Thursday, 22 December 2011

oh, eh, can you see ....

Their crappy musicians dominate the pop charts with their bland mindless music (link), its citizens cockily believe they live in the "greatest country in the world" (link), nationalistic logos (link, link, link, link) and a quest for world dominance pervade its sports culture, and, most telling of all, one has to cross the border in order to experience real winter weather. Clearly, Canada is the new USA.

Friday, 16 December 2011

On Hitchens

I'm sorry to hear of the passing of Christopher Hitchens. There are a number of good obits, including one from David Frum, that do a good job of celebrating the man and describing what he accomplished. I'm happy to acknowledge that in terms of writing skill he was in a league with the likes of George Orwell, as his glowing New Statesman obit contends. But Hitchens's legacy will always be stained, in my eyes, by his outspoken support of the Iraq war and the responsibility he bears for contributing to the "clash of civilizations" rhetoric and perspective in which responding militarily to the attacks began to trump all else.

Hitchens's writings, including his set of "discussions" with Noam Chomsky, from those weird post 9-11 months are worth another read today. I think Hitchens correctly called out Chomsky and some others on their inclination to rationalize the Sept. 11 attacks. (link to the set of exchanges between him and Chomsky: 12345)  But it's also interesting and useful to read his farewell article from The Nation today. In it he declares, as if it's a sort of reductio ad absurdum, that, "I have come to realize that the magazine itself takes a side in this argument, and is becoming the voice and the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden." I'm not sure that that is an accurate portrayal of The Nation at the time, but if so aren't we at least somewhat inclined to say, "well, bully for them"? In the hindsight that a decade's perspective, trillions of additional dollars in debt, an efficiently executed assassination in Pakistan and legislation like the troubling National Defence Authorization Act affords us, isn't it hard to deny that The Nation was right to worry that the actions being put in place by Ashcroft et al might well present a deeper threat to the American way of life than anything OBL could ever hope to summon up?

Update: interesting anecdote with a similar conclusion: link

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Louis CK

Louis CK decided to self produce, release and distribute his latest video for $5/copy. He released the video last Sunday, December 10, and has thus far sold 110 000 copies. So far he has earned less than he would have if he just had some big company produce the video, and, obviously he has put far more effort into it than he would have had he just had a big company produce it, but, the advantage is that he was able to sell the video for a lot less money, users would have had to purchase an "encrypted and regionally restricted video of limited value, and they would have owned your private information for their own use". He made decent money, and he still owns the rights to the material. 

This should be the value add of the internet, i.e., elimination of the middleman in terms of distribution. And CK's experience should be encouraging for all artists. When you don't treat your customer as an adversary and offer quality things to them at a reasonable price, people will pay real money for digital content on the internet even if those things would be cheaper/free via bittorrent or by grabbing a copy from a friend. 

Update: Write up in the Globe and Mail

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Oh, Fox

I stumbled across this little Fox News gem this morning: "Team Obama's Immigration Hypocrisy". The article contends that there's a contradiction between the Justice Department opposing state laws requiring police to demand proof of legal presence and the State Department encouraging police to ensure that foreign nationals be granted consular access upon being arrested. The author contends that Justice Department objections to things like the Arizona immigration law imply that the State Department must abandon efforts at Vienna convention compliance when it comes to the arrest and detainment of foreign nationals. "If it [the Obama administration] ... truly believes... that authorities should not be checking the citizenship status of local lawbreakers, than the State Department should withdraw its 'Consular Notification and Access' manual, and stop telling local police officers to comply with the Vienna Convention by checking the citizenship status of criminals".

But this objection completely paves over the differences between legal and illegal presence and citizenship. The majority of non-US citizens in the US are here legally; as such there's all the difference in the world between inquiring into citizenship status and requesting proof of legal residence. I'm regularly asked about my citizenship status and I never interpret this as a question about whether or not I'm in the country legally. The objection also incorrectly conflates what is being asked of the police in these two instances. In the first case it's a requirement to insist on proof of legal presence, whereas in the second it's an attempt to ensure that persons be given the means to avail themselves of their rights under international law. The State Department isn't requiring police to demand proof of citizenship. Conflating the state immigration laws with the State Department efforts is like arguing that offering a guest a snack or a meal is no different from tying him down and force feeding him. The State Department is trying to ensure that non-citizens have an opportunity to contact their embassy, i.e., upholding fundamental legal rights. State immigration laws in practice and intent are something quite quite different.