On The Reputation Economy

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
Cory Doctorow

Thanks to many, many, unspecified technological advances, the world has become a Utopia. In “Bitchun Society”, death has been defeated – you upload your mind every night while you are asleep, and if you happen to die, your last upload is downloaded into a cloned body. You just lose a day. Scarcity and the problems of resource allocation have all been conquered. People join together in voluntary associations as needed to do what needs to be done.

Jules “works” at Disney World, where he and his friends and colleagues have taken it upon themselves to keep the theme park running. But his vision of what the Haunted Mansion should be clashes with his rival Debra, who has completely different ideas.

One day, Jules is “killed”. Restored from his backup, he finds that Debra has used his “downtime” to move in on his “territory”. Now Jules must fight to reclaim control of the Haunted Mansion, while figuring out who killed him – and why.

I suppose we should give authors a bit of a break on their first novels. Very few artists create masterpieces on their first time. So when the plot-motivating murder mystery gets pushed to the background, and a lot of the characters are rather flat, it’s understandable and forgiveable. This is primarily a story of social ideas, anyway.

But I find fatal flaws in one of his ideas….

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Baseball Season!

We’re finally underway. All the preparation, all the planning, and almost all the wheeling and dealing are done. It’s time to get out on the field and play ball!

This season looks to be a very good one. There’s a heck of a lot of parity (the sort that the NFL can only dream about), with no clear leader in five of the six divisions. It’s actually easier to list the teams that don’t have a chance at the playoffs than to run down all the teams that can honestly dream about playing in October. There’s also an immense number of good young players to watch and root for. It’s a great time to be a baseball fan.

Of course, it’s practically obligatory for even a semi-serious fan to offer their predictions for the coming season. Most of these come out before Opening Day. But since I’ve been a bit lazy (and one or two games don’t matter that much over the long haul), here’s my prognostications.

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Movie Review: Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985, Japan)

We’ve been conditioned by Disney and Pixar to think that animated movies are for children. Light in tone, with a standard comic relief sidekick for the protagonist. Simple messages about love and family and all that, plus an obligatory happy ending. But animation is just another means for telling a story, and that story need not be one suitable for children. Take a look at Fantastic Planet or Cool World or Fritz the Cat, for example. Most definitely NOT appropriate for children!

Even when the source material is ostensibly a children’s story, or the main characters are anthropomorphic animals, the resulting movie might not necessarily be something you’d want to watch with your kids.

Night on the Galactic Railroad is based on a classic of children’s literature (at least in Japan) by Kenji Miyazawa. If the movie is a reasonably faithful adaptation, it’s hard to imagine why. Not that it’s a classic, but that it was thought appropriate for children. Young adults, maybe… It’s positively loaded with theology, philosophy, and surrealistic imagery which I think would go way over their heads.

Anyway, on to the story.

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Eurovision 2015 – Part 3

Here are my initial reactions to the seven entrants who get an automatic pass to the Finals. They are the “Big Five” (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK) who are the largest contributors to the European Broadcasting Union, the host country (Austria, this year), and Special Guest Entrant Australia.

At first glance (and probably second and third, too), there are way too many “power ballads” this year. Very few of the songs stand out. One would think that with forty songs, there’d be much more variety.

Especially when you consider what we’ve seen in the past two years (“Cake to Bake“, “No Prejudice“, “Calm After the Storm“, “My Słowianie“, and “Cheesecake” from 2014; and “Kedvesem“, “Tomorrow“, “Alcohol is Free“, “It’s My Life“, and “Marry Me” from 2013).

Anyway, here’s the rest of 2015:

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Eurovision 2015 – Part 2

Before getting to my initial thoughts on the entrants in the Second Semi-Final, I’ve got a bit of a gripe.

A lot of Eurovision fans are writing blog posts or presenting lists titled “My Top 40″. In previous years, it’s been “My Top 37″ or something similar. As it happens, this year there are 40 entrants in the contest. So picking a “Top 40″ is telling us absolutely nothing. Picking a “Top X” out of a list with X items in it is pointless. You are basically saying that you like all of the songs. Instead, call your list what it is: “My Eurovision Rankings”. And why not go a step further? Be like the judges, and pick your ten favorites from each semi-final, and then do a ranking of those 20 songs plus the ones with an automatic spot in the final round.

Anyway… here’s the YouTube playlist for the second semi-final, then my notes.

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Eurovision 2015 – Part 1

It’s time once again for the world’s biggest song contest. This year, because Eurovision fans Down Under physically relocated Australia to the North Sea during last year’s show, that nation will be considered a “special one-time-only guest member of the European Broadcasting Union” and will be allowed to participate.

That brings the total number of participating countries to 40.

The “official” music videos have all been released, and are on YouTube for you to watch and make fun of.

I’m no music critic, nor do I really follow current trends in European pop music. So I cannot really comment on the songs.

But I can give my thoughts on the videos…

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Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

So by now it’s probably safe to assume you’ve heard of Senator Cotton’s letter to Iran, signed by 46 other senators, and the ongoing flap over it.

I’m not going to get in to the politics involved with it; that’s been done to death by better writers than I.

What I would like to know is if anyone in the Senate or on his staff took Sen. Cotton aside as he was circulating the letter and asked him something along the lines of “Is this really a good idea?”

The letter opens with a statement of utter condescension, stating flat out that the Iranian government may not be familiar with the way the American government works in regards to treaties. Did anyone realize that it’s part of the job description of ANY government’s Foreign Office or State Department (or their equivalent) to be aware of the basic operating procedures of every government that they deal with? Didn’t anyone realize how insulting this statement is?

Didn’t anyone realize that the United States and Iran aren’t the only parties involved in the negotiations? Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China are also involved. Didn’t anyone stop and ask what sort of message the letter gives to one of our greatest friends, two important allies, and two rival nations that we are and will always be negotiating with?

It should be noted (as it has been in many comments on the many news articles covering this matter) that individuals in the government have gotten themselves involved in negotiations, unasked and uninvited, for various international agreements. However, those were individuals. In this case, it’s an unprecedentedly large group who have made their interference public.

The term “senator” is derived from the Latin “senex”, meaning “old man”. The implication in the derivation is that with age comes wisdom. A “senator” is a person who has gained great wisdom with the experience of age, and can be expected to provide well-considered advice and judgment.

When the legislative branch of our government was split into two “houses” – senators and representatives – it was decided that the larger House of Representatives would have the shorter term of office – two years. Senators were fewer in number, and given six-year terms. The theoretical intent was that while the representatives would respond to short-term passions in the “body politic”, the senators would be able to consider issues in the long term (since they’d be around much longer). They are intended to be the “adults in the room”. Also, those six-year terms are staggered – only a third of the Senate deals with an election every two years. And it’s never both from the same state at the same time. For the junior senators, there’s supposed to be someone there with more wisdom who can guide them around while they learn what being a senator entails.

Senator Cotton is a first-time senator. I can almost forgive him for his childish rashness with this letter. But certainly someone else should have stopped him. And if he didn’t come up with the idea on his own, I’d love to know who put him up to it. They should have known better. Heck, all the senators involved should have known better.

Book Review: A Spy Among Friends

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
Ben Macintrye
Crown Publishers (US)
(c) 2014 by the author

It’s kind of easy for most people today to forget that there was a Cold War before the Reagan Era. Or even that it began well before World War II. In the 1930s, young intellectuals dabbled with Communism as a political philosophy, figuring it would be the only way to stop fascism from taking over. Most people in charge didn’t think much of these interests. But the Soviet Union was playing a much longer game than anyone else. Someone like Kim Philby, a well-networked scion on Britain’s upper crust, was an easy target for recruitment. Even before any open hostilities. You’d never know how your investment would pay off.

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I Support WFMU

In just about a week or so, radio station WFMU will begin its annual fundraising marathon. Lots of public radio stations are taking time out this time of year to hit up their listeners for money. Why is WFMU different? Why do I support this one and no other station?

Put it simply, WFMU gets zero corporate or government dollars. One hundred percent of their funds comes from listener donations. Well, OK, there are a few modest grants, their annual Record Fair, and some companies that have donation-matching programs, but that’s it. You’ll never hear “Support for this program comes from….” or “This broadcast is made possible by a grant from….”

What this means is that no one (other than the FCC) can tell the station what it can broadcast. It’s “freeform” – their volunteer DJs play whatever they want. Since they all clearly love their particular genre of music, the whole effect is that of having a bunch of good friends who want to share this love of music with you. There’s a gospel show, a 50s R&B show, international music, reggae…. And several talk and listener call-in hours to add to the variety.

They are also very supportive of the local music scene in NYC and northern NJ, with DJs hosting local events. And they’ve been innovative, too. In 1997, they started live online streaming of their broadcast, which soon led to them archiving their shows. There’s at least 100,000 hours of radio available! And that doesn’t include podcasts and their new “Web Only” streams! They’ve even begun curating a “Free Music Archive” where you can find all manner of free and “pre-cleared” music for your creative needs.

I’ve been supporting them for several years now, and the Marathons are very likely the most fun thing you’ll hear on the station. Most other public stations sound tired as they beg for your money; WFMU goes crazy with excitement, live performances, and goofy stunts as they essentially invite you to join in on the madness.

In addition to the load of swag (no mere “Thank You” gifts here!) that you can get for your donation, you can even buy naming rights to a part of the station or Adopt a DJ! Let’s see you do that, PBS!

Here’s a bit from NJTV News about a recent documentary, “Sex and Broadcasting”, about WFMU:

So check them out, give them a listen, and maybe join the Super Secret Club of Worldwide WFMU Fans by sending a few bucks their way!


Movie Review: Birth of a Nation (1915)

A centennial went by earlier this month with essentially no fanfare. On February 8, 1915, D.W. Griffith’s masterpiece, Birth of a Nation, premiered. Almost immediately there were protests about its racism. Protests and complaints have continued to this day, to the point where if you happen to include it in a list of Greatest Films Ever (for its many technical innovations), you are almost obligated to apologize for it.

I’ve wondered… The movie is a century old. Shouldn’t the passage of time have dulled its effect? Given that almost every time it’s mentioned, someone cries out “It’s EEEvil!” and tries to ban it from being shown, you have to wonder just how many of those complaining about it have actually seen it. If you’re going to try to keep people from seeing it, how are they ever going to know just how evil it is?

Well, the thing’s in the public domain. You can watch it in many places online, without fear of violating piracy laws (like that’s ever stopped you). I decided to see for myself just what all the fuss is about. So I loaded up my computational engine with coal, got myself a delicious beverage, and sat my butt down to watch it (and take notes).

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