Archive for Democracy

Whose right is copyright?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2009 by njmalhq

I ran into a post last night, about the “Pirate 2 Pirate Kopimi Station” (via “MAKE: Blog“).  It is great that folks at Make are covering this emergent phenomenon.  But then they went ahead and made the following wimpy statement, which got me all riled up:

“Obviously this is not something we are encourage [sic] folks to do …”

In response I’d like to pose an open question: why not? Make supposedly is all about a certain grassroot DIY ethos.  Is that only going to go so far (to the extent of  for content owners who *do* want to share their works,) and stop short at certain things?  Like the concept of a public library, and the laws that make or break it. That, it is clear to me, is exactly what is being re-invented by the likes of Piratbyrån (wikipedia entry).   Is that degree of DIY outside the limits of the maker movement?  The idea of the public library must evolve into the 21st century. We can’t let Mickey Mouse tell us what the public library is.

There is the whole “content owner” thing.  But who decides where that begins and where that ends? The “who” and the “what,” and the “how long?” If it is the public that gets to decide, then the public has spoken. The amount of file trading that happens is proof enough that the public is okay with “piracy,” by and large. On the other hand, if it is the profiteer oligarch that gets to decide, who is often not even the content producer but “their agent,” and incidentally gets to keep bulk of the loot (just think of the “Life + 70 years” rule in that light), then I claim myself the agent of the ancient Greeks, Arabs, Indians, Phoenicians, Egyptians etc. Would all of current western civilization pay me 1000 years worth of copyright fees please? I am going to pass some of it on to the descendants of the producers, I promise!

There is a story about the ancient library of Alexandria, where king Ptolemy decreed that all visitors had to surrender books in their possession to be copied for the library to keep. There is nothing inherently universal about the right of copy ownership, the way it is commonly perceived today even by those contravening it.  So if I get to pick which law is better, Ptolemy’s law, anarchically instituted and executed, sounds like good copyright law to me. It is true that the “owners” will make less money. But what makes it my business to concern myself with their profit interest, instead of the public enlightenment interest?

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The Kleptocratic States of America

Posted in Democracy, Money, Politics with tags , , , on January 12, 2009 by njmalhq

From many years ago I recall a certain article in Newsweek that labeled Nigeria as Kleptocracy Central. Nigerians the world over were embarrassed, annoyed and up in arms about it. There was some truth to their indignation, although I think what many of them sought was total absolution. The truth is that the country was and is a kleptocracy. Nothing else can explain the gap between where it came from, and where it ended up. But calling it the capital of corruption was a little far fetched, which is what my Nigerian friends should have had issues with.

A few years later I came to the United States, and have since been getting some additional education on the subject. An American friend of mine who travels a lot to the remnants of the USSR recalls a moment of self deprecation when he found himself sharing some vodka with a Ukrainian. The drunk and morose man kept ranting about how corrupt his country was, and how everything was going to hell in a hand basket etc. My American friend ultimately responded by saying that the Ukrainian should consider himself lucky. Here the corruption is only retail. In his country, America, it is wholesale. The last 8 years have taught me the full meaning of this truism. Here is a nice article that sketches a map of contemporary corruption in this once (maybe in distant past, let us not forget Clinton’s Pardongate) great nation of ours:

http://tinyurl.com/9c4xj4

This is the beacon of democracy, freedom, justice, achievement, wealth and other civic goodies? There is a chasm of herculean proportions between where this country came from, and where it is ending up now. Much larger than anything that can be seen in any other country. So, to be fair to Nigeria, in Newsweek style, I propose that we rename USA to KSA, the Kleptocratic States of America (which ironically also stands for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Connections, connections, connections. James Burke, eat your heart out!), and Washington DC as Washington KC. The one and only legitimate claimant to the title of Kleptocracy Central.

Are You Pro Choice?

Posted in Democracy, Politics with tags , , , , , , on October 10, 2008 by njmalhq

A couple of days ago I found myself in a fairly familiar lunch hour confrontation.  Here is how it went.

Him: “You are NOT going to vote for Obama?!” angrily,  “Are you voting for McCain???”
Me: “No, I am not voting for McCain either.”
Him: “What, you are not going to vote at all?”
Me: “No that is not the case either, I am …”
Him: “I’m sorry, but that is just stupid.  Not voting is just stupid …”
Me: “I don’t see any reason why not voting isn’t a valid choice, but anyway I am not saying that I am not going to …”
Him: “No really, not voting is stupid.  Just plain unrealistic and stupid.  Big things are happening in this country and you are saying you are not going to be part of it.  That is complacency.  Complacency is just stupid …”
Me: “HEY!  Take it easy.  I never said I am not going to vote.”
Him: “So then what?  You are going to vote for someone else?”
Me: “Sure.”
Him: “I am sorry, that is stupid too.  That is just like not voting.  You are throwing your vote away.  You are burning it. ”
Me:  “You know, I have wondered about that, about whether that wouldn’t be a more effective and empowering expression of my choice.  A Gandhi style public vote burning …”
Him: “No, see here is how it works.  You have two choice on the menu, Vanilla, or Chocolate.  You are saying you want Strawberry.  You wanna go off the menu.  You have two choices, and you wanna go for one that isn’t there.  That is just plain stupid.”
Me:  “There is a third choice.”
Him: “No there isn’t.”
Me: “Yes there is.”
Him: “No, just two choices.”
Me: “Actually there is a third.  If you slow down a little, I’ll tell you about it.”
Him: “Okay,” impatiently, “what is the third choice?”
Me: “I always have the choice to not eat ice cream at all.”
Him: “That is just plain stupid.  How can you not eat ice cream?  That does not make sense. That is just plain stupid.”
Me: “Well, maybe ice cream is bad for ones health …”
Him: “That is just plain stupid.”

Which is where time ran out.  The lunch hour came to an end, just as my patience with this whole “stupid” thing was running out.  The “conversation” ended.  Yet another self satisfied political party fanatic goes off on his angry little way.  If you are not with him, you are against him.  If you are not in his party, you are a party pooper.  It is his way or the highway.  One finds this character, in overwhelmingly large numbers, in all political factions.  I wish he would slow down a bit and listen. Maybe the complexity of his world will increase for the better.  At least I might have been able to continue the conversation in one of the following two ways:

(1)
Me: “You know, your analogy is a little lame.  I like ice cream.  You like ice cream.  Who doesn’t like ice cream?”
Him: “Exactly!  Who doesn’t like ice cream?”
Me: “Lets try something else.  When was the last time you ate at Mc Donalds?”
Him: “I don’t eat Mc Donalds … ”
Me: “Well, there you go.  They’ve even got more than two choices on the menu, not just McCainuggets vs Oburger, and you still won’t eat there.”

In the theatrical version, the conversation would have concluded with Tribe Called Quest’s Ham n Eggs song trailing into the background.

(2)
Me: “I know you just love democracy, because it is all about choice right?”
Him: “Right!”
Me: “So, you need to decide if I as a voter have a choice or not.  You can’t have it both ways.”
Him: “What do you mean?”
Me: “I can’t have a choice, and have someone else make it for me.”
Him: “I still don’t get it.”
Me: “Well, I either have a choice or I don’t.  If I don’t have a choice, then voting is pointless, and possibly immoral.  It is pointless because it does not change the outcome.  At best it is a ceremonial, for-show endorsement.  Kinda like those one-choice elections in those banana republics like Zimbabwe.  And immorality may result from endorsing something reprehensible, even though it may be co-packaged with some good things.”
Him: “Okay.”
Me: “On the other hand, if I do have a choice, then my choice is my choice, not yours or anybody else’s.  You can’t frame it for me, nobody else can frame it for me, only I get to decide.  It is my choice.”
Him: “I see.”
Me: “Oh, by the way, you never gave me even two choices.  You are giving me only one.  Just one piddly choice.”
Him:”How’s that?”
Me: “You know I’d never opt for one of those two choices, not in a million years.  One of those two characters is absolutely the wrong choice, on the grounds of his specific lip-service record alone.  The other is the only possible choice you are giving me.  That is pathetic.  That is not democracy, that is more like monarchy. ”

(I did not have a good musical score to set this version of the conversation to.  I thought silence would be best, until my friend JG sent me a link to Devo’s Freedom of Choice .  Thanks JG!)

Unfortunately, such conversations will have to be relegated to immaginary corners of the lonely dark alleys of the net.  Simplistic tribalistic pre-framed discourse in the real world never leaves room for dialectics of even this level of complexity.

Democracy for Dummies

Posted in Democracy with tags , , , , on October 1, 2008 by njmalhq

Yet another thread originates from a Portland bus ride.  Yesterday I had to suffer a rather loud and obnoxious, semi-literate, twang-belching redneck with a giant cross around his neck attempting to publicly broadcast his opinion about the so called bailout.  At some point, very predictably, he held up his cross and Mr. Jesus barged into the soliloquy.  Come November this bus rider is going to vote, one can count on it.  Well, I thought to myself, thank you democracy for giving every moron a voice.

For the last half decade I have been struggling with the rise of Platonic sentiments in my political inclinations.  As my respect for democracy has dwindled and disappeared, I have often found myself espousing bits and pieces of the old philosopher’s position on the subject.   When I got home last night I tried to find some quick refresher material.  I immediately ran into an excerpt from  Jorn K. Bramann’s book Educating Rita and Other Philosophical Movies.  It is an excellent introduction to Plato’s criticism of democracy as the lowly form of government that it is. A position that I am firmly committing to henceforth.