A few thoughts from a nerd who actually DOES care about politics

Jason Kottke linked to a post by David Roberts on Vox today:

Tech nerds are smart. But they can’t seem to get their heads around politics.

This is a great article on nerds and politics, or their lack of interest therein. It addresses a lot of the misconceptions that cloud our understanding of the political landscape in America.

But even as it tears apart the false dichotomy between the two major parties (i.e. they are not “mirror images” of each other), it falls prey to that exact line of thinking with one example it gives.

A voter with one extreme conservative opinion (round up and expel all illegal immigrants immediately) and one extreme liberal opinion (institute a 100 percent tax on wealth over a million dollars) will be marked, for the purposes of polling, as a moderate.

OK, that’s a helpful illustration. Except. There really are people on the right (*ah-hem* Donald Trump) saying we should round up and expel all “illegal immigrants” (don’t use that term) immediately. But there is no one on the left proposing anything even close to a 100% tax on wealth over a million dollars.

It’s hard, even for people trying to expose the lack of a parallel on the left to the extremism on the far-right, to avoid thinking the far-left is populated by crackpots with ludicrously draconian, totalitarian ambitions. But those people do not exist. There is no “far-left” in American politics, equivalent to the far-right.

Even Bernie Sanders, who self-identifies as a socialist — in America! gasp! get me my clutchin’ pearls! — isn’t proposing things like that. The ideas coming out of the left are reasonable and rational, benefitting the vast majority of Americans (at the expense only of those who can easily afford it) while pursuing a progressive goal of greater equality and opportunity for all. They only seem “extreme” because they are so radically different from the course we’ve been traveling on for the past 30ish years.

The real fault of logic here is in assuming that the “center” of current American political thinking is anywhere near the true center of the spectrum of possibilities.

Confession: I wrote this as soon as I hit that “100% tax” line because it aggravated me so much. The rest of the article furthers most of the ideas I’m expressing here, and is far more detailed and well-researched. It is absolutely worth reading, above my rants, but I still think it’s worth calling out this particular example.

In a future post I’ll take on the other big issue I see with nerds and politics: that nerds’ general disdain for politics leads them into a superficial alignment with libertarianism. But that very disdain is also the reason why they don’t explore deeply enough to realize how problematic libertarianism is, and how much it really doesn’t represent their values.

Discovering the Driftless

What if you lived in the middle of a geological curiosity and didn’t even know it?

Well, maybe not the middle, but just beyond the western edge? That was me, growing up in Austin, Minnesota. Austin is on the eastern edge of the prairie, flat and surrounded by corn and soybean fields. It’s a small company town, headquarters of Hormel Foods. A union town. And as a kid, the only thing I knew about the area that was noteworthy was that we invented Spam.

But I did also know that just a bit farther to the east, the terrain got… weird. Flat cornfields turned into rolling hills, and then into steep bluffs as you approached the Mississippi River. On the other side of the river, in Wisconsin, things got even weirder, with strange rock formations dotting the hilly landscape, until eventually farther to the east things flattened out again. And I knew the place was weird below the surface too, with caves and underground streams.

I often wondered what made the areas just to the east of my hometown so much different than where I lived, or anywhere else I had ever seen, for that matter. But not enough to really explore or investigate it. Even as an adult. After all, the Midwest is boring. If you want interesting landscapes, you go to Utah or Arizona or really anywhere besides what feels like the least exotic place on the planet.

Catch My Drift

Last year, while working on the Land Stewardship Project website, I encountered a term I had never heard before: “Driftless.” Specifically, the “Driftless Area,” a name applied to that “weird” part of southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin near where I had grown up.

I wondered why it was called “Driftless.” I assumed it had to do with drifting snow. That would seem to be a logical assumption: from Austin west to the South Dakota border, snow drifting across the windswept prairie is such a problem that there are permanent gates at most entrances to I-90, so the road can be shut down easily during big winter storms. Drifting snow is not as much of a problem farther to the east, where the hilly terrain keeps it (somewhat) in check.

But I found it a bit strange that the area would be called “Driftless” for that reason. And it’s not.

Drift, in geological terms, refers to sediment and rocks left behind by retreating glaciers, which in addition to leaving behind drift, tend to flatten out and otherwise disrupt whatever landscapes had previously existed before them.

It’s no surprise to anyone who understands even the most basic principles of geology that most of the Upper Midwest was covered by glaciers in the last ice age. But, strangely, a large area was completely untouched by the glaciers, bounded roughly by the cities of Eau Claire, Wisconsin on the north; Rochester, Minnesota on the west; Madison, Wisconsin on the east; and the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois on the south. This is the Driftless Area, so named because it was untouched by the drift left behind as the glaciers of the most recent ice age retreated.

The Driftless Area is so different, then, primarily for two reasons: first, its landscape and features were not flattened and transformed by the glaciers themselves; and second, because the runoff from the melting glaciers further carved and shaped the already odd landscape. Where the retreating glaciers had left behind prairies dotted with lakes, the untouched Driftless Area was left with deep river gorges, sinkholes, bluffs and monadnocks. The Mississippi River runs right through the middle of the Driftless Area, and its gorge and present course were formed during the melting period.

“That Sounds Like a Desert or Something”

The biggest question I have now is not how did this place get the way it is, but why had I never heard of it before? I’m still just beginning to explore the answer to this new question, but I suspect partly it’s because the geology and geography of the area are still being studied, just beginning to be understood.

A documentary film project is underway, exploring Mysteries of the Driftless Zone. The filmmakers are exploring the area both above and below the surface, studying its strange topography, rock formations, caves and unique life forms that survived the ice age and now exist here and nowhere else.

As this clip shows, they’re also touching on the other mystery of the Driftless Area: how people who live in it (and La Crosse, Wisconsin is as “in it” as you can get) don’t even know it exists.

It’s fascinating how giving something a name can give it importance and meaning. Although I’ve always liked and been interested in this area, I find it much more compelling now that I can think of it as a distinct thing with a name. Why is that?

Geo(logical)-Politics

As another final curiosity, and harkening back to a blog post I wrote after the 2008 election — discussing the fact that the curious distribution of votes for President Obama in the Deep South in that year’s election closely followed the contours of the Atlantic coastline from the Cretaceous Period, 85 million years ago — we have this blog post by Scott Sumner.

While Mitt Romney carried most rural parts of the country except those that have a specific historical or demographic reason to favor the Democrats (African-American voters in the Deep South, non-whites in the Southwest, miners in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range), there was one fairly large, weird blob in the rural Upper Midwest, an area populated largely by white farmers, that is uniformly blue on the 2012 election map… the Driftless Area.

Sumner gives no explanation or theory for why the Driftless Area favored Obama — simply noting that it did. The county I grew up in is on the edge of that blob. It’s always gone for the Democrats as far back as I can remember, but that’s always been primarily because of the strong union presence in Austin. And I’ve always felt that farmers in Minnesota might favor the Democrats more than their counterparts in other states because of our state’s peculiar political history: we don’t have the Democratic Party. We have the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL, resulting from the 1944 merger of the Democrats with the Farmer-Labor Party, a left-wing third party that was fairly successful in the early 20th century and was a key to the enduring progressive populist bent of the state’s politics to the present day.

But that’s a bit of a tangent here… I still don’t really know or even have a theory as to why the Driftless Area — all of it, not just the part in Minnesota — went for Obama. (Especially when you consider that Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, is from the Driftless Area, or just east of it.) I just think it’s interesting and… weird, like the place itself.

Transcript of President Obama’s speech at the Sandy Hook prayer vigil

This morning I wrote a long (over 1400 words) blog post about guns and freedom in America. I haven’t published it, and I probably won’t, because it’s so difficult to put into words what I feel and what I think about all that has happened recently.

Then I read the transcript of President Obama’s speech last night. There is nothing I can say about the situation that he did not say better, and in time I trust that his call to action will become clearer and more explicit about what exactly must be done to prevent similar tragedies in the future. But for now, I will let the President’s words speak for me.

Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests — Scripture tells us: “…do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away…inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”

We gather here in memory of twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school; in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight. And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown — you are not alone.

As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate. Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy — they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances — with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms, and kept steady through it all, and reassured their students by saying “wait for the good guys, they’re coming”; “show me your smile.”

And we know that good guys came. The first responders who raced to the scene, helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety, and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and trauma because they had a job to do, and others needed them more.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren, helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do; one child even trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, “I know karate. So it’s okay. I’ll lead the way out.” (Laughter.)

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other, and you’ve cared for one another, and you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered. And with time, and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves — our child — is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them. They’ll suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments. And we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.

And we know we can’t do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children.

This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America — victims whose — much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.

But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

All the world’s religions — so many of them represented here today — start with a simple question: Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose? We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain; that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame, or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that no matter how good our intentions, we will all stumble sometimes, in some way. We will make mistakes, we will experience hardships. And even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have — for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace — that is true. The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger — we know that’s what matters. We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.

That’s what we can be sure of. And that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do, for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them — for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.

God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort. And may He bless and watch over this community, and the United States of America. (Applause.)

Source: NPR

Why I’m voting no, twice (and I think you should too)

Tomorrow, finally, is Election Day. One of the most excruciating and interminable campaign seasons in modern memory will in a matter of hours be behind us. But the decisions we collectively make tomorrow will shape our state, our nation, and our world for years or decades to come.

Everyone who cares at all about any of this is watching the presidential race, to be sure, but here in Minnesota the big story is two proposed amendments to the state constitution. I believe these amendments are deeply, profoundly wrong for our state, and I will be voting NO on both. Here’s why.

The Marriage Amendment

The marriage amendment would insert a sentence into Article XIII of the state constitution, which would read as follows:

“Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota.”

What does this mean, exactly? Well, essentially it means that gay marriage — which is already illegal in Minnesota, by the way, and would remain illegal even without this amendment passing — would be far less likely ever to become a reality in Minnesota, at least in our lifetimes, because it’s a lot harder to change the constitution than it is to change a law.

So, why should gay marriage be legal? I’m not saying it should. (Well, OK, I am saying it should, but that’s not on the table here.) The legality of gay marriage in Minnesota isn’t even the question. By changing the constitution as such we are saying two things:

1. We don’t want to recognize legal marriages from other states where gay marriage is currently allowed.

2. We want to take away from future generations the right to decide the legality of gay marriage for themselves.

This last point is key to my larger argument about what’s afoot with both of these amendments, but I’ll get to that in a minute. For now, let’s focus on the impact this amendment will have, specifically on Minnesota’s same-sex couples and their families.

I have friends and neighbors who are in committed, long-term same-sex relationships. They own houses together, they have kids together, they will grow old together. They are great friends and neighbors, and they are just like our family, except for the genders of the adults in the household. That difference doesn’t change the love they feel, or the commitment, or their engagement with the community. But it does affect a lot of things large and small in their daily lives and long-term futures that heterosexual couples take for granted. Buying a house together. Having kids together. Paying taxes. Getting health insurance. Sending the kids to school. Growing old together. Visiting each other in the hospital. Saying goodbye. Every step in the journey of life is met by unnecessary hurdles and challenges, simply because of who they are.

Sound familiar?

Imagine if in the 1940s Minnesota had passed a constitutional amendment banning interracial marriages. Seems pretty absurd today. Well, in another couple of decades this constitutional amendment will look just as absurd — unless it passes tomorrow. Then it will endure as the law of the land. This is a civil rights issue, and on civil rights, though we have struggled mightily along the way, our nation has always moved forward, not backward. Let’s not start now.

Voter ID

The text of the question on tomorrow’s ballot pertaining to voter ID reads as follows:

“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”

Seems logical and fair, right? Many of us, in fact, are quite surprised when we arrive at the polls and we don’t need to show a photo ID already. Instead, we simply state our name and address, the volunteer looks us up in a big binder, and we sign on a line next to our name, indicating we’ve shown up to vote already, so we can’t come back again later.

Curious. Why aren’t we required to show a photo ID to vote? And why shouldn’t we be? The answer is quite simple: Not everyone who has a right to vote has a photo ID. Senior citizens, full-time students, low-income residents who don’t own a car… these are just a few of the groups of people who do have a right to vote in Minnesota but may very well not have a valid form of state-issued photo identification.

But wait, you say, the text of the proposal specifically stipulates that the state must provide free photo ID to all eligible voters. Problem solved.

Great… how will that be implemented? What is the process for these citizens to properly identify themselves to obtain the ID? Where will they go to get their pictures taken (and how will they get there)? Who will pay for all of this? (“Free” is great but this is going to cost somebody some money, probably a lot.)

So here we have two arguments against the amendment already: 1) plenty of eligible voters don’t presently have a valid photo ID, and 2) the process by which those voters would obtain said ID is not specified, nor is there any consideration of the cost of this unfunded mandate.

But before we even bother addressing those two arguments, let’s go back to the beginning: ostensibly the goal of this amendment is to reduce voter fraud, specifically in-person voter impersonation (which, after all, is the only type of voter fraud photo ID could possibly prevent). Plenty of information has come forth this year indicating this type of fraud is “virtually non-existent”. This amendment is a solution in search of a problem.

So if voter impersonation is virtually non-existent, and photo ID would place an undue burden on both voters (at least, a subset of voters, who typically tend to lean heavily Democratic) and on state and local government (and, indirectly, on taxpayers, who would need to fund the process), then what really is the motivation behind this amendment?

In fact, what is the motivation behind both amendments?

What is the motivation behind these amendments?

Up to this point I have focused on the details and implications of the amendments themselves in explaining why I am against them, but I don’t think we can honestly discuss the nature of these amendments without addressing the climate in which they were created.

In 2010, as part of the “Tea Party” movement that swept over America in the midterm elections, Minnesota wound up with its first Republican-majority state legislature in… well, as long as I’ve been alive, at least. The Tea Party movement was ostensibly, like the Boston Tea Party which inspired its name, about taxation without representation, or at least something about taxes. Small government. The kind Grover Norquist wants to be able to drown in a bathtub. The kind that stays out of people’s private lives and just does what the government is supposed to do, which is… you know… the military, and… well, that’s about it.

Given the stated motives of the Tea Party, I find it curious then (OK, not really so curious, since I’m not so ingenuous) that the only readily apparent accomplishment of Minnesota’s Tea Party legislature in the past two years has been to foist these two stinking amendment proposals upon our state, which in my lifetime was still a bastion of 20th century midwestern progressivism. (When I worked downtown I would gaze with pride every day upon the statue of Hubert H. Humphrey in front of City Hall. The statue is life-sized, because Humphrey was a man of the people.)

Neither of these amendments has anything to do with what, as I understand it, the Tea Party movement — or small-government, libertarian-leaning Republicanism in general — is supposed to stand for. These amendments are regressive, invasive social engineering at its worst. Sure, you’re letting “the people” decide. That’s democracy, right? But with incomplete and deliberately misleading information, and only a simple majority needed to pass, the Tea Party has seized upon its brief window of opportunity in the legislature to push their backward-looking agenda through before it’s too late. They’re desperately trying to save a vision of a fading “golden age” in America that never really existed, unless you were upper-middle class, white, heterosexual and healthy.

And this is where these amendments come back to the presidential election, too. This year’s election is, perhaps more than any other — even 2008 — a fork in the road the country will take for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond. Are we moving forward, or are we moving back? That’s the choice we’re making tomorrow. But really, it’s a false choice. Because “back” isn’t there anymore. (And, honestly, it never was.)

To learn more about the VOTE NO movement for both amendments, please visit mnunited.org and www.ourvoteourfuture.org.

Some final (?) thoughts on SOPA/PIPA

We did it! Apparently. Whatever “it” is.

Wednesday’s “SOPA Strike” finally got the attention of Congress (and millions of confused high school and college slackers who had to endure 24 hours without access to Wikipedia, humanity’s only known source of information). In the wake of the protests, sponsors of both the House and Senate bills “shelved” the bills.

For now, they’re gone. But do you remember the end of Halloween, when Loomis shoots Michael and he falls out the window, and then when they look down a second time, he’s gone? Yeah, that.*

Before I move on to other topics (hopefully forever), I just wanted to share some final thoughts about SOPA/PIPA.

1. They’re not really dead. Sure, it’s entirely possible that we’ll never hear about SOPA/PIPA — by those names — again. But if you think the MPAA, RIAA, and their legions of highly paid lobbyists are going to let it all go this easily, you must be new here. As long as there’s any chance that anything the entertainment industry owns is being copied illegally, which is to say, until copyright law is forgotten during the zombie apocalypse (which might just be led by Zombie SOPA itself), old media dinosaurs will continue to fight for their lives.

Actually dinosaurs employing an army of zombies to fight Internet cyborg pirates sounds like a perfect Hollywood movie idea. (Copyright 2012 Scott Anderson. All rights reserved.)

2. Piracy is not really the problem. Sure, piracy happens. Sure, it’s illegal, and very probably even “wrong.” But what’s really wrong (as in, factually incorrect) is the idea that piracy translates directly into lost income for movie studios and record labels, or, as they (and their cronies in Congress) like to put it, lost jobs for gaffers and key grips and best boys and Foley artists and all of those other weirdly named jobs you see scrolling by in extremely small type at the very end of the ending credits of big Hollywood movies.

Yes, if Hollywood goes down, it’s going to take those kinds of middle class jobs down with it. But trotting these people out to get the average person to support this legislation is not unlike Prolife Across America’s billboards with pictures of babies and speech bubbles saying “I could wiggle my toes at 18 weeks!” Bear with me. Regardless of whether they’re right or wrong on the issue, both tactics are designed to appeal on a very simple, gut emotional level, and to discourage critical thought about what’s really going on, whose agenda is really being promoted, and what the implications of that agenda are.

Aside from the documented cases of entertainment industry lobbyists making egregious “errors” in their calculations of the numbers of jobs affected or the billions of dollars “lost” each year to piracy, there’s the simple logical fallacy that every pirated movie or CD equates to a lost sale. On reflection, this should be obvious: many, if not most, of the people who are pirating a movie or an album were not likely to buy it otherwise.

Then again, sometimes getting a copy of an album from a friend turns a person into a lifelong fan of a musician. A personal example: in my life I have purchased every album ever released by both Rush and Yes, which is a lot (there are 31 Rush albums and 29 Yes albums in my iTunes library right now), several of them multiple times, as each new remastered version is released. I have seen these two bands in concert a combined 8 times. I’ve bought their concert videos on VHS and DVD. In all I’ve probably spent over $2000 in the past 20 years on my Rush and Yes obsessions. And it all began because a friend made me cassette copies of A Show of Hands and Classic Yes (both of which I subsequently purchased on CD) back in high school.

So, you see, piracy is not really the problem in two ways: 1) an instance of piracy doesn’t necessarily mean a lost sale up front, and 2) copying now may lead to a lot of purchasing later.

3. Copyright is broken anyway. The other day I mentioned that copyright law had been changed to allow Disney to retain exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse. In fact, the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 was even referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act! I’m not against copyright, per se. I believe that the creators of original works should reserve the right to decide how their works are used and distributed, and to profit from their efforts.

But I also believe that an ever-changing law that allows that protection to extend in perpetuity, long after the creator’s death, is counterproductive and harmful to the free exchange of ideas within a society. I’m firmly against software patents for the same reason. In fact, I’m even more against software patents than I am against indefinite copyright extension, but that’s a topic for another post. But I think it’s worth mentioning that I am equally, or even more so, opposed to protectionism in my own field than I am in the entertainment industry.

4. Adapt or die. That’s it, really. As I’ve noted previously, these bills (and any future legislation like them) are not really designed to protect the interests of content creators. They are intended to prop up a dying industry that grew fat on profits over a period (specifically the 1970s through the 1990s) when their business was built upon a model that is ultimately unsustainable, especially as new means of distribution have proliferated. Combine that with what is broadly regarded as a precipitous decline in the quality of their products, along with untenable pricing, and you have a perfect recipe for the kind of collapse and failure currently underway. Don’t blame piracy; blame yourselves for overcharging for a product of low value.

P.S. Boy, it feels good to be able to link to Wikipedia again!

* You seriously haven’t seen it, and I spoiled the ending for you? Whatever. Also, would describing a portion of a film in a blog post like this have been a prosecutable offense under SOPA/PIPA?