Wednesday, November 30, 2005

did dj danger mouse produce "lawful mashups" for EMI?

at the end of my previous post, i had some rather harsh words for dj danger mouse, based on this quote from cory doctorow at boingboing:

As I wrote earlier this week, fighting mashups has nothing to do with reducing "piracy." No one who listens to American Edit will shrug her shoulders and say, "Well, heck, now that I've heard that, who needs to buy the Green Day album?" Censoring this art is tantamount to saying, "This music must go because it displeases us."

I presented this view to an EMI representative at the Creative Economies conference in London earlier this autumn and she responded by saying that DJ Danger Mouse had a happy ending, because they subsequently hired him to produce lawful mashups for them (while still maintaining legal censorship of the Grey Album).

but is this accurate? eric kleptone isn't convinced. as he said on snuggles:

Well, he was recruited to co-produce the Gorillaz album (for Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary), but I've not heard of any legit mash-ups he did for EMI or anyone. And I don't see how it was a "happy ending" as DM had (as far as I'm aware) nothing directly to do with the Gray Album being uploaded in the first place - he pressed up CDs of it, which then leaked online. Although they still could have sued him for the CDs, natch. AFAIK, anyway.

danger mouse definitely did work on the gorillaz's demon days album. this is definitely true. so it's undeniable that danger mouse is now working with the very company that tried to shut him down in the past.

but are the gorillaz "lawful mashups"? despite the fact that they were on the cover of wired's remix culture issue, i wouldn't classify them as mashups, at least not from what i've heard.

here's what an article in rockpile had to say about it (link is a scan of the article on dm's site; i have transcribed the relevant passage):

As it turns out, his wait-and-see approach may have paid off. In what must be one of the music biz's most incredible "if you can't beat 'em, join'em" moments, Burton seems to have dodged a mountain of trouble by fraternizing with the enemy.

The Gorillaz are signed to Virgin Records, an EMI Music company. As a collaborator and producer for Gorillaz, Burton is in effect a Virgin artist. What this means, according to journalist Richard Cromelin of the LA Times, is that so long as Dangermouse is working with Gorillaz, it's an EMI-subsidiary cutting his checks.

Naturally, Burton is hesitant to talk too boisterously about the sort of unspoken amnesty this arrangement has granted him. But, it looks like it's done the trick.

"It's safe to say that I'm not in any kind of mess now," he says finally, probably more than a little relieved.

so when cory refers to "lawful mashups" for EMI, is he talking about gorillaz or something else? is he confused? was the EMI rep confused?

adding to the confusion, danger mouse's official discography does not mention the grey album at all, even though his bio exclaims that the record is "one of the most intriguing productions of all time, an album that forever raised the bar on hip hop experimentalism," and "is considered a watershed moment in music history." this discrepancy between "it's the best ever in the history of ever!" and "i'm so ashamed of this i won't put it in my discog" throws the accuracy of the whole discography into question.

so i'm really not sure what to think about this now. he's definitely working with EMI, the company that just last year tried to censor one of his earlier recordings right out of existence (and though it didn't work, they apparently did censor it right out of his discog). that still leaves a foul taste in my mouth, and everything i wrote in my previous post pretty much holds true even if gorillaz is the only work he's done for EMI. but i admit, it's not quite as disgusting as it would be if danger mouse were the new richard x, squeezing out mashups at EMI's whim.

and if cory (and the EMI rep) were talking about something other than gorillaz, what were they reffering to?

why does warner bros. hate american edit?

last week, a duo calling itself "dean gray" released a mashup album called american edit, which blended green day's american idiot album with a bunch of other stuff. at the time, i didn't bother to download it, as it sounded like just another mashup album and my feelings toward green day range from indifference to a strong distaste. (plus, the comments i heard about american edit were generally negative.) mashups have been around for years now, and if they don't do some particularly interesting (or mix artists that you love), they really aren't that interesting anymore.

but then warner bros. issued a cease & desist order, and now american edit has been taken offline. yesterday, i posted a story i found on boingboing about the RIAA's apparent attempts to shut down mashuptown. today, i once again point you to boingboing for a similar story.

the crux of the boingboing post is that "internet activists" want to hold a protest basically repeating last year's "grey tuesday", when dozens of sites mirrored dj danger mouse's the grey album to protest EMI's attempts to censor that work.

while in principle i passionately agree with the fundamental issues—that works like this should be allowed, that these types of works do not "compete" with the originals in any sense, that we have a right if not a duty to comment on our culture—this case (and protest) strike me as inferior to grey tuesday/the gray album in a number of ways.

whether the grey album was itself a good test case for sampling/remixing issues is its own question worthy of debate (i know plenty people who think it wasn't, and i agree somewhat). but regardless of what you think of the quality of music of the grey album, the one thing it really had was a killer hook.

the white album + the black album = the grey album. simple, clever, and easy to explain in one sentence. not only that, but it blended two very popular acts: the beatles, who've been deified in pop music for decades, and jay z, one of the biggest names in hip-hop. the familiarity and popularity of the source material gave it broad appeal, and the witty hook immediately piqued people's interest. the grey album was an internet phenomenon even before EMI demanded it come down, and the buzz around that and the subsequent protest only made it moreso.

comparatively, while american edit does have a clever title, comparatively, its appeal is far more limited. where the grey album mixed two extemely popular artists, american edit only has one—green day—mixed with a bunch of random stuff. green day's popularity is not even close to that of the beatles, and i suspect they're not as popular as jay z either, though i haven't seen any sales figures so i don't know.

the grey album might have been all gimmick, but at least it had a gimmick, and a damn good one. american edit has nothing. it's "a green day mashup record", which might entice green day fans or mashup fans, but won't be drawing in the many disparate groups that were intrigued by the grey album.

not to mention the fundamental point that repeating the exact same protest from last year isn't going to catch people's attention. there's nothing fresh or new about this protest at all, which lessens its impact. a few people will care, but many will ignore it (if they ever hear about it), thinking "they're just trying to be the next danger mouse".

in fact the only way in which this is a better case than the grey album is the money issue. danger mouse printed up a limited number of actual cds and tried to distribute them. dean gray merely posted their content online. so an argument could be made that danger mouse was trying to "profit" from the copyrighted works of others (though to be realistic, he surely didn't see much money from selling such a small number of cds). dean gray have apparently not made one cent, gross or net, which makes their legal case a bit stronger.

still, i would be shocked if this got even half the attention that the grey album got, for marketing reasons if nothing else. even ignoring the quality of either of the two albums, american edit just doesn't have a good enough hook to become a net phenomenon like the grey album was. and it's kind of a shame, because these are issues of dire importance to our culture, and they shouldn't be ignored. if we're going to stage online protests, they need to be well-thought-out and direct attention to the issues at hand, not just "hey, download this silly record that warner bros. doesn't want you to hear."

but, forgetting about american edit and getting back to the grey album, i personally think this is actually the most interesting part of the boingboing post:

As I wrote earlier this week, fighting mashups has nothing to do with reducing "piracy." No one who listens to American Edit will shrug her shoulders and say, "Well, heck, now that I've heard that, who needs to buy the Green Day album?" Censoring this art is tantamount to saying, "This music must go because it displeases us."

I presented this view to an EMI representative at the Creative Economies conference in London earlier this autumn and she responded by saying that DJ Danger Mouse had a happy ending, because they subsequently hired him to produce lawful mashups for them (while still maintaining legal censorship of the Grey Album).

i had no idea that danger mouse was producing "lawful" mashups for EMI. that's kind of sickening.

it's easy to accuse an artist of "selling out" when they "go corporate", and its doubly easy when they operate in a style that is "underground" (and sampling/remixing culture is about as underground as music can be, as the bulk of it is technically illegal). just because it's easy doesn't make it true or fair: for instance, i wouldn't say that richard x is a sellout just because he's been signed and is now working directly with the major labels to create legally licensed mashups. (though i have always thought he was overrated.)

but dj danger mouse working hand in hand with EMI is something different. that's not just signing to a major: it's siding with the enemy. EMI tried with all its might to quash danger mouse's freedom of expression, to censor his work and wipe it off the net entirely. EMI lost that PR battle, so it did the next best thing by co-opting danger mouse. the benefit to EMI is obvious. but what does danger mouse get out of it? how much money must EMI have offered to get him to collude with the very same people who had tried to eradicate his past work? it would be a different matter if EMI had eventually acquiesced and agreed to distribute (or allow danger mouse to distribute) the grey album. but no, EMI basically said "you can't do that, but if you play by the rules like a good boy, we'll let you do something similar." EMI wasn't able to stop the grey album but in the end EMI, not danger mouse, had the last laugh.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

RIAA invades mashuptown

found this on boingboing:

MashupTown, a site that hosts and distributes mashups (two or more songs ingeniously mixed together to make a third) has taken down all of its files after complaints from the RIAA to its hosting partner.

cory links to this mashuptown post, which reprints an email they received from live365. the email begins thusly:

The RIAA has been in touch with us recently to let us know that they have found a number of stations that are not compliant on the service.

This is something we take very seriously, so we're going to ask for your help here.

curiously, the email never actually states that mashuptownradio is infringing or non-compliant. it simply reports that RIAA has complained about "a number of stations" and lists ways that casters can "help" by verifying that their casts comply with the rules.

i could see live365 sending out this email to all subscribers, not just infringing ones. so this email, taken by itself in a vacuum, is not very good evidence that the RIAA has targeted mashuptown.

that said, this passage is somewhat distressting:

1) Broadcasters must display complete ID3 tag information.
2) Broadcasters must comply with "The Rules"
3) No unauthorized or "bootleg" recordings
4) For LIVE broadcasters, broadcasters must make sure the track metadata is streaming to the Player Window.

by "bootleg" they clearly mean concert bootegs, not "uk bootlegs" (aka mashups). but "unauthorized" seems to be a codeword that means that only RIAA-approved content is allowed. so that wouldn't just include mashups, but any non-RIAA material that uses any uncleared samples.

but the post immediately before that one had stated cryptically that the site was being shut down "for many reasons which I won't bore you with." the commenters immediately jumped to the conclusion that the site was being shut down due to RIAA complaints. and really, why pull down all the mp3 files when shutting down the site if there haven't been any IP complaints. so it seems a logical enough assumption, even if they never actually say that's what happened.

the site was only 8 months old, which explains why i'd never heard of it (i stopped following or much caring about mashups a couple years before that), but if the RIAA really is going after mashup sites, that's not a good sign.

it's also a sign that mashuptown's ridiculous disclaimer offered them no protection whatsoever. check it out:

Listen up
This site is dedicated to the art of other people mashing music from other people's work. The copyright is still held with the original artists and if you own the copyright to any material used and are a bit pissed off at the way it's tampered with it, I will happily delete it from the site if requested.

okay, pretty standard, unobjectionable stuff so far. but here's where it gets silly:

It is intended that if you download any material from this site, it is for evaluation purposes only and that it will be deleted from your computer after listening. By downloading anything from this site you agree to these terms. If you dig what you hear support the artists that provide the audio that you are listening to by buying their music at iTunes or Links are provided on this site for doing so. Peace.

you must be joking. "for evaluation purposes only"? nobody, absolutely nobody, is going to delete mp3s that they just downloaded unless those mp3s suck. the suggestion that anyone would do so is absurd on its face. this is a disingenuous agreement. it's sad that anyone would have to write such a thing in hopes of protecting themselves, futile though it may be.

dalek sex

i never watched much doctor who when i was growing up... my local pbs affiliate would show it sometimes, but at funny hours. and it's hard to get into such long-form serialized fiction unless you know you know you can put in enough time to catch up with it all.

but i am interested in watching the new doctor who series that premiered on bbs in 2005. and i'm definitely interested in seeing this video when and if it gets leaked online.

BEEB bosses have gone ballistic after discovering the Daleks are starring in a PORN FLICK.

Dr Who's foes capture three naked "disco babes" in the 18-rated DVD.

They chase the girls around their spaceship and grope them with their plungers.

Abducted By The Daleks — which features grey, red and black pepper-pot baddies watching a lesbian scene — was "five years in the making", says the sleeve.

that's right... dalek porn! the sun article has a few not-work-safe screenshots from the video. (the sun site uses a javascript that tries to prevent you from copying the pics to your hard drive, but you can find the urls by using your "view source" feature.)

the bbc and the estate of terry nation, who created the daleks back in the '60s, are not happy.

Estate director Tim Hancock said: "The reason the Daleks are still the most sinister thing in the universe is because they do not make things like porn.

"They weren't ever intended to be sexual creatures. It's simple, Daleks do not do porn."

but has hancock seen the video in question? it's easy enough to say that they aren't sexual creatures, but daleks are organic creatures inside those metallic shells, so clearly at some point they had to reproduce somehow. and besides, who's to say there aren't legitimate story reasons why a bunch of daleks might kidnap some disco babes and make them have lesbian sex with each other?

not to mention that the attempts to shut down this video might be short-sighted. from wikipedia:

Despite the Daleks' popularity, however, they were forever associated with Doctor Who. Nation, who jointly owned the intellectual property rights to the Daleks with the BBC, therefore had the problem of owning a money-making concept that proved nearly impossible to sell to anyone else and was dependent on the BBC wanting to produce stories featuring the creatures. Indeed, several attempts to market the Daleks outside of Doctor Who were unsuccessful. The sums of money required to pay Nation for the use of the Daleks also explained why their appearances in the programme were rare in later years. Since Nation's death in 1997, his share of the rights now belong to his estate and are administered by his former agent, Tim Hancock.

they were never able to successfully market daleks outside of doctor who, but this is their chance! there's a whole world of dalek porn out there just waiting to happen! porn is big business, and makes good money these days. think of the royalties that could come from officially licensed dalek porn! horny doctor who fans worldwide might shell out big bucks for such saucy entertainment.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

the many costumes of bibleman

figure 1: the yellow costumenot long after virago moved to town, i was at her apartment on a lazy saturday afternoon, entertaining myself with the tv. she doesn't have cable, so i was left to flipping through what was available on broadcast tv around noon on saturday, which is to say not much.

eventually i stumbled onto a superhero show, with special fx reminiscent of power rangers. the costumes were loud, the sets all looked like sets, and the fx were day-glo. everyone's weapons shined like glowsticks. this was the only thing on that seemed remotely interesting, so i kept watching.

at first i had no idea what i was watching, or even what channel i was watching. but it soon started to come into focus. the first clue was when the characters started tossing bible quotes at each other. not just one or two bible quotes: these characters would spout them at every opportunity. this was no secular superhero. the fancy swords were secondary weapons: his primary weapon was scripture, which he would quote at every opportunity. indeed, the fight scenes were full of glowing weapons and energy blasts, but just when the battle seemed to fought to a standstill, the heroes would bust out a line like "proverbs 16:18 says that pride comes before a fall!", and sure enough, the next blow would be the last one.

figure 2: the yellow cotume's helmetturns out i was watching trinity broadcast network (TBN) and the show was bibleman, a campy adventure starring bibleman and his sidekicks (in this episode, teenaged sidekicks: a black teen named cypher and a white girl called biblegirl) as they battled against evil. i was intrigued. apparently it had been a long-running home video franchise (apparently nine videos have gone platinum), that had been recently picked up for broadcast by TBN, which is on many cable & satellite systems, as well as owning local broadcast affiliates in many, many markets.

in this episode, they were battling a villain called "the wacky protestor" (get it? he's like those wacky atheist protesters who want to take god out of the pledge, take prayer out of schools, remove the ten commandments from the public sphere... i'm sure you get the point). the wacky protestor's mannerisms were blatantly adapted from jerry lewis. copying jerry lewis's schtick is pretty common; animaniacs featured a ridiculous number of lewis characters for example. but this was a christian indoctrination show, and the lewis character was the villain. so i had to wonder: was this a sign of antisemitism? the wacky protestor, by copying jerry lewis's "dorky" mannerisms, was playing up on jewish stereotypes. so was it intentional? were they trying to be antisemitic? or did they naively not even realize that they were giving off an antisemitic vibe? i quickly found this post on wfmu's beware of the blog, which suggests a trend of "jew-y" villains. after viewing many episodes, i have concluded that the antisemitism must be intentional. i think the best evidence is the character of talk-show host sammy davey, but i will have to post about him another time.

figure 3: the yellow costumemy online readings also led me to discover that bibleman starred (and was produced by) willie aames, who i knew from his work as buddy lembeck on charles in charge but was also in eight is enough, the bawdy telekinesis comedy zapped, and the voice of hank the ranger on the '80s dungeons & dragons cartoon. apparently willie has since been replaced on the bibleman touring live show (yes, there's a touring live show!) by a younger actor, but willie is the star of all the videos i've seen. this intrigued me even more: it seems that willie aames had gone the way of kirk cameron, as a former sitcom star who was born again and turned to christian television.

this was the start of an obsession. i set a season pass on my directivo at the first opportunity and have diligently recorded tons of audio from the series for potential sampling. recently i've started taking screenshots, which i will now begin to share with you. because of space issues (as well as the erratic behavior of CSS's "float" property, which is what we bloggers use to wrap text around images like i'm doing here), i can't possibly include all of my interesting screenshots in one meager blog post, so i must be selective. hopefully in the future i will find time to post screenshots of bibleman's many jewish stereotypes, bibleman's sidekicks, the ridiculous computer work, and more. but today i will focus on the evolution of bibleman's costume, or his armor.

figure 4: the 'hair wings' helmetin its years of production, the bibleman show seemed to go through a series of budget increases, which are most clearly seen in the redesigns of bibleman's armor. in this post i will archive four distinct bibleman costumes i have noticed in my months of watching.

bibleman has no superpowers to speak of. he has a sword (the "sword of the spirit") and armor. when it's time to transform from his alter-ego of miles peterson into bibleman, he asks his computer to begin the "full armor sequence", & goes through a transformation scene much like you have seen before on japanese shows like voltron or power rangers. each portion of the armor has a name, from his breastplate of righteousness down to his shoes of peace. but the design and function of the armor has evolved with the show's budget.

figure 5: the airbrush costumethe very first episodes of the bibleman show featured a ridiculously cheap-looking costume. i'm calling it "the yellow costume" because of the plastic yellow breastplate (not as an oblique reference to daredevil's old-school "yellow" period). the distinguishing characteristics of this costume include the yellow plastic, the tights underneath the yellow plastic, and the rudimentary helmet, with its yellow M design that is probably supposed to resemble a crown. other distinguishing characteristics of this period are the extreme cheapness of everything and the focus on a small group of children who have a singing group. for some reason, this kids' singing group is very important: bibleman is their teacher, and the villains plan to break up the group. in my experience, supervillains' plans are usually bigger than making a few 12-year-olds hate each other, but so be it. in this period the viewer is also forced to sit through several songs by the kids group in each episode. mercifully, the kids and their songs were excised from the show within a few episodes, the first time the show was retooled.

figure 6: the purple costumetake a look at the yellow costume in pics 1 & 3, showing him chatting with kids in the park, and later leaning in for a more intimate chat with one of them. if i saw someone dressed like this talking to my kids in the park, i would be concerned. but in bibleman's town, nobody is ever alarmed to see him. they're never even surprised; they go about their business as if there weren't a man in a gaudy costume a few feet away.

after a couple episodes they quickly (and wisely) did away with the awful yellow costume and designed a newer, purpler one. this was the first costume that appeared to be made of foam rather than plastic. the distinctive marks of this costume are the purple armor with yellow highlights (kind of an airbrush look) and the "hair wings" styling on the helmet. see figure 4, of bibleman giving a good old-fashioned finger-pointin' scolding, and figure 5, of bibleman onstage addressing a bunch of kids to announce his "clean is cool" campaign. (the plot of this episode revolved around the fact that only two buttons had been made for the "clean is cool" campaign, and a villain named dr. fear had replaced them with his own evil buttons, which allowed him to produce fear in the wearer.)

figure 7: purple costume and the bible-bikein this time period they made other improvements, such as doing away with those awful singing children, improving the sets (though they always look like sets, except for the scenes that are filmed inside real churches, although later episodes didn't spend as much time in church as they did in the beginning) and the introduction of bibleman's computer, UNICE, and first sidekick, coats. coats was not a teenager (they came later); he was an adult black man who dressed in a sort of "militant" fashion... is he supposed to remind us of the black panthers, only holy? is he ex-military? i don't know. he's apparently some kind of technical expert. nothing of his past is ever revealed in the episodes i've seen. one day he's not there, the next day he's there, and the next he's gone. the only thing i know about coats' life outside of his service to bibleman is that he coaches kids' basketball. though TBN doesn't seem to be showing the episodes entirely in sequence, so perhaps some of that was explained in episodes i haven't seen.

after a number of episodes with coats and the "hair wings" costume, the show was retooled again, with another seeming budget increase. coats was gone, replaced with a younger, less-threatening black sidekick, a teenager called cypher. like coats, cypher is a computer wiz. he's also a dancer, though one with a troubled past: his old dance troupe had some bad influences. cypher is also the first sidekick to get a costume of his own, though his armor apparently isn't named so he doesn't get his own full-armor sequence. cypher's a bit cocky and headstrong, but hey, he's a good kid.

figure 8: full armor sequencebibleman gets his third set of armor around when cypher shows up. for the most part, the yellow has been removed from this armor, except for a couple lines on his new helmet. the new helmet is a definite improvement, as the previous one made his head look rather like a potato. see figure 6, of bibleman on a balcony, and figure 7, of him on his bible-bike. (i don't remember the real name of his bike, but i don't think it's "bible-bike". could be, though.) the bike never figures into the plot; it's just a stock-footage scene like the "full armor sequence" that allows him to get from one point to another.

finally, we come to the fourth set of armor, the chrome armor. this armor is the most drastic redesign yet, especially compared to the last redesign, which was relatively minor. the chrome armor consists of white tights with numerous shiny plates to protect his chest, limbs, and whatnot. the purple is almost totally gone, save for the cape.

reflective chrome might seem like a strange choice, but the reasoning behind it is obvious: this show is all about lighting effects. computers have blinking LEDs everywhere. weapons are all luminescent. and the villains' lairs, at least by this point, are distinguishable by their colored lighting. in short, just like at a rave, there are blinky colored lights everywhere. making bibleman's armor out of a highly reflective material means that he will light up like a christmas tree, even without any actual lights on his costume, simply by virtue of the many lights that surround him at all times. this armor has serious bling. it's like constant lens flare 24 hours a day, 30 frames a second. icy hot stuntaz would be jealous.

figure 9: the chrome armortake a look at figure 8, a screenshot taken in the middle of the armor sequence. as you can see, even at their fanciest, the special fx are still way on the cheesy side. then look at figure 9, bibleman in his chrome armor onstage at a church... but it's a "cool" church, where rock instruments like guitars and drums are welcome right next to the altar. and while you're looking at figure 9, look at that bible posture! is his armor so bulky and uncomfortable that willie can't let his arms fall naturally by his sides? he's holding them so far from his body that you'd think they held opposing electrical charges.

so that concludes my survey of bibleman's armor. i hope you've enjoyed this introduction to the campy world of bibleman. in the future, i plan to post more about the bibleman world, complete with screenshots of the many jewish stereotypes and supporting characters. that is, when and if i get around to it. a post like this requires hours of work, taking screenshots, picking the best ones, coming up with themes that connect them, writing the posts, and formatting them all so they will look decent. if you hunger for more bibleman blogging, let me know, as i'll be more inspired by bustling feedback than i will be by silence. until then you can tide yourself over with other bloggers discussing bibleman and this flickr album called "the temptation of bibleman".

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

white thanksgiving

if the weather this morning is any indication, we might be in for that most magical of holidays: the white thanksgiving. if a white christmas is special then a white thanksgiving must be double-plus special, right? that snow sure is coming down right now. it probably won't be enough to really stick to the roads (at least not once the stuff stops falling!), but the sheer sudden volume, mixed with the fact that it started falling overnight, will likely mean some white areas on the grass, at least.

the indy star doesn't predict too much snow:

There's good news for anyone worried about rising fuel prices: Weather forecasters predicted Tuesday that this winter will be warmer than normal.

This week, however, won't be an indicator.

The Indianapolis area will get its first measurable snowfall of the season today -- less than an inch, according to the National Weather Service -- and on Thanksgiving night will see a low temperature of 17 degrees. That's 14 degrees below normal for the date.

But the winter season likely won't be so bleak overall, forecasters said.

"On the average, we believe the warm conditions will be more prevalent than the colder outbreaks," said Ken Scheeringa, assistant state climatologist at Purdue University.

that extra warmth will be welcome in a winter sure to see record-high heating bill costs. i personally expect my natural gas bill to hit $300/month during the worst of this winter. that's gotta hurt.

with the holiday weekend, i don't expect to have much time for blogging. so don't be too surprised if a few days go by without any updates. don't count on any friday cat blogging/bending this week either. (since the beginning i've never said i would do it every week. next week seems likely, though.)

enjoy the holidays, kids. and if you're unfortunate enough to work in retail, i feel for you. the rest of us get vacation, while you get possibly the worst workday of the year. on the other hand, we just might get a white black friday!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

warner settles payola probe

back in july, i wrote:

it's been a dirty secret in the music industry for years that practically the only way to get music on corporate radio stations these days is bribe someone. in the business it's known as independent promotion, or by the more scandalous name payola. sometimes they bribe the radio djs, but more often, i think, they bribe the program manager for the station. the practice was supposedly done away with decades ago, the last time someone investigated the practice, but it never really went away; it just transmogrified into a new form.

at the time, new york attorney general eliot spitzer had his first major victory in his ongoing payola investigation: sony bmg had just settled with him and agreed to stop all independent promotion. (now, sony is in the middle of a newer, probably even bigger scandal, the ever-ballooning sony rootkit scandal. see all three parts of boingboing's "sony rootkit roundup" for all the latest on this massive story.)

today, there's a new development in spitzer's investigation: warner music has agreed to stop its payola practices, in addition to a $5 million settlement (sony bmg paid $10 million):

Warner Music Group Corp. will pay $5 million to settle a payola probe by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, becoming the second company to resolve allegations of bribing radio station programmers to get airplay.

Warner, the world's fourth-largest record distributor, agreed to stop giving payoffs and gratuities, including electronics and tickets for air fare, concerts and sporting events, Spitzer said in a statement today. The $5 million will be distributed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to non-profit groups in the state, he said.

the major labels are corrupt to the core, and it's catching up with them.

bomb the media

we all know that the bush administration likes to "attack the messenger" whenever someone criticizes the administration or releases information that is damaging to white house spin. but if this story in the mirror is to be believed, bush wanted to take that idea one step further and actually bomb al jazeera.

PRESIDENT Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a "Top Secret" No 10 memo reveals.

But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.

A source said: "There's no doubt what Bush wanted, and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it." Al-Jazeera is accused by the US of fuelling the Iraqi insurgency.

The attack would have led to a massacre of innocents on the territory of a key ally, enraged the Middle East and almost certainly have sparked bloody retaliation.

the only source quoted in the story who's disputing the allegation suggests that bush was joking when he said he wanted to bomb the popular arab media outlet, which is located on friendly territory in qatar, only 10 miles away from a US military base.

the top secret memo has not been publicly released. if it is, i wonder whether it will get the same treatment that the "downing street memos" got here in the states—the corporate media here refused to pay any attention to those explosive memos.

Dozens of al-Jazeera staff at the HQ are not, as many believe, Islamic fanatics. Instead, most are respected and highly trained technicians and journalists.

To have wiped them out would have been equivalent to bombing the BBC in London and the most spectacular foreign policy disaster since the Iraq War itself.

The No 10 memo now raises fresh doubts over US claims that previous attacks against al-Jazeera staff were military errors.

In 2001 the station's Kabul office was knocked out by two "smart" bombs. In 2003, al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a US missile strike on the station's Baghdad centre.

we already knew that bush was hostile toward the media, and questions have been raised about the many suspicious deaths of journalists stationed in iraq. but bombing a media outlet whose HQ is on the territory of our allies? that would be flat-out nuts. qatar could even interpret it as an act of war.

how google print could help fight plagiarism

there's been a lot of chatter in the past couple months about google print.

the idea is this: google wants to scan millions of books using OCR technology and create a massive index of book content. users could search this index, and google print would return abstracts of books that fit the search query, along with short excerpts from the books. if users like what they see in the excerpt, they can go to amazon or their favorite brick-and-mortar store to buy the book. publishers could mandate how short or long the excerpts from their books would be, or could opt-out their books from the whole thing.

this would be a fantastic tool for helping readers find books. struggling creators know that the biggest threat to their livelihood is not obscurity. thousands of books are published every year, with countless older books in the back catalog (we call 'em "back list") waiting for new readers. the majority of these books vanish into obscurity, to be read only by a tiny minority. google print would help readers find books they would like, and thus it would sell more books.

but a lot of big publishers and celebrity authors don't see it that way. in fact, they want to sue google print for using their copyrighted material without permission. really they just want to be the ones to control any indexes of their content, in the event that they someday get off their asses and implement something similar (amazon's search-in-a-book feature is similar, but is opt-in and contains a fraction of the number of books google print would contain). but that's what search engines do: they index content, without asking permission first. if google print is illegal then all search engines are illegal.

the publishers' arguments are somewhat disingenuous and require some logical contortions. in effect, to believe the publishers' arguments, you must accept that google is lying. you might hear the canard that google wants to "give away our books for free", which is ridiculous since google makes it clear that only short excerpts will be offered to readers—you won't be able to read the da vinci code on or maybe you'll hear the "they want to make money off our content" line, despite the fact that google says google print will not feature advertisements.

i hadn't posted about this to date, despite it being a hot IP story, despite working in the publishing industry as i do, because i didn't have much to add that, say, the folks at boingboing or the eff hadn't already said better. but recently i had a revelation about how google print could actually help me, as an editor, do my job better. it would actually be a very powerful tool for tracking down plagiarism.

it might seem a bit odd for me to blog about plagiarism, as i strongly believe in fair use rights, sampling rights, and the like. but there is a world of difference between sampling or parodying a work and taking the whole thing and passing it off as your own work. the former is a fragmentary, transformative use (and a creative one), whereas the latter isn't. samplers and remixers are generally pretty honest about what they have taken. the literary equivalent of sampling/remixing is called quoting. quoting is perfectly acceptable as long as sources are cited; in some situations quoting is even strongly encouraged. in contrast, the musical equivalent of plagiarism would be stealing someone else's song and claiming you wrote it. besides, as an editor for a multinational publishing/entertainment company, it's my job to be vigilant for plagiarism issues. so i hope we're clear on the distinction.

i don't actively check for plagiarism too often. generally i give my authors the benefit of the doubt unless i spot something suspicious in the text. if an author's text is usually awful but i come across a passage that is quite well-written, that's suspicious. or if an author has been consistently spelling things one way and suddenly skips to a different spelling, or somehow changes voice in mid-chapter, these are red flags.

when i do decide to start looking for plagiarized content, my first stop is naturally google. i start plugging phrases into google and see what turns up. this technique is remarkably effective. i have even found instances of seeming plagiarism on accident: i came across something a little confusing, went to google to verify the information, and the first page i found contained the exact text and figures from the chapter. oops.

but as powerful as google's web search is, it can only search content that is online. obviously. the internet is a very popular place to plagiarize from (just ask high school teachers), perhaps the #1 most popular place to do do, but it's not the only place. but a smart plagiarist, one who doesn't want to be caught, will realize that maybe copying text from the web isn't wise. "if i was able to find this website in 15 seconds," the plagiarist might think, "then my teacher/editor might be able to find it too."

so a smart plagiarist will want to copy from sources that are not indexed online, like printed materials. like books.

some books are online, but most aren't. or excerpts of them, articles adapted from them, and so on exist online but the bulk of the book doesn't. and i'm pretty sure google's web search doesn't index ebooks. so catching such plagiarism is not really possible online. teachers can still use the old trick of tracking down any books listed in a paper's bibliography and manually searching for copied content, but man is that tedious. and the trick relies on the writer including the source of their plagiarized content in the bibliography. a smart plagiarist probably would not want to cite the source that he's plagiarizing from. and most books don't have bibliographies.

google print could change all that. if google is successful (and isn't forced to stop by short-sighted legal challenges), google print could be a remarkable tool for catching plagiarists. if i came across suspicious text, i could paste it into google's web search, check there, and then with a couple more clicks, switch to google print and check there. if i got no results from either search, i could be fairly confident that the phrase in question was not plagiarized.

thus google print, rather than infringing on publishers' copyrights, would be a powerful tool for protecting copyright. and it would increase book sales by helping readers find books they want to read.

as wonderful as this would be for the publishing industry, i suspect it would be even more useful for teachers, who could almost instantly determine whether students' papers are plagiarized.

do it for the children! save our kids by saving google print!

banning bias, take two

back in april, the indianapolis city-county council rejected (18-11) an ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity in the workplace and housing market. it was a shameful episode in which five democrats effectively voted in favor of discrimination (and three of the democrats are black, so they should really have known better).

now they have a second chance, since my councillor, jackie nytes, has reintroduced the bill. she had been waiting to reintroduce until she had established more support for the ordinance, so its return is a good sign.

from the indy star:

Jackie Nytes, the Democrat who also sponsored the first gay-rights effort in April, now has 12 sponsors, including herself. She would need three more votes to win a 15-vote majority in the 29-member council and hopes to land those through steady lobbying over the next few weeks.

"There's so much support for it in the community, I'm surprised some council members are hesitating," Nytes said, adding she has collected 1,200 letters backing the plan.

Current laws protect all workers from discrimination based on race, religion, age and several other factors. The anti-discrimination ordinance would protect gay and transgendered people from being fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

City and state employee hiring policies already include such protections, and the ordinance would extend the same to any businesses with six or more employees, excluding religious institutions and certain nonprofits. In Indiana, Bloomington, Michigan City, West Lafayette and Fort Wayne already have passed similar ordinances.

now that's just embarrassing... this is indianapolis. we're supposed to be the 12th largest city in the nation and the seat of regional culture. i can accept that bloomington would pass such an ordinance first, as they're pretty progessive. but fort wayne? michigan city? these places already have such ordinances, but we don't have one in indy yet? that's just sad.

Scott Schneider, a Republican opponent of the proposal, said the proposal was being introduced illegally. The council was holding a special meeting to vote on an emergency child welfare tax measure, and Schneider said the agenda couldn't include additional topics.

"They're trying to do this quick, because the public is against it," Schneider said.

Council President Steve Talley, a Democrat, said he would allow the measure to be introduced, rendering Schneider's complaint moot. It could be voted on as early as Dec. 12.

last time around, steve talley voted against the ordinance, saying there was "no evidence" that gays are being discriminated against. i imagine a lot of people have submitted evidence in the past 7 months.

Bil Browning, a coordinator for gay-rights activists, said he's glad to see the measure come before the council again.

"We've done a lot of lobbying and I believe the effort is about to pay off," he said.

bil browning is a blogger at bilerico, which is in my blogroll but which i don't read often enough. he posted yesterday, urging people to come out and support the measure (the star says "as many as 100" showerd up), but as of now he hasn't posted since the ordinance was officially introduced.

Monday, November 21, 2005 worst redesign ever

nuvo is indianapolis's premier alternative weekly newspaper, currently celebrating its 15th anniversary. it's a fairly good paper, which i have primarily browsed online. the cuisine section is a good resource for finding local restaurants, for example.

but recently nuvo decided to redesign their website, the new design is, quite simply, awful. atrocious even. redesign, how do i hate thee? let me count the ways.

a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but if you took a big steaming turd and called it "rose", it would still smell like a big steaming turd. and this is what nuvo has done: replace a cluttered-but-useful-and-informative site with something that is simply terrible.

once upon a time, the main page featured links to the various sections as well as blurbs/teasers for the stories in that week's issue (which were also hosted online). you could easily browse what was new that week, or skip to a different section, like cuisine or entertainment. the design wasn't awesome, but it got the job done.

the new front page is somewhat different.

you know when you go to a site whose domain has expired, and you are greeted with a bunch of marketing links to pages you would never in a million years want to visit? or you follow a search result link to a page that holds no real data, a page that was clearly compiled automatically by a bot and filled with spammy links to sites you'd never want to visit? you know that feeling you get when you come to one of these pages: that feeling of "oh, that's not a real website... that's just spam"?

this is exactly what the new looks like. it looks like a spam site. like a bot-generated marketing site. it sure as hell doesn't look like a news site. if i hadn't been going to the site for years and stumbled across it, i would immediately assume "oh, this is crap" and i would leave.

seriously, check it out. i am astonished that anyone thought this was a good idea. even ignoring that it looks like spam, it's hard not to see that it simply looks ugly.

now, if you go there looking for news, the only way you'll find it is if you look closely at the leftmost column. underneath the "articles" header, you'll find one little link that says news. it's actually the fifth link in that section; apprently humor/satire and the latest columns by hammer and hoppe are more important than news.

and what if you manage to resist the urge to flee the site and want to read some columns? right now, if you click the columns link, there's nothing there! not one single column appears, just a bunch of white space. there's a link to view the columns archive, but there's no content there either! which is really bizarre since the left side of the page links directly to the latest columns by steve hammer and david hoppe.

i guess it could have been worse. hammer explains in the forums that the original plan "was to wipe everything clean and start from scratch, but recent developments have made us look sharp at maintaining that which works. If it ain't broke, don't break it."

unfortunately, i think they still broke it, but at least most of the old content is still there. it would have sucked even more if old stories (like the stAllio! feature) had been deleted.

Friday, November 18, 2005

my lobotomy

on wednesday during my drive home, i caught a fantastic story on npr called "my lobotomy". it was produced by sound portraits (which makes its content freely available) and was the story of howard dully, a man who was administered a transoribital lobotomy (the old icepick through the eye socket routine) at the age of 12, back in 1966. in the piece, dully, who has a creepy otherwordly kind of voice that is particularly powerful, revisits the suffering the lobotomy caused him over the past decades as well as explores a bit of the history of walter freeman, the doctor who invented the procedure (as well as performed it on dully).

it was a great piece, creepy and practically begging to be sampled in some dark breakcore or noise. i thought about blogging it but it eventually slipped my mind, as such things do. then i came across this boingboing post, which even gives us a handy mp3 link! this is what public radio is all about: a moving story, superbly told. and dully's voice is unbelievably perfect for the tone: you would almost think they'd hired an actor to play him.

friday cat bending: fx

friday cat databending #5. (link to #4.)

continuing from last week, where i has converted leland_poses to a BMP file and was running various audio effects on it in sound forge. last week i showed some experiments with volume. this week i show some other effects. perhaps the most interesting (from an intellectual standpoint if not a visual standpoint) are "delay", which created a "ghost" image, and "invert", which is remarkably close to what the image would look like if you ran a standard invert effect (roughly a photo negative effect) in an image editor (with just a little extra visual noise). this demonstrates that the "invert" commands in audio and image editors do pretty much the same thing, which is interesting but perhaps not that useful.

and now i give you the images:

leland_poses.JPG: original image:

open:this window|open:new window

leland_poses-chorus.jpg: run through chorus effect:

open:this window|open:new window

leland_poses-compression.jpg: run through compression effect:

open:this window|open:new window

leland_poses-delay.jpg: run through delay effect:

open:this window|open:new window

leland_poses-invert.jpg: run through invert effect:

open:this window|open:new window

leland_poses-smooth.jpg: run through smooth effect:

open:this window|open:new window

leland_poses-win-wahwah.jpg: run through wah-wah effect:

open:this window|open:new window

Thursday, November 17, 2005

stAllio! mp3 of the day on i-see-sound

reader dj empirical writes for a couple cincinnati publications, including the music blog i-see-sound.

today's mp3 of the day on i-see-sound is my track "spamouflage", from my true data 12" (which is still available from the awia shop).

if you never got the mp3 or the record (or if you're just too lazy to pick up the needle on your turntable), you should check it out. the true data material is some of my best work ever.

and now is as good a time as any to announce price cuts! i still have a bunch of copies of true data in stock. one likely reason that sales have been low is that i've just been charging too much. $9 for one 12"? that's a bit excessive. i set the price fairly high in the hopes of recouping my expenses—my unit price was itself much higher than average because i went with a very limited pressing of 200. that's right; it's limited to 200! by now, i no longer care so much about recouping my costs. i just want to unload some of my stock so i won't have a huge stack of unsold records sitting around in my studio. i simply don't have enough space to store all my stuff these days.

so effective today, the true data 12" is only $7 from the awia shop. the combo deal is only $12 plus shipping (or $14 + shipping for girlie shirts).

also i'm officially extending the combo deal to include cds. order a 12" and a cd and get $2-3 off. furthermore, inside the US, the shipping on "music-only combos" is just $2! these will be shipped media mail. (i can't extend this offer to t-shirts, as legally you're not allowed to ship shirts via media mail, and parcel post for packages over 1lb costs 2-3x as much.) basically, that amounts to free shipping!

true data + maura's milk chocolate bath = $14 including US shipping!
true data + mono a mono = $16 including US shipping!
you get the picture.

if you ordered in the past couple months, i probably already cut you a price break. but now it's official. it might take a few days to update the awia shop but rest assured, reduced prices are now in effect. i'm still figuring out some of the details; i'll probably post again about this soon.

bush rocks

that wacky liberal mtv. always playing those leftist political music videos. why don't they play any far-right-wing political music videos? you know, like... toby keith. well, he's country, so i guess that's okay. what the world needs is a hard-rockin' conservative music video to teach today's teenagers that george w bush is fucking awesome. (wait, they still show videos on mtv?)

if that sounds like a dream come true then you will cream your jeans when you hear the right brothers and their new song "bush was right." imagine billy joel's "we didn't start the fire", with new pro-bush anti-liberal lyrics, with a chorus that sounds kind of like a christian rock band, or similar to those syruppy alternapop bands who wrote songs like "1985" or "stacy's mom" (i refuse to look up who wrote those songs. if you're heard them, you know).

think progress has the lowdown, as well as a 30-second excerpt. you seriously should check it out.

as keith olbermann said, "neither country joe nor the backstreet boys have anything to worry about." olbermann's show also produced a video for the song. it has more flag graphics than the colbert report. and i love the graphics of bush rockin' out on the guitar. crooks & liars has the video for your entertainment.

once the right brothers finish making their own video, they will start a grassroots campaign to push it to the top of TRL. if this campaign isn't successful, they say, it will be proof of the media's liberal bias. because just like the music of dirk diggler, "it's that's good."

here are the lyrics, in their entirety, as taken from think progress:

Freedom in Afghanistan, say goodbye Taliban
Free elections in Iraq, Saddam Hussein locked up
Osama’s staying underground, Al Qaida now is finding out
America won’t turn and run once the fighting has begun
Libya turns over nukes, Lebanese want freedom, too
Syria is forced to leave, don’t you know that all this means

Bush was right!
Bush was right!
Bush was right!

Democracy is on the way, hitting like a tidal wavev All over the middle east, dictators walk with shaky knees
Don’t know what they’re gonna do, their worst nightmare is coming true
They fear the domino effect, they’re all wondering who’s next

Bush was right!
Bush was right!
Bush was right!

Ted Kennedy - wrong!
Cindy Sheehan - wrong!
France - WRONG!
Zell Miller - right!

Economy is on the rise kicking into overdrive
Angry liberals can’t believe it’s cause of W’s policies
Unemployment’s staying down, Democrats are wondering how
Revenue is going up, can you say “Tax Cuts”

Bush was right!
Bush was right!
Bush was right!

Cheney was right, Condi was right,
Rummy was right, Blair was right
You were right, We were right, “The Right” was right
and Bush was right…
Bush was right!
Bush was right!

in other words, america, fuck yeah! (i still haven't seen that movie... we'll need to rent it.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

hack the vote: ohio '05 edition

bradblog links to this piece in the columbus free press about the "impossible outcomes" in ohio's election last week. the final "results" for 4 of the 5 ballot initiatives were drastically different from the results of a columbus dispatch poll. the poll, which historically has been extremely accurate with a high level of confidence, was eerily accurate on issue 1 but off by ridiculously large numbers on the other four issues. statistically this suggests either an enormous error or voter fraud.

another thing: this year, 41 of ohio's 88 counties had just started using new diebold electronic voting machines. the state of california had decertified use of that model voting machine after a shameful 20% of the machines failed in a test. why would ohio adopt machines that california had such good reason to reject? was it simply a problem of ignorance, or something more?

the polling for issue 1 was dead accurate, as the free press explains:

A poll run on the front page of the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday, November 6, showed Issue One passing with 53% of the vote. Official tallies showed Issue One passing with 54% of the vote.

The polling used by the Dispatch had wrapped up the Thursday before the Tuesday election. Its precision on Issue One was consistent with the Dispatch's historic polling abilities, which have been uncannily accurate for decades. This poll was based on 1872 registered Ohio voters, with a margin of error at plus/minus 2.5 percentage points and a 95% confidence interval. The Issue One outcome would appear to confirm the Dispatch polling operation as the state's gold standard.

But Issues 2-5 are another story.

The November 6 Dispatch poll showed Issue Two passing by a vote of 59% to 33%, with about 8% undecided, an even broader margin than that predicted for Issue One.

But on November 8, the official vote count showed Issue Two going down to defeat by the astonishing margin of 63.5% against, with just 36.5% in favor. To say the outcome is a virtual statistical impossibility is to understate the case. For the official vote count to square with the pre-vote Dispatch poll, support for the Issue had to drop more than 22 points, with virtually all the undecideds apparently going into the "no" column.

The numbers on Issue Three are even less likely.

Though again opposed by the Christian Right, Issue Three drew an extremely broad range of support from moderate bi-partisan citizen groups and newspapers throughout the state. The Sunday Dispatch poll showed it winning in a landslide, with 61% in favor and just 25% opposed.

Tuesday's official results showed Issue Three going down to defeat in perhaps the most astonishing reversal in Ohio history, claiming just 33% of the vote, with 67% opposed. For this to have happened, Issue Three's polled support had to drop 28 points, again with an apparent 100% opposition from the previously undecideds.

The reversals on both Issues Two and Three were statistically staggering, to say the least.

The outcomes on Issue Four and Five were slightly less dramatic. Issue Four meant to end gerrymandering by establishing a non-partisan commission to set Congressional and legislative districts. The Dispatch poll showed it with 31% support, 45% opposition, and 25% undecided. Issue Four's final margin of defeat was 30% in favor to 70% against, placing virtually all undecideds in the "no" column.

Issue Five meant to take administration of Ohio's elections away from the Secretary of State, giving control to a nine-member non-partisan commission. Issue Five was prompted by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's administration of the 2004 presidential vote, particularly in light of his role as co-chair of Ohio's Bush-Cheney campaign. The Dispatch poll showed a virtual toss-up, at 41% yes, 43% no and 16% undecided. The official result gave Issue Five just 30% of the vote, with allegedly 70% opposed.

how is it possible for a poll that was so accurate on issue 1 could be so totally wrong on the other issues? if all the results were wrong, you could blame the poll, attributing it to sampling error or the like. but the accuracy on issue 1, well within margin of error, suggests that the sample was indeed representative.

the free press concludes that something very wrong must have happened:

Though there were glitches, this year's voting lacked the massive irregularities and open manipulations that poisoned Ohio 2004. The only major difference would appear to be the new installation of touchscreen machines in those additional 41 counties.

And thus the possible explanations for the staggering defeats of Issues Two through Five boil down to two: either the Dispatch polling---dead accurate for Issue One---was wildly wrong beyond all possible statistical margin of error for Issues 2-5, or the electronic machines on which Ohio and much of the nation conduct their elections were hacked by someone wanting to change the vote count.

the free press points out that the GAO released a widely-ignored report on electronic voting, which concluded that the machines are easy to hack and full of security problems. bradblog posted this GAO report last month when it came out:

Voting System Vulnerabilities Identified by GAO:

  • Cast ballots, ballot definition files, memory cards, and audit logs could be modified.
  • Supervisor functions were protected with weak or easily guessed passwords, and memory cards that allowed individuals access to voting machines were inadequately protected.
  • Systems had easily picked locks and power switches that were exposed and unprotected.
  • Voting machine vendors had weak security practices, including the failure to conduct background checks on programmers and system developers, and the failure to establish clear chain of custody procedures for handling software.

Voting System Failures Have Already Occurred During Elections

In addition to identifying potential vulnerabilities, GAO identified a number of cases of operational failures in real elections. These examples included:

  • In California, a county presented voters with an incorrect electronic ballot, meaning they could not vote in certain races.
  • In Pennsylvania, a county made a ballot error on an electronic voting system that resulted in the county's undervote percentage reaching 80% in some precincts.
  • In North Carolina, electronic voting machines continued to accept votes after their memories were full, causing over 4,000 votes to be lost.
  • In Florida, a county reported that touch screens took up to an hour to activate and had to be activated sequentially, resulting in long delays.

sounds like something is rotten in the state of ohio.

report says tomlinson all kinds of guilty

last week ken tomlinson resigned as head of CPB, the corporation that oversees npr and pbs. tomlinson was accused of illegally trying to spread conservatism throughout public broadcasting.

now the konz report is out, and it is not very flattering. from the la times:

The 67-page report — the culmination of a six-month investigation by Kenneth A. Konz, the corporation's inspector general — portrays former Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson as a rogue appointee who often exceeded his authority in his determination to address what he viewed as a liberal tilt in public broadcasting.

Konz's report depicts the corporation as a deeply dysfunctional institution in which there has been little oversight over hiring and contracting and minimal communication between the professional staff and the board, made up of political appointees.

According to the report, Tomlinson consulted with Bush administration officials — including Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove — about his efforts, even though the former chairman told The Times in May that he had had "absolutely no contact from anyone at the White House saying we need to do this or that with public broadcasting."

However, Konz discovered that in late 2003 and again this year, Tomlinson exchanged e-mails with White House officials about possible candidates to serve as the corporation's president. Some of the notes discussed Tomlinson's desire to hire Patricia Harrison, a former Republican Party co-chairwoman, whom the board appointed to the post in June.

"While cryptic in nature, their timing and subject matter give the appearance that the former chairman was strongly motivated by political considerations in filling the president/CEO position," Konz wrote.

Konz concluded that Tomlinson's efforts to hire Harrison violated provisions of the Federal Broadcasting Act, which prohibits the use of "political tests" in employment.

He also determined that the former chairman broke federal law barring interference in programming when he promoted the development of "The Journal Editorial Report," a public affairs program on the Public Broadcasting Service featuring the conservative editorial page board of the Wall Street Journal. The report said Tomlinson urged PBS to air the program even as he offered editorial page editor Paul Gigot advice about the program's format.

The report said Tomlinson was so zealous in what he termed his pursuit of political balance that he instructed corporation staff to threaten to withhold federal funds from PBS to achieve it — an action that would have required congressional approval.

The inspector general documented numerous occasions in which Tomlinson circumvented CPB contracting procedures. According to the report, Tomlinson mishandled a contract with a consultant who monitored the political leanings of the guests on "Now With Bill Moyers" and three other programs by failing to get board approval and authorizing payments without written documentation of work. Konz also found that Tomlinson hired two ombudsmen this spring without considering other candidates. Tomlinson faces another probe related to his other post, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The influential agency oversees the government's international broadcast services. The State Department's inspector general is investigating Tomlinson's actions there.

that "consultant" of course was fred mann.

and now we move on the ny times:

The report said that a White House official, Mary C. Andrews, had worked on a plan by the corporation to create a new office of ombudsmen to promote balance in programming. Ms. Andrews had been hired by the corporation at the time but was still on the White House payroll, the report said.

It said her efforts "appeared to be advisory in nature and she did not provide the ombudsmen with guidelines on how to operate or interfere with their functioning." But it also found that the decision to sign contracts with two ombudsmen "does not appear to comply with established C.P.B. procurement processes."

The report questioned a severance package for the corporation's previous president, Kathleen A. Cox, who was forced to resign abruptly in April after a series of disagreements with Mr. Tomlinson.

According to the report, the package was more than three times her annual compensation, and Mr. Tomlinson structured its payouts over a period of years so that the lump sum would not be disclosed on publicly available tax records.

In a statement attached to the report, Ms. Cox named board members other than Mr. Tomlinson who she said were involved in some decisions criticized by the inspector general. Ms. Cox said she was forced to resign after Mr. Tomlinson told her she was "not political enough" for the job.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

kazakhstan threatens to sue borat

the character of borat would be known to american audiences from the hilarious (and extremely edgy) hbo series ali g. the show is sort of an import, but not exactly... it has content from an older bbc show mixed in with other, newer stuff. in the uk, the borat material is compiled into its own show, which i believe is called borat's tv show or something like that.

and i believe one of my readers dressed up as borat for halloween this year.

anyway, kazakhstan is pissed. says reuters:

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry threatened legal action on Monday against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who wins laughs by portraying the central Asian state as a country populated by drunks who enjoy cow-punching as a sport.

Cohen, who portrays a spoof Kazakh television presenter Borat in his "Da Ali G Show", has won fame ridiculing Kazakhstan, the world's ninth largest country yet still little known to many in the West.

"We reserve the right to any legal action to prevent new pranks of the kind." He declined to elaborate.

Cohen's earlier jokes about the Central Asian state include claims that the people would shoot a dog and then have a party, and that local wine was made from fermented horse urine.

the horse urine and cow-punching jokes aren't the half of it... the character of borat isn't just ignorant or portrayed as from a backward country; he's also portrayed as extremely racist and antisemitic, and as someone who happily practices incest and beastiality, etc. it's pretty out-there stuff, and i'm not surprised that kazakhstan would be pissed about it. but the show is still pretty damn funny.

sony recalls DRM-crippled cds

it was only a matter of time before this story got so big that sony had to retreat with its tail between its legs. people don't like to be treated like enemy combatants. that's no way to treat your customers. from usa today:

Sony BMG Music Entertainment said Monday it will pull some of its most popular CDs from stores in response to backlash over copy-protection software on the discs.

Sony also said it will offer exchanges for consumers who purchased the discs, which contain hidden files that leave them vulnerable to computer viruses when played on a PC.

Details about how long it will take to replace the XCP CDs and about its consumer exchange program will come later in the week, Sony said.

Sony began adding copy-protection to its CDs in June 2004 with the release of a record by the band Velvet Revolver, saying it was taking a step against unauthorized online file-sharing and CD burning.

The label says it will issue all major releases with copy-protection in 2006, as will rival label EMI. The other major labels, Universal Music and Warner, have yet to release copy-protected CDs.

Sony also issues copy-protected CDs using software from digital rights management company SunnComm. But those, which include releases by the Foo Fighters and the Dave Matthews Band, haven't come under the same kind of attack.

However, many artists have spoken out about all forms of copy-protected CDs, including Matthews, the Foo Fighters and Christian rock band Switchfoot. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are set to release a new album on Sony in January, and it will not be copy protected, says Fleck's manager, David Bendett.

Frustrated when he bought a copy-protected Dave Matthews release and couldn't copy it to his Apple iPod, Fleck insisted that Sony not release his new album with such restrictions, Bendett says.

Sony says its copy-protected CDs are clearly marked, but the front labels don't identify whether they use the XCP software. That information is included in small print on the back of the CD, which reads "?".

sony foolishly sticks by its plans to include DRM in future releases. not a smart move, especially since consumers are now more likely to be paying attention to whether a release has DRM. but at least sony has realized that xcp went too far. the question is whether they would try another malicious DRM product in the hopes that this time nobody will notice, or whether the DRM-as-spyware technique has seen its last days. i'm afraid it hadn't, but i'm cynical like that.

Monday, November 14, 2005

music fans, whatever you do, don't go bankrupt

man, i love the EFF. courtesy atrios, we find this tidbit on the eff site. apparently installing malicious software isn't the only egregious aspect of sony's copy protection. their EULA (end user license agreement) is full of all kinds of ridiculous nonsense. as eff says, if you buy a real cd, you own it. but if you buy a sony DRM-crippled pseudocd (emphasis in original):

  1. If your house gets burgled, you have to delete all your music from your laptop when you get home. That's because the EULA says that your rights to any copies terminate as soon as you no longer possess the original CD.
  2. You can't keep your music on any computers at work. The EULA only gives you the right to put copies on a "personal home computer system owned by you."
  3. If you move out of the country, you have to delete all your music. The EULA specifically forbids "export" outside the country where you reside.
  4. You must install any and all updates, or else lose the music on your computer. The EULA immediately terminates if you fail to install any update. No more holding out on those hobble-ware downgrades masquerading as updates.
  5. Sony-BMG can install and use backdoors in the copy protection software or media player to "enforce their rights" against you, at any time, without notice. And Sony-BMG disclaims any liability if this "self help" crashes your computer, exposes you to security risks, or any other harm.
  6. The EULA says Sony-BMG will never be liable to you for more than $5.00. That's right, no matter what happens, you can't even get back what you paid for the CD.
  7. If you file for bankruptcy, you have to delete all the music on your computer. Seriously.
  8. You have no right to transfer the music on your computer, even along with the original CD.
  9. Forget about using the music as a soundtrack for your latest family photo slideshow, or mash-ups, or sampling. The EULA forbids changing, altering, or make derivative works from the music on your computer.

that reads like something out of the onion. but the EFF isn't being snarky. all that stuff is really in there, most of it in fairly explicit terms. if you search the EULA for "bankruptcy" you will indeed find this passage, point #2 of article 9:

Without prejudice to any other rights SONY BMG or any SONY BMG PARTY may have hereunder, the term of this EULA shall terminate immediately, without notice from SONY BMG, and all rights you may have hereunder to use the LICENSED MATERIALS shall be immediately revoked, in the event that you: (i) fail to comply with any provision of this EULA, (ii) fail to install an update of the SOFTWARE that was previously provided to you by the SONY BMG PARTIES within the time specified, or (iii) file a voluntary petition or are subject to an involuntary petition under applicable bankruptcy laws, are declared insolvent, make an assignment for the benefit of creditors, or are served with a writ of attachment , writ of execution, garnishment or other legal process pertaining to any of your assets or property.

why does bill o'reilly hate america?

if terrorists were to attack san francisco and kill thousands of americans, falafel bill would be cool with that.

Hey, you know, if you want to ban military recruiting, fine, but I'm not going to give you another nickel of federal money. You know, if I'm the president of the United States, I walk right into Union Square, I set up my little presidential podium, and I say, "Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead."

And if Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.

i had never even heard of the coit tower and now i want to go there, so i wouldn't be surprised if they see an increase in tourism, now that bill has given them such free publicity.

i almost posted this when i heard about it friday, but i'm glad i didn't then, as bill has since stood by his comments and added that they "needed to be said." courtesy dkos, which points to think progress:

I mean, look, everybody knows what's going on there. What I said isn't controversial. What I said needed to be said. I'm sitting here and I’m looking at a city that has absolutely no clue of what the world is. None. You know, if you had been hit on 9/11 instead of New York, believe me, you would not have voted against military recruting. Yet the left-wing, selfish, Land of Oz philosophy that the media and the city politicians have embraced out there is an absolute intellectual disgrace.

yep, condoning terrorist acts isn't controversial in the least!

also, in a textbook example of projection, the falafel-man claims that taking "cheap shots" is "the hallmark of the left". because effectively saying "i hope al qaeda kills you" is the height of intellectual discourse.

You know, this is the hallmark of the left: Cheap shot everybody. Come out with the most insane things you can. Convince your Kool-Aid drinking crowd to follow you. Look, San Francisco is a beautiful city. It is now a disgraceful city. You can't even walk around the city without seeing people doing appalling things in the streets. I mean, you’re not going to wise up, I understand that. The city's been hijacked, it's going to stay that way. But the rest of the country doesn’t have to approve of it.

i have walked around san francisco on a couple dozen occasions. the most "appalling" things i saw were panhandling and the occasional gay couple holding hands as they walked through the castro. but the appalling thing about the panhandling was not that people were doing it; it was the realization of just how big san francisco's homeless population is. that's a bit disturbing, to think of how many hundreds or thousands of san franciscans have to sleep on the cold concrete streets and beg for food money.

which leaves us with gay hand-holding, which was the only other thing i saw people doing on the streets that could be considered remotely offensive. personally, i found it heartwarming, the idea that people who might be discriminated against or even beaten in other places can feel so free & open in san francisco that they can express their love for each other without being antagonized or even lynched. that made me feel good, but maybe it makes bill feel like flying a plane into the coit tower.

wal-mart: the high cost of low price

virago is now hooked on civilization iv. we were at my house saturday night when she joked that she was going to take a nap, so i joked that i would "play my game" while she slept. suddenly we were collaborating on a new game. when on sunday, she wanted to go back and spend the afternoon playing more civ, i knew she was hooked. now we need to look into getting her a copy of her own, so she can play during holiday break.

we were consumed by the game enough that it was hard to tear ourselves away in time for the screening of the wal-mart movie, but we managed.

we had RSVPd for a screening on the east side. when we arrived, the place looked dead. there were in fact 6-8 people there; turns out they were in the basement. we arrived a few minutes late, but not too bad.

the movie is powerful and relatively comprehensive. it hits all the major high points of wal-mart's predatory and unethical business practices: mistreatment of workers, union-busting, discrimination against minorities and women, appalling overseas factory conditions, environmental hazards, poor security (and heavy crime in parking lots), how upper management trains employees and managers to break the rules (and the law), right down to the sheer glee that the company seems to take in shutting down nearby small businesses. it features lots of interviews with former workers, former managers (some relatively high up), foreign factory workers, and more.

the production values are relatively low. some of the editing isn't great and the graphics aren't always that good either. but i expected this: robert greenwald documentaries tend to be low-budget and don't have the production quality of, say, a morgan spurlock or michael moore film. but that's okay because the content is pretty solid.

so i highly recommend the film. people nationwide are holding screenings all this week, so plug your zip code into the website and find one near you. most screenings are free or very cheap (ours charged $2, but they also provided lots of food; i think i got my $2 worth in dips and cookies.) if that's not an option (or you've seen it and want to own it) you can buy a copy on dvd or vhs for just $12.95+s/h. that's a low price you can live with.

Friday, November 11, 2005

judges who perjur

when supreme court nominee sam "scalito" alito was first appointed to the bench in 1990, he promised the senate that he would recuse himself in certain cases where there would be a conflict of interest (or at least the appearance of such). it turns out he lied. courtesy americablog, we find this piece in the washington post:

Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. said yesterday that he did nothing improper when he ruled in cases involving two financial firms in which he held accounts, although he had told the Senate 15 years ago that he would step aside in matters involving the companies.

Alito, trying to quell conflict-of-interest issues raised by liberal opponents, said he had been "unduly restrictive" in promising in 1990 to recuse himself in cases involving Vanguard Group Inc. and Smith Barney Inc. After the Senate confirmed him as an appellate judge and when he subsequently ruled on routine cases involving the two companies, he said, he acted properly because his connections to the firms did not constitute a conflict of interest under the applicable rules and laws.

Alito had at least $390,000 in Vanguard mutual funds when he ruled in a 2002 case that favored the company. After a party to the suit complained, he stepped aside and another panel of judges reheard the case. Alito also ruled in a 1996 case involving Smith Barney, which was his brokerage firm.

The Supreme Court nominee's comments, made in a two-page letter to Senate Judiciary Committee members, differed from the White House's explanations of his actions. The White House said last month that a courthouse "computer screening program" had failed to alert Alito to step aside in the Vanguard case. Alito made no reference to computers in yesterday's letter. He said he went further than he needed to in 1990 when he promised to avoid ruling in cases involving Vanguard and Smith Barney.

federal laws regarding conflict of interest are fairly strict. i'm no legal expert, so i have no idea whether scalito technically broke these laws or not. even if there wasn't a conflict by those legal standards, there was definitely an appearance of conflict of interest, and scalito should've recused himself for that reason alone.

but as john at americablog points out, whether he actually broke those laws is not the point. i pick up a lot of stories from americablog but i rarely actually quote from them. today i will, because i think john has this exactly right:

The issue here isn't whether Alito was or wasn't required, under court rules, to recuse himself from these cases. The issue is that Alito promised, seemingly under oath, NOT to hear these cases, period - but then went ahead and heard them anyway. That's a lie. It's also possibly perjury. And at the very least, it suggests he intentionally misled the Senate Judiciary Committee ON THREE SEPARATE OCCASIONS in order to get confirmed.

As for Toobin's second argument, that the reason the case came to Alito was perhaps a computer glitch, again that's not the issue. The question is not HOW the cases came to Alito, the question is WHY Alito didn't recuse himself, as promised under oath, AFTER the cases came to him, regardless of how they came to him.

In the Vanguard case, Alito went out of his way to argue that there was no reason he should have to recuse himself. Not only does that negate the computer glitch argument - it doesn't matter how Alito got the case, he was perfectly happy KEEPING the case and argued that he should keep the case. But what's more, Alito actually had the nerve to argue that there was no reason to recuse himself from this case when there was a very good reason - he had previously promised to recuse himself, under oath.

Again, it's nice to split hairs about whether Alito was "legally" required to recuse himself under court rules dealing with conflicts of interest, etc., but that's not the issue here. The issue is that Alito promised, we assume under oath, to recuse himself in order to convince Senators to confirm him. Then after Alito got confirmed - bam! - he turned around and broke his promise, and hear the case anyway. And not just once, but three times.

The man is a liar, quite possibly a perjurer, and at the very least he's someone with a proven track record of saying anything to Senators in order to be confirmed. There is now no reason any Senator should vote for Alito based on any testimony he gives before the Senate, or anything he says to them in private. Alito is not a man of his word.

do we really want to reward this kind of lying? what kind of message would it send if the senate allowed a known perjurer to ascend to the supreme court? think of the ramifications. perjury is a method of subverting the legal system. scooter libby was indicted for perjury and immediately resigned his post in the executive, and yet when scalito perjurs, he is rewarded with a seat on the supreme court? that's like electing an anarchist to be president: it makes no sense. it's absurd on its face.