Against Democracy

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
— Winston Churchill

It’s Election Day in the United States. Watching this election unfold with all the intellect and decorum of a Jerry Springer episode [and not even one of the good ones, about homewrecking lesbian strippers], I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that democracy – as it stands in 21st-century America, largely defined by this once every four years dog-and-pony show – is a failed institution.
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The Death Of Copyright

I foresee a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste, an interruption in the musical development of the country, and a host of other injuries to music in its artistic manifestations, by virtue – or rather by vice – of the multiplication of the various music-reproducing machines.
— John Philip Sousa, “The Menace of Mechanical Music,” 1906

The latest copyright discussion to break out on the Internet was the result of a post on the NPR radio blog by one of their interns, Emily White, entitled I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With, in which she says she has purchased about 15 CDs in her life. Here’s the crux of what she said:

As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. I can’t support them with concert tickets and T-shirts alone. But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience. What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded, and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts (hopefully with more money going back to the artist than the present model). All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?

Seems like it was for some people

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Hitman: Absolution, and The Boy Who Cried “Rape!”

Oh, boy. Here we go again. Another day, another moral guardian pops up to condemn a game. Except, here, we’re not even talking about an actual game – just a trailer for one. I heard about this through a Google News alert, which brought me to this article on Forbes.

The blogosphere has tried the Hitman: Absolution trailer and it has been found guilty. In it, a group of female assassin’s dressed as hyper-sexualized nuns are brutally murdered by the ultra-masculine 47. It’s juvenile, brutal, an affirmation of every problem that video games have with women and an affirmation of the worst aspects of our culture.

I’ve never played Hitman – I saw the movie, which largely sucked, and think I spent a post-Thanksgiving sloth watching our son try to get through a mission.I seem to recall falling asleep, though that may have been as much the turkey overdose  as the game.  But, ooh! “An affirmation of the worst aspects of our culture”! I wanna see! Oh, dammit: I’m on my lunch-break. Better wait till I get home.

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Tentacle Bento And The Futility of Censorship

It was 25 years ago that Urotsukidōji was released, and slowly seeped its way over to the West, on a variety of dodgy, Nth-generation bootleg copies whose resemblance to a snuff movie in terms of quality, only enhanced the feeling that what you were watching was extremely wrong. But, it appears, tentacles and schoolgirls remain a combination capable of creating controversy, as Soda Pop Miniatures found out.

This small, independent company decided, for their next project, to make a card game called Tentacle Bento, and get funding for it through Kickstarter, a favourite site for fundraising projects outside the normal scope of business. According to the official description,  “Each game puts you in the enviable position of being a horrid, tentacle flailing, slime oozing monster from outer space.  Cleverly disguised (of course) as an adorable, and newly enrolled student at Takoashi University, an all-girls school nestled in scenic Japan.”

Kickstarter didn’t object. The project rolled along merrily, raising funds and hitting its goals. And then, perhaps inevitably, the morality police got word and, for want of a better phrase, the shits hit the fans…

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Jason Halek, Website Vandal

One of my duties at work is to be an admin on a company wiki, which largely consists of cleaning up spam entries thrown in there by black-hat search engine companies. They link to their clients’ sites with the search term they’re trying to boost, and places like Google see the link as a “vote” from a respectable company like ours, for the relevance of the search terms and the target site. Usually, it’s the standard mix of pharmaceuticals, weight-loss products, etc. much like your spam folder, but the other day, I noticed an odd one. The name “Jason Halek” had been inserted into a page, linking to his name as a . net domain [For obvious reasons, I’m not going to link to any of the sites in question].

I was mildly intrigued, especially as the destination site had two articles, headlined: “Jason Halek Makes Life-Changing Impact On Texas Children” and “Jason Halek Reaches Out To Disadvantaged Children Through Halek Charities” Who was Jason Halek, and why was he so keen to make sure his name was linked to these charitable enterprises, that he apparently paid for the services of a company to deface another website?

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My Journey Into The Hell Of Amazon Customer Support

It was my sister Pat’s birthday last week. I thought it would be nice, as a last-minute present. to get her a gift-certificate from Very simple: hop on their website, buy a certificate, and they’ll send her an email with the code. What could possibly be more painless?

Well… The long list of things which now fall into that category include items such as “being dragged backwards over shards of broken glass while having your prostate checked by an enthusiastic doctor with extremely fat fingers”. Let’s say, as far as customer service goes, Amazon are not among the finest companies with which I have dealt.

After the jump, you’ll find the whole sorry saga. Go get a cup of coffee. And a sandwich.

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Torrenting. You’re Doing It Wrong

Curiously, a couple of days after our article on ethical piracy, we got a cease-and-desist letter from our Internet service provider, telling us that they had received a complain regarding copyrighted material being shared from our IP address. Hmmm… Coincidence? Or something more sinister!!!!?!?! Actually, no, I think it was just coincidence, as the files in question actually were our son’s responsibility. We had to have The Talk with him, expressing our severe disappointment that he had been busted; and, in particular, that it was for episodes of Eureka. Sheesh. I think we’d have preferred it to have been German scat porn.

Naturally, we are complying with our ISP’s request, because sharing copyrighted material is bad, m’kay? But, if we were still doing so, here are a few simple steps we would probably be taking, to avoid incurring the wrath of the entertainment industry.

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In Support of Ethical Piracy

My name’s Jim, and I am an ethical pirate. The music and film industry would have you believe that downloading “their” material is wrong, an approach best summed up as “Piracy is stealing, mkay?” But, the reality of it is, that the morality is a great deal less clear-cut. Here, courtesy of an interesting series of articles, well ahead of the curve, from David Pogue are some hypothetical scenarios, all of which describe what is technically piracy. How many of them do you think are morally wrong?

  • I own a certain CD, but it got scratched. So I borrow the same CD from the library and rip it to my computer.
  • I have 2,000 vinyl records. So I borrow some of the same albums on CD from the library and rip those.
  • I buy a DVD. But I’m worried about its longevity, so I make a safety copy.
  • I meant to record a movie – perfectly legal – but my recorder malfunctioned. My buddy recorded it, so I copy his DVD
  • I meant to record a movie, but my recorder malfunctioned and I don’t have a buddy who recorded it. So I rent the movie from Blockbuster and copy that.

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Border-ing on the Surreal…


Here in Arizona, we have become the center of a political tornado over the past couple of weeks, thanks to the passing of SB 1070. This law says that when police come into contact with people, they must make “a reasonable attempt…to determine the immigration status of the person,” where “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” Fairly innocuous, really. Not that you could tell by the reactions of some, who have reacted to the bill with hysterical exaggeration, bordering on the offensive. Read More

The Art of the Remake

remakeIt’s remake week here at Trash City, so as well as reviewing a few examples of the “genre”, figured I might as well put together a few philosophical notes on the topic. Remakes tend to come in for a lot of flak, but they are something of a double-edged sword. Some of my favorite films have been remakes, and you might be surprised to learn that highly-regarded movies as diverse as Dangerous Liaisons, The Maltese Falcon, Against All Odds, Fatal Attraction and A Fistful of Dollars, all fall into the category to some extent. It is a somewhat nebulous group: technically, every film version of Hamlet ever made is a “remake,” but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere – so if it’s in the public domain, it’s fair game.

That said, there do appear to be certain guidelines which influence the remakes that are successful, from those that are regarded as cinematic abominations. After the jump, here are some thoughts on these rules.

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