tribute from both sides well beyond the value they add simply because they can.  These are the entities that have spent untold amounts of money trying to buy legislation that will enforce their position in the food chain long after they’ve ceased to serve any useful function. But, for every Columbia, there are dozens of Matadors and it’s not fair of me to leave them out of the discussion.

Many of the reasons that Mr. Stross cites have to do with the production of physical books. Like it or not, physical books are going to make up less and less of a writer’s revenue stream in the future. It’s not hard for me to envision a “publisher” that handles the editing, taxation, and business chores, but leaves out most of the “putting ink on dead trees and trucking them around the world” parts of the gig. That’s a model that could, in theory, allow the artist the same amount of time to do his or her thing, while making their art more accessible at a lower price point and yet still make more profit for the artist and the publisher. Win/win, as they say.

So…let me revise my rant-y position: I’m not against all dinosaur media entities, just the ones that try to force artists and consumers into business models that don’t necessarily apply anymore, and especially those that try to influence legislation to perpetuate their no-longer-natural monopoly.

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My Morning Feed

I use my morning commute to catch up on my RSS feeds (I’m not driving) instead of reading a newspaper. It’s one of those many things that Warren Ellis presaged in Transmetropolitan: A vehicle full of people, stacked in like sardines, reading feeds instead of interacting with each other. This morning’s read was particularly interesting and I wanted to elaborate on some of the posts:

“Big Government run amok: Obama Administration says citizens have no ‘reasonable expectation’ the government won’t track them everywhere they go” from Grits for Breakfast

Aside from the fact that this administration has been a dismal failure on privacy and civil liberties issues, my big takeaway from this is that the courts have, in general, been better than I expected on this issue. Justice Sotomayor has been a nice surprise so far. I expect her and Scalia to provide a lot of amusing interplay over the next few decades.

Really, it’s kind of pathetic to think that the government believes that attaching a device to your vehicle to track your every move shouldn’t count as a “search.” That strikes me as so far over the line that we shouldn’t even have to have this discussion.

“An object lesson for those who doubted” from Pharyngula

The lesson? When somebody says something monumentally stupid and offensive, slap them down hard. Silence implies agreement, at least in their mind. We might call this the lesson of the nuttiest site on the web, wherein stupid and offensive are not only allowed to fester, but they’re encouraged and reinforced. 15 years ago, that site was very different. It was the home of relatively civil discussions of a reasonably intellectual brand of conservatism.

Another lesson? When you say something stupid, it’s not an abridgment of your right to free speech when people react loudly and negatively to the stupid (or even clever) thing that you’ve said. They’ve got the same rights to free speech as you do. And, finally: Decrying someone for being intolerant doesn’t make you intolerant. I’ve heard that argument so many times and it doesn’t hold up. Moving along…

“How to crowdsource a sxsw showcase & panel in under 24 hours” from Amanda Fucking Palmer

Ms. Palmer is something of a lightning rod these days. Many people react very negatively to anything she does, but I find her unfailingly interesting even when I don’t agree with her. This is a very “Amanda” post: It’s all over the place but there are many bits of very intriguing information in there.

Specifically, this post is about her experience at SxSW this year and about how she managed to put a 3 1/2 hour show together in almost no time. It’s a lot of fun to watch the way she engages her audience – I’ve never seen anything remotely like it. If I were an artist, I’d be taking notes.

There’s been a lot of backlash to her TED talk which I find a little baffling. The complaints have centered around the idea that, since she’s successful, she has no right telling less-successful artists that they ought to be ok with giving their art away. Of course, what she’s doing is explaining how she became successful and inviting others to become successful the same way, but for some reason, a lot of folks have decided that views on the subject are invalid because of who she is.

So, you folks who don’t like her way of monetizing her art, please understand this: Any money you receive for reproductions of your art, be it music, writing, video, or whatever, is tantamount to receiving a tip. There is no way to prevent people from copying and redistributing your work if they’re of a mind to do so. Payment is more a matter of personal choice and individual views of right and wrong than anything that you or any government can enforce. Her way of doing things may not appeal to you, and that’s cool. But her way of doing things is a reaction to the new reality and, if you don’t emulate her, at least recognize that she’s trying to show you how it can be done.

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And, finally…Google.

What the crap are you doing by killing Google Reader and RSS plug-in support in Chrome? I read all of my RSS feeds in Google Reader because I made a conscious decision to buy in to the Google ecosystem. It’s a matter of convenience to me. I like all of these nifty things are linked through my Google log in and they work on my Android phone and my Chrome browser almost seamlessly. I bought into this because I trusted that Google would be a stable, always-there platform for delivering these services.

So, beyond inconveniencing me by killing Reader, you’ve made me question my investment in your whole system. Blogger is, quite frankly, a piece of crap. I expected that it would see some love after Google+ started to take off, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen and I wouldn’t be shocked if Blogger wound up on the chopping block.

To me, a lot of the value of “going Google” was in the breadth of products that worked together. I’m now looking at moving this blog to another platform, and I’m less than certain that my next phone will be an Android phone. I mean, if I’m going to just be picking and choosing best-of-breed apps and platforms rather than sticking with a single, integrated solution, I might as well re-think the whole kit and kaboodle.

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Filed under Blogging, Music, Technology

How To Ruin A Good Blog Post


I’ve done it, you’ve done, we’ve probably all done it. We’ve written something that’s really clear, concise, and entertaining that cuts right to the heart of an important point…and then ruined it with a single paragraph that goes so far off the point that the entire piece seems kind of crap.

Cord Jefferson has a good post over at Gawker about trying to work as a writer in this strange digital age wherein artists are frequently asked to work for free. It’s an interesting article, full of personal experience and   basic industry common sense. It’s worth a read.

However, it’s hard to discuss non-traditional payment models these days without bringing Amanda Palmer into the argument. Cord Jefferson really does not like Amanda Palmer. 


Wealthy musician Amanda Palmer, who last year raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to produce and release a record, recently used a TED talk to expand on the idea that artists should be willing to work for free. After relaying a story about how she used to be a street performer, Palmer, who is married to a very successful author named Neil Gaiman, told an audience of people who’d paid $7,500 apiece to be there that musicians shouldn’t “make” people pay for their work, but rather “let” people pay for their work. She also explained that she found it virtuous when a family of undocumented immigrants huddled together on their couch for a night so that she and her band could have their beds, because her music and presence was a fair exchange for the family’s comfort. After about 13 minutes of explaining why she is content with people giving her things, Palmer received a standing ovation.


For what it’s worth, I am a fan of Palmer’s music and I find her relentless connection with her audience interesting and endearing, so I am coming at this from a very different angle than Jefferson. Whatever my biases, though, Jefferson grossly misrepresented Palmer’s TED talk, which says a lot more about him than it does about her.

The very first word he uses to describe her is “wealthy” which, even if it were accurate, isn’t really germane to what she had to say. As a long-time fan, I can assure you that for the vast majority of her career, she’s been anything but wealthy. The dig about her marriage to Neil Gaiman, which was apparently another attempt to cast her as wealthy and privileged, is even more unfair and less relevant. Even if she’s well-off now (and I don’t know that that’s the case), her story of how she went from being a street performer to being well-off without putting price tags on things is kind of the whole point of the talk, isn’t it?

The point was certainly not “artists should work for free.” If that’s what you took away from it, probably need to watch the video again. Neither was her main thrust “people should give her things.” She was the one who was giving her art away and then letting the audience offer support as they saw fit. 

As Palmer pointed out, the modern model of mass-producing reproductions of artist’s work, wherein the distributor had a monopoly to hold over both artists and customers, is an anomaly and it has run it’s course. The price/value of art can no longer be determined by the cost of reproducing and distributing the art because both of those items are essentially free now. We can argue about whether or not that’s a good thing or not, but it is an undeniably true thing. The safety blanket of licensing your art to a distributor is over. Your work can now be losslessly copied an infinite number of times at almost no effort, and those copies can be accessed from any point on this planet. 

So what are you going to do about it? Amanda Palmer is trying to share with you the things that have worked for her. Those things might not work for you. Those things might not be things you would want to do. But for fuck’s sake man, don’t get pissy because she’s figured out how to do something that you haven’t. She’s giving it away, for free. Don’t act so whiny about it. 

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