Politics

More on Internet Radio: NPR Takes Action

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

From TFA:

This is a stunning, damaging decision for public radio and its commitment to music discovery and education, which has been part of our tradition for more than half a century. Public radio’s agreements on royalties with all such organizations, including the RIAA, have always taken into account our public service mission and non-profit status. These new rates, at least 20 times more than what stations have paid in the past, treat us as if we were commercial radio – although by its nature, public radio cannot increase revenue from more listeners or more content, the factors that set this new rate. Also, we are being required to pay an internet royalty fee that is vastly more expensive than what we pay for over-the-air use of music, although for a fraction of the over-the-air audience.

Save Internet Radio

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Internet Radio is in danger.  (Thanks for the heads up, Jeff Evans.)  This means sites like Pandora may have to be shut down.  Do something about it.  I wrote the following letter to my NY representatives:

The Copyright Royalty Fees for Internet Radio broadcasters (like the hugely innovative Pandora.com) have been increased to the point where many of these stations will have to close down.

The music industry has certainly made a big fuss about threats coming from the Internet, but I don’t spend any of my nights crying for the music industry.  They make millions upon millions of dollars, and keep America locked in a relative monoculture where new and independent artists are left out of the musical discourse while mindless and mind-numbing music is played everyday on radio stations across the ClearChannel nation.

Yet, despite my relative dislike for this exploitive industry, I have to say that every technological innovation that we’ve seen — from LPs to tape cassettes to CDs, and now to MP3s — has seen an increasingly growing recording industry, usually due to, rather than in spite of, these technologies.

Interent Radio actually has more of a potential to benefit the music industry than any other one of these technologies.  If you don’t know, Pandora.com is an amazing site based upon “The Music Genome Project.”  The concept is simple: you enter a song or artist on the site, and it creates a playlist of songs that “sound like” that artist or song.  I can mix these intangibles (“The Doors” and “Michael Jackson” gives me classic rock tones with pop melodies) and discover new artists I had never even heard about, simply by exploring my “taste matrix.”  This amazing functionality comes in particular handy after I get my paycheck, since I go to Pandora.com, see which artists/songs I’ve listened to lately, and with a click I can purchase these songs from the music industry.

I hadn’t bought a CD in years, until discovering Pandora and, through it, independent music I liked.

Who, exactly, loses in this situation?  I discover songs I’ve never heard of, I buy CDs that probably don’t sell very well, I get to benefit from high-quality radio from work on my work PC, and Pandora makes a tiny slice of money on advertising.

I’m sure the music industry wishes they had thought of Pandora, so that the little money that it does make from advertising would be theirs.  But tough!  This is supposed to be a competitive economic system, and if you snooze, you lose.  (Given actions like these by government, I’m not sure that it is really a competitive economic system, unfortunately!)

This is only the beginning of the places these technologies can go.  Don’t allow their efforts to be quelled by big corporate interests!  Please strike down these ridiculous copyright fees!

Think Corporate Power is showing any signs of weakness?  Nope.  The big wheels keep on turning…

Catching up on the reading list

Friday, March 9th, 2007

Lately, I’ve been very diligent about catching up on my reading.

I have been perpetually delaying a review of Capitalism 3.0 and Dreaming in Code, both of whom deserve it. But I promise one soon. I use Hofstadter’s Rule of Thumb lately for estimating time: however long you think it’s gonna take, double it and add a unit of time. So if you think it’ll take two hours, it’ll really take four days. If you think it’ll take five days, it’ll really take 10 weeks. And so on.

In the meanwhile, I’ve been busy at work — actually working on some cool stuff from a technology standpoint, mainly in the realm of hacking with pieces of the Eclipse Modeling Framework, and its related projects like GMF, RCP, Eclipse Core, etc.

On my commute, I’ve been enjoying reading Making Globalization Work by Stiglitz. Although one of my friends mentioned to me that this book would be quite boring, and for the most part he was right. Not the lofty stuff of Barnes in Capitalism 3.0; but perhaps Stiglitz’s recommendations are much more practical for ways to improve the current system.

The other book I started recently is a long, written interview with John Kenneth Galbraith (much in the style of Socrates) which is entitled, Almost Everyone’s Guide to Economics. What’s amazing is to see Galbraith, this towering (literally) Keynesian economic thinker, speaking in the 70s of the growth of corporate power, the undermining of labor, and the insidious nature of market fundamentalism. And yet, here we are, 30 years later, heeding none of his warnings, and entering into the new “global age” of “The World is Flat”.

Oh yes indeed, I do need to write some reviews very soon.

Finished Dreaming in Code

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Overall, Dreaming in Code was an interesting book. For programmers who already are obsessed with the classics of software engineering (Mythical Man-Month and friends), you probably won’t learn much new stuff in this book. However, the personal illustrations using OSAF did lead me to some self-evaluation of the work I do. It was also interesting to see the internal workings of an organization which seems to be set up ideally for programmers — a good mission, an open source project, no real deadlines or users in the beginning, design-focused, etc. — and still see it run into the same issues traditional software shops run into.

I’d post a longer review, but I’m headed down to New Orleans today. Will post a longer review when I get back, hopefully also of Capitalism 3.0, whose ideas have been swimming in my head the last few days of commute.  I think they really deserve to be summarized and presented here.

In the meanwhile, I’ve started reading Making Globalization Work by Joseph Stiglitz. This book, in particular, has been a kind of catharsis for most of my armchair ideas in economics, at least so far.  It’s a very strange feeling to read the ex-Chief Economist of the World Bank explaining his own ideas about overcoming the zealousness of “market fundamentalism” prevalent in economic circles, while I, who never studied economics formally, think, “Why would anyone trained in this discipline actually believe that markets are a magic force that work on their own?”  But I guess ideology always trumps rationality.

American Thinker?

Friday, February 16th, 2007

I just stumbled across this online newsletter called “The American Thinker.”  I will not link to it because I refuse to give this piece of trash a boosting in any search engine ranking.

I read an article on there (the first one I saw) called “Cultural Marxism.”  Its thesis is that though self-proclaimed communists hardly exist in America, the “new left” is organized around Marxist principles and is just a form of “masked communism.”  Here’s a nice quote:

Both communism and the New Left are alive and thriving here in America.  They favor code words: tolerance, social justice, economic justice, peace, reproductive rights, sex education and safe sex, safe schools, inclusion, diversity, and sensitivity.  All together, this is Cultural Marxism disguised as multiculturalism.

Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah …. it would be funny, if only it were made up.

Search for it yourself.  This is what the American Right reads and how they frame the progressive movement.  Absolutely stunning.

Way more interesting than YouTube

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

I found a site today called “Fora.tv”. It’s way more interesting than YouTube: it’s a free video site that features intellectuals and figures in public discourse.

Perfect for my commute. Up till now, I’ve been depending on PBS, which has good content, but doesn’t give it all away for free.

Check it out: Fora.tv.

In particular, there’s a talk by Peter Barnes (author of Capitalism 3.0) in there.

Finished reading Capitalism 3.0, missed speakers, drank dark beer

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

I finished reading Capitalism 3.0 a couple of days ago, and it was quite good. I promised a review, so that will be coming shortly. I also noticed that Joseph Stiglitz (ex-Chief Economist for the World Bank) wrote a new book as a follow-up to Globalization and its Discontents which is titled, Making Globalization Work, probably a nice follow-up to Capitalism 3.0.

Today after work I headed to NYU to hear Jimmy Wales give a talk on Wikipedia, but was dismayed to discover that the auditorium was packed and I couldn’t get in.

Then, I noticed that Ralph Nader was at the IFC Theater on 6th Avenue presenting the new documentary made about him called “An Unreasonable Man,” and I was about to go to the 4:55pm showing of that, but tickets sold out for that! Man, what bad luck!

At the end of the day, I ended up meeting Max for drinks at McSorley’s, so that’s not so bad. We talked a bit about Richard Dawkin’s book “The God Delusion,” and whether it’s a good thing that there is a zealous atheist roaming the streets of intellectual-dom.

The Unkindest Cut

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

A relatively unsophisticated article on circumcision showed up on Salon a few days ago. It’s entitled “The Unkindest Cut” and is about the conflict of a Jewish father between his Jewish mother and his non-Jewish wife over the issue of whether to circumcise his newborn son. Although it mentions some of the history of circumcision in the United States, it doesn’t go into nearly enough depth about how strange and barbaric the practice is. A letter that came into Salon from a reader has some good points, however:

This is one of the hottest parenting issues (along with breastfeeding and sleeping). I am not surprised that Salon is already flooded with letters and the emotions are rising high on both sides. I am the mother of a 3-year-old boy. He is uncircumcised and the idea of having him circumcised never even crossed my mind. I am from Europe, therefore circumcision is not part of my culture. My husband is a Hindu from India, so it isn’t part of his culture either. There is more and more evidence that shows that circumcision is an unnecessary procedure. There are more and more organizations and individuals trying to educate the public about this. Two of my favorites are: www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org and www.nocirc.org.

There is lots of very useful information regarding this topic. There are a few points I’d like to make for the sake of argument against it. Some fathers say: I want my son to look like me. So if you had a finger, a hand, or an arm missing from birth or as a result of an accident would you want to chop off your child’s corresponding body part just to make him look like you? (Sorry this is not my own idea but I like it a lot). The other point is my original thought: we, as Western society are outraged by the practice of female circumcision (mostly practiced in Africa and some predominantly Muslim areas elsewhere). What is the difference? That female circumcision is not a tradition in our culture. So it’s O.K. to keep mutilating our boys as long as we leave our girls alone… How hypocritical! And on top of that both traditions originate on the same basis: to reduce sexual pleasure and the desire to masturbate and enjoy sex.

As per some first person accounts from men who grew into adulthood intact and then got circumcised, they tell exactly how much less pleasurable sex is afterwards… Do a search on your favorite search engine for more info on the topic.

So as a parent of a boy I will leave my son’ penis alone and will make sure that everybody else does until he is old enough to make a decision about having his own body part cut off (which I think would only occur if he ends up having problems with having foreskin and sex would be unpleasant or painful).

I am not condemning people who think differently. I simply feel sorry for their baby boys… I hope one day we’ll come to our senses about this painful and inhumane practice.

As for the author, I feel sorry for him too, that he had to go through this emotionally painful experience to come to understand that he made the wrong choice.

I have a lot more to say on this topic (in fact, in college I wrote long research papers on the topic, including some original research into grotesque Victorian age masturbation control techniques, which were the precursors to routine circumcision), but probably won’t get the time to write it up. If you’re wondering about it, drop me a line.

Conversation on Torture with Doomsy

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Been having a cross-blog discussion with Doomsy over at the Liberal Doomsayer about our recent crimes torturing detainees, as widely reported in NYTimes and on Alternet. A follow-up to this post from me that I figured I should post again here:

The thing is, I don’t think we ever can redeem ourselves. America hasn’t been a saint throughout its military and political history, but as many leftist columnists are now pointing out, we have dropped our bar so far below the one we set at Nuremberg that it’s hard to see how the world can forgive us, never mind we, the people, forgiving the US Government. Saddam, a dictator we helped create and helped carry out his war crimes, was executed in an instant, in the most inhumane way. A member of the military I recently interviewed told me [paraphrasing] that “every military officer knew full well that Saddam would be executed the second he was turned over to the ‘Iraqi Government’,” and those quotes are his, not mine. In his mind, and he has been in West Baghdad for the last year fighting on the front lines, the “Iraqi Government” is nothing more than a a few corrupt politicians and a few importantly-placed American agents. “We’ve turned over detainees who weren’t even proven guilty of their crimes in Iraq, and the ‘Iraqi Government’ murdered them with a shot in the head before we were even out the door. We’ve all come to understand that ‘handing someone over to the Iraqis’ is doublespeak for ‘send that person to die’. Who physically pulls the trigger is really an irrelevant detail.” So I don’t want US Government officials telling us this is “their [the Iraqi’s] system, their method of justice.” It’s ours, the blood is all over our hands. The fact that we torture should come as no surprise. And the case of Donald Vance (note: an American contractor who blew the whistle on his employer in Baghdad and was held and tortured by our military) just shows that no one is safe, that we don’t reserve our techniques for those we consider “evil”, but that it has just become a routine process for our military operations.

Embarassed to be an American

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Following up on the torture table from my last post, today I read two of the most engrossing and depressing articles I’ve ever read, about detainees tortured by the US Government, using cruel and unusual punishment to humiliate and destroy the human spirit.

The first is written for the Guardian, but syndicated on Alternet. It describes Jose Padilla, an alleged terrorist.

The purpose of these measures appeared to be to sustain the regime under which he had lived for over three years: total sensory deprivation. He had been kept in a blacked-out cell, unable to see or hear anything beyond it. Most importantly, he had no human contact, except for being bounced off the walls from time to time by his interrogators. As a result, he appears to have lost his mind. I don’t mean this metaphorically. I mean that his mind is no longer there.

It simply must be read. Then, as if this weren’t enough, I read a similar article, but describing an entirely different case, in the New York Times. This time, it describes Donald Vance, a security contractor who was a whistle blower pointing out corruption within his organization in Iraq, who was then captured by the US Military and subjected to torture techniques because he had been “associated” with the organization whose flaws he had been instrumental in illuminating. The amazing part is that he took detailed notes of his stay, and the New York Times article presents this evidence along with testimony from Vance himself. It shows a detainee system so fundamentally broken and so insanely immoral that I had a lump in my throat while reading the words on the page. You should read them too.

The two men slept in their 9-by-9-foot cells on concrete slabs, with worn three-inch foam mats. With the fluorescent lights on and the temperature in the 50s, Mr. Vance said, “I paced myself to sleep, walking until I couldn’t anymore. I broke the straps on two pair of flip-flops.”

How will we ever redeem ourselves? There simply is no excuse for this kind of behavior. We have become what we sought to destroy.