Thursday, January 19, 2012

What gets missed in the SOPA debate...

Rick Santorum is hardly my favorite human being. He is a representative of a brand of "Conservatism" that is abhorrent to me. A religious zealot who preaches that we need good Conservative leadership, and then proceeds to advance radicalized ideas of imposition of theocratic controls, promote monopolist interests, and all in the name of "safety" and "freedom."

In a post SOPA Blackout world, that many across the Web didn't get--I point to the folks who misinterpreted Drew Curtis' "White Out" as support and obviously didn't actually read the whole statement or even click the linked video that simply read: You can't. It's evil--and I realize that during the discussion, some things about the bill really have been glossed over.

For Lulz, here's Rick's defense of SOPA as framed that freedom of speech is too free and against good American values...

For Lulz, here's Rick's defense, on the grounds that too much freedom is against good old fashioned American values.

First off, let's just get Rick's misapprehensions about freedom of speech out of the way.  That already disqualifies him from my vote in any, way, shape or form.

Free speech isn't about speech that is easy. It's not about speech that is agreeable. Freedom of speech is about speech that annoys you. Offends you. Pisses you off.

Most of our freedoms are about the right to piss other people off.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom to assemble. All about pissing off people. Especially people in power. Especially about pissing off the majority. It is to guarantee the freedom of folks to be contentious, inappropriate, and above all, to disagree with those around them.

That doesn't mean the freedom from being disagreed with, rather, it is a protection to be able to disagree, and not have the full weight of the government come down upon you, because someone has the ear of a Congresscritter or Governor or other member of the state. American freedoms aren't about the right to be free of hurt feelings and to be free from argument, they are about preserving those arguments, and allowing the tide of public opinion to turn on that very public.

Freedom of speech, freedom of religion are about keeping the state out of public arguments. About keeping the government the Hells out of such things, and letting people decide for they own damn selves.

Freedom of speech has never been about the freedom from butthurt. Our entire nation was based on the premise that here you could be as big a dick to folks who piss you off, and they can be as big a dicks as they want to you, and the government can't back either, but let you have all the knock down, drag out, public brawls about issues, and when the dust settles, the government treats you both the same, and let the majority vote their way about policy, so long as it doesn't violate some basic principles of fairness.

We can't, even if we have a majority, vote this a "Christian nation." We can't, even if we have a majority, tell folks that they can't belong to an organization that hasn't broken any laws, but pisses folks off by its existence.

The sad fact is, some folks think that our freedoms are freedoms to protect them from being disagreed with, when they are in, in the spirit of this nation, the freedom to disagree. Loudly. To sing it to the Heavens, to tell it the mountains, to whisper it to the rivers. To disagree, and piss other folks off.

That essential premise is what this nation is based upon, and it sets our national character. We are a rambunctious, fractious, argumentative, boisterous republic. Our national character was set when we told the East India to stop colluding with our government to fix prices and stifle competition. Our very Bill of Rights is about preserving that spirit, and if that pisses you off: good. That's the f*cking point.

Now that we have those particulars out of the way, let's get onto the meat of SOPA. Look at Tipper Gore. Democrats and Republicans both run the gamut on this. And they're both wrong on the issue of infringing freedom of speech for the same reason. It is about control. It is about limiting freedom in the name of safety. Safety for our children. Safety for our friends and political fellow travelers. It is about trading a little freedom for safety. In this case, it's actually worse, because it is less about safety than convenience. It is about making things easier to manipulate and control by limiting what folks can bring to bear against you.

One of the things that has been coming up, be it Santorum, be in Gingrich, or a lot of others, is that their words come back to haunt them. Their own words. Part and parcel of a new defense against this, is trying to classify those words put out into the public, can be restricted under the aegis of copyright. It's not entirely new, but it is a growing sort of concern, when you see companies that record said words--our news agencies--as considering their content as protected from being repeated. Quotation as infringement. SOPA and PIPA are part and parcel of an attempt to gag quotation. Not just muzzle things that offend folks. Not just keep you from the concept of fair use, but an end run around folks who dislike the idea that their own words come back to haunt them.

It's not about just infringement, but also about controlling the digital record, which is increasingly becoming a sort of Akashic Record of every politician's positions. If you only appear on friendly networks, only appear on record with those who will support and then ask for those who quote you to be expunged, you control message. Controlling message is what politicians desire the most, especially in an age when your words fly into the ether, and folks can compare and contrast. Directly. Themselves.

That is the real danger with SOPA. It is an obtuse way to control message. You quote someone who appears on Fox? You'd best have permission to use said clip. Don't? You can get your message shut down, without so much as a hearing. It is not just about copyrighted material like movies or TV shows, or books, but about controlling what content you can use as ammunition against someone and controlling the records themselves.

This is real danger. Not that you can have your site yanked because you used an image that Time Warner wanted a penny for, but because it can be used as a bludgeon to dun folks who dare to use quotations that would show hypocrisy, and allow politicians to continue to be hoist on their own petard, and their own words.

We saw it in the last election cycle, when Palin tried clumsily to try to classify her words as protected from being repeated. With SOPA/PIPA, you will have to contend with a lot more hoops to repeat things. It's not about being PC, but about controlling message.

As much as SOPA/PIPA is being touted, it is part of a multi-staged approach. The extension of copyright is likewise another avenue. It is about control of media, and absolute control.

I'm a member of the NWU. Part of the issues that the writer's union faces right now, are the control of contracts and control of distribution. We are fast approaching a point where authors won't need distributors to get their stuff out. Kindles, and the like, we are approaching a time when authors will be able to distribute their work without publishing houses. Can form their own distribution networks, do their own PR, and otherwise bypass the model that we have today.

Large publishing houses, and the same for large film distributors realize this. Contracts are increasingly draconian about work already in the hands of those houses and more, they are getting even tetchier about distribution and who actually owns those rights.

Authors grant rights to those houses. For a percentage of the sales. When you don't need those houses to publish, it's going to be a much hairier market. And folks realize this, and what we are seeing here, is a way to combat that, and head it off at the pass. Especially, if you stay small--and thus don't have access to the hordes on Intellectual Property lawyers who will look for anything looking like the barest hint of infringement, and SOPA/PIPA are great tools for that. To keep folks with intellectual property on the reservation.

It's not being talked about in this fashion. It's being discussed in much smaller terms, and that is, in part, because the companies that own the larger media houses don't want folks to realize the real shot off the bow for intellectual property that it is.

Besides the control of message for politicians--which is a way to get them on board--but all out assault on keeping authors of intellectual property from straying and forming their own entities. Be that with Creative Commons. Be that forming their own online publishing co-ops. Forming their own independent studios and distribution channels.

SOPA/PIPA are just part of an effort to keep the middlemen in charge, when they are creaking towards obsoleteness.

What bugs me about this issue is that as a bill to decrease piracy, it will actually not do a lot. There are work arounds for the folks who are into piracy as a means to defraud and make money for it. This won't prevent folks from selling you bootleg DVDs in the least.

What it does, and what isn't discussed, is pretty much insure that intellectual property creators will be forced to stay under the fold of larger houses for protection, distribution, and stay relatively docile as the technology is addressed.

It is a massively anticompetitive effort, and that is not really discussed in this debate. Because porn and people getting booted for snatching pics of LOLcats is more fun, but at the heart of this matter, is a stab at anything resembling organization by artists and intellectual property creators coming together to form their own houses/collectives, and market their work directly.

The establishment is slow. Scott Kurtz addressed this recently with his strip with the nice folks at the National Cartoonist Society finally recognizing webcomics after how many years? The establishment has been trying to consider e-commerce as both new and exciting, and with the same models as print. And they aren't. Much as the music industry was slow to recognize the digital commerce applications for music. In the interim, lots of folks leaped and skipped across the landscape as folks realized the potential for market outreach, far and away beyond what the suits who are invested in old models were contemplating.

SOPA/PIPA is a measure that realizes that potential, and wants to hate it out of existence.

Crossposted to The Motley Moose.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blowing Away Some New Year's Blues...

The Shofar is not a traditional instrument, but I think it is a good symbol for this feeling that I tend to get around this time of the year. Not that I'm Jewish. Not that I want to co-opt their ceremony or its tools or ceremonies. But I do think that maybe the larger culture in America could do with something on the lines of the High Holy days that lead up to Yom Kippur. Especially, as I sit in this sort of post Christmas malaise that I tend to roll into.

This isn't a post about the ebbils of The War on Christmas. Or the Commercialization of Christmas. Or even the Post Christmas Bloat of so much salt and sugar being consumed whilst sitting near a TV. It is maybe inspired a bit from that, but every year, around this time, I do slip into a bit of a brown study.  Christmas is over, and the New Year's celebrations beckon, and in between, you have a week of thought collection and recollection, and taking stock of what has occurred, what you hope for the next year, the last year has been a bit of a weird ride.

This is usually the time when I make calls to folks. Folks I haven't spoken to in years. Not everyone that I've wronged by any means--that's not a short list, and I'm not that good of a man--but I do tend to focus on folks that I've not appreciated as much as I should.  Or rather, told that I appreciate.  Which is odd, since after the aneurysm I promised myself that I'd not go to my grave with regrets. I failed in that--we get busy, we figure we have another day, those days turn into weeks, those weeks into months, and then there's a gulf of time that we are shamed of.  I understand the process, and why it happens, but prideful, I am always shocked when I look back and realize how often I've let this sort of debt build up.

In that, I do envy my Jewish friends and neighbors for their Day of Atonement. The fasting and the rest put a ceremony to putting things right. While Yom Kippur was some time ago, I tend to fall into a state where I want to put things right looking onto the New Year, and begin fresh. This is that time for that, and while I realize that Rosh Hashanah occurs every year, I sometimes think that the rest of America misses out on something when we celebrate our New Year with an orgy of booze and fireworks and kissing strangers.  Not that I don't like the time, nor will I say no if someone hands me a glass or five, but maybe we short change ourselves a bit, with less ceremony as we ramp up this end of the year.

Ceremony has power. It reinforces. It strengthens bonds. It brings communities together. It, more importantly, gives you the space to consider. Going back to Hebrew tradition, the concept of selah, a mark during prayers to pause, either for musical interlude, or to pause and reflect. Our ceremonies are a way of doing that in a larger sense. They give us permission to stop all the usual crap that we run around with, and take a moment or two to consider. That's sort of the point. Be that the singing of the National Anthem before a sporting event, or saying grace before a family meal, or touching gloves before a match, these giving of moments are important, and this is a time when I try to give maybe in a less formal sense some time to consider. And maybe wish for something more formalized to give a deeper meaning to getting all maudlin at this time.

I won't get to everyone this year. I know this; the list is too damn long, and I am not a good man. But if you happen to meet me rolling down the street, and I look a little preoccupied, it's not just the holiday running around, and I apologize for maybe being a little off my game. I hope y'all have a great year. I hope that this coming one is a damn sight better than the last. And for those of you that I've wronged, or taken for granted, I am actually thinking on that, and taking stock, and if I don't get to you this year, know that I haven't forgotten. I'm just shamed that it's taken so long...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Snark Done Right

Minneapolis, Minnesota's City Pages published a letter to recently resigned state Senator Amy Koch. Koch, resigned after an affair with a male staffer. Koch was deeply involved in the fight to put a Constitutional Amendment before Minnesota to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

John Medeiros' letter follows:

Dear Ms. Koch,
On behalf of all gays and lesbians living in Minnesota, I would like to wholeheartedly apologize for our community’s successful efforts to threaten your traditional marriage. We are ashamed of ourselves for causing you to have what the media refers to as an “illicit affair” with your staffer, and we also extend our deepest apologies to him and to his wife. These recent events have made it quite clear that our gay and lesbian tactics have gone too far, affecting even the most respectful of our society.
We apologize that our selfish requests to marry those we love has cheapened and degraded traditional marriage so much that we caused you to stray from your own holy union for something more cheap and tawdry. And we are doubly remorseful in knowing that many will see this as a form of sexual harassment of a subordinate.
It is now clear to us that if we were not so self-focused and myopic, we would have been able to see that the time you wasted diligently writing legislation that would forever seal the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, could have been more usefully spent reshaping the legal definition of “adultery.”
Forgive us. As you know, we are not church-going people, so we are unable to fully appreciate that “gay marriage” is incompatible with Christian values, despite the fact that those values carry a biblical tradition of adultery such as yours. We applaud you for keeping that tradition going.
And finally, shame on us for thinking that marriage is a private affair, and that our marriage would have little impact on anyone’s family. We now see that marriage is more than that. It is an agreement with society. We should listen to the Minnesota Family Council when it tells us that marriage is about being public, which explains why marriages are public ceremonies. Never did we realize that it is exactly because of this societal agreement that the entire world is looking at you in shame and disappointment instead of minding its own business.
From the bottom of our hearts, we ask that you please accept our apology.
Thank you.
John Medeiros
Minneapolis MN

That is how you snark someone who has made it her mission to preach to folks on how to run their lives, what is appropriate, and caught not just with her pants down, but wronging her faith and constituents. 
I am a proponent of marriage equality. I may be a Republican, but no where in that republicanism, does it mean that I support denying citizens rights. It doesn't mean that I want to see the First Amendment crumpled up into a wee ball, and tossed to the side. I have strong respect for those of faith, I have strong faith myself, but that doesn't mean that ministries and churches have the right to impose their own readings of text on others. Be they Unitarians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Pagans, Scientologists, Hindus, Muslims, and most especially those without faith. That is really the crux of things.  Freedom of religion is the freedom to practice whatever faith, and be free from others imposing their views of religion upon you. 
The thrust of any argument against marriage equality has been that it tears apart family values. Makes them meaningless. Because, as we all know, if someone believes differently than you, and is not a part of your congregation, their actions impact and lend meaning to your own by leaching into the ether, just by simply being...
What I have touched on before, is that we are entering a time, when folks are forgetting their vows. This is a danger to the nation. When folks consider their vows to be inconvenient to their lives, they cast them aside. Lately, it isn't just that of marriage that is getting tossed aside, but every time we said the Pledge of Allegiance, we promised to extend the blessings of the republic to all of our people. Liberty and justice for all. Not just the folks who make us comfortable or agree with us. Not just the folks who pray the way we do. For all. We swore to uphold the republic as indivisible, as one nation. Not Real America and Faux America, but one. A lot of folks have forgotten that pledge. A lot of folks seem in a hurry to tout what they believe the Founding Fathers would want us to do, by tossing aside the very Bill of Rights.  There are those who want to see the Ten Commandments be engraved on the side of every State House in the nation, and yet seem to forget those pesky things say: Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Thou shalt not steal. And work tirelessly to defend folks who break those very Commandments, and apologize for them. 
We have in a race right now for President, Newt Gingrich, who wants to define marriage, yet cannot stay within one himself, at least not without breaching that vow. His own actions sully the institution far more than partners who have stayed faithful for years, without the blessings of the church, and denied the same rights to marry as their brethren and sistren, by dint of who they love. That folks leap to this man, who wants to take the highest job in the nation, and swear to the nation that he will execute those duties faithfully, cannot himself even keep a promise to his own wife, and certainly not to even his own God to forswear all others. 
That inability to keep promises, when they become inconvenient is what threatens marriage. It is indicative of what is deeply wrong within my party. The inability to keep promises made. That is the rift that exists. Not "homosexuals threatening the sanctity of marriage!" but folks who threaten the sanctity of any vows by their willingness to toss them aside for convenience. No matter to who. Be that a promise to God. Be that a promise to your wife. Be that a promise to your constituents. Be that a promise to your nation. Be that a promise made to your fellow Congresscritters to deal fairly. THIS hypocrisy is the disease that eats at the party, and the nation. Projecting that onto folks who only want to stand with their partners, who want to sing their love to the mountaintops, that saddens me a great deal. 
And so, when John wrote his wee letter, he touched on all that, and twisted the knife a little, and made that sad turn into a wee bit of schadenfreude. Which is perhaps a bit better than succumbing to backpfeifengesicht--German for "face that needs a fist" which is a term that we NEED to bring into common parlance and I ask you to spread it far and wide.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Butt and Switch? Yes, a Similar Theme...

Today I am inspired by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner's tirade against Michelle Obama's temerity to say to the nation, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't shove EVERYTHING down our fat gobs and maybe exercise every now and then." His defense?  "She has a large posterior." Yup, he went to "she got a big ass" as his go to point.

Let's take a look at that tochis for a moment.

Yes, I went for a gratuitous butt shot of the First Lady. I am, if nothing else, wicked classy. It is to make a point though. Michelle Obama is not a svelte and elfin gal. She is a solid built woman. Not a small gal, but hardly what you'd call large. She is a woman in her 40s who looks pretty good.

Let's take a look at the Congressman who made the shot.


Now then, before I start to make unkind notations about front butt and his love of Cheetos--something that the article alludes to, and is no real secret--the Wisconsin House Representative is actually on the House Science Committee. He WAS on the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, until the Committee was killed off.  I could make unkind cuts on his introduction of US PATRIOT--an act he didn't write, but certainly has supported over the years.  I could point to his vote against aid to Katrina victims that GW Bush signed.  I could point to his intransigence over seeking to deny the widow of a US Marine legal immigration, with their son, after her husband was killed in Iraq.  I could point to these things, and say very unkind things. But, likewise, you can praise the man for standing with Nancy Pelosi as the only Republican to greet the Dali Lama in 2008 to protest China's treatment of Tibet. While Sensenbrenner has had his controversies, this particular flap is not so much telling of the man, than our times.

This is an issue that folks are creating waves on, simply to create waves.

Slim Goodbody. Mr. Rogers suggested healthy snacks. Sesame Street suggests healthy snacks and exercising. The Presidential Council on Physical Fitness. This is manufactured flack, because it is Michelle Obama picking up an idea that has been around for a long while. Not during just Democratic Presidencies. But since frippin' Ford's days.

Mind you, there IS pushback against the concept just on ideological bounds, but on the companies that are making inroads to putting their products in front of kids all the time in the form of soda and drink machines. Clearly defined product endorsements, and products directly dropped into school lunch programs, that are EASY to produce, and fairly cheap to provide, but lets face it, processed foods are not generally grand sources of nutrition. Which is kind of the point.

School lunch programs make up millions in sales in each state. They are a captive market, and a source of state and Federal funds. These programs are ripe targets for some companies looking to expand, not waistlines, but their profit margins. That their products aren't really good for you...that's a pesky, niggling sort of thing. There are dollars to be made, and Congresscritters to pay to help swing contracts their way. And when someone suggests that maybe we NOT feed our kids a bunch of processed crap with extra corn syrup, a lot of empty calories, salt, and fat for the f*ck of it, that scares the folks whose job it is to sell that stuff, and who just happened to get the grand idea that schools were a great market.
It is a confluence of very real financial impact to folks who figured that schools were going to be easy marks, and the folks who are going to oppose anything that comes from the President or his family. If it were immunization, there would be a confluence of folks who would get up in arms about the gub'ment telling us how to raise our chil'runs, and the vaccine crowd would get tapped to crow about it. If it were raising awareness about abuse, then folks would be screaming how we can't discipline our kids without the Big Government poking its nose in our bid'ness! The rumblings are out there, and there are folks to oppose nearly any issue, if it comes from the President or near him. If, tomorrow, the President were to propose a day celebrating NASCAR and apple pie I'm sure that there would be a huge uproar against the hypocrisy of looking to reduce climate change gases and support of racing, and the elitist "Stock Car" racing that average Americans can't possibly compete in, while simultaneously frothing about the celebration of invasive species introduced across a virgin America and the supremacy of European pie, when the obviously older fry bread and churro were overlooked, and how dare the Office of the President slander the fine Latin and Native communities... 

Opposition on the basis of a policy proposed by the Executive is nothing new. That it DOES have real financial impact is likewise not surprising. Burying the opposition because it might make you look like sort of petulant child who is a shill for an industry looking to shove even MOAR crap down our kids' gobs...that's a special sort of fun poking. Because, the issue isn't, as some are going to run with, that he called the First Lady a fatass, but that he opposes her agenda on grounds that she is the wife of the President, and that any movement to get healthier kids could mean endangering contracts with school lunch programs and reducing consumer spending on crap.  Like the Cheetos that he so dearly loves. 

Mind you, I LOVE Cheetos too. Not the puffy ones, but the crinkly dense suckers. It's salt and fat in a handy corn medium, and they ARE tasty. Let's not get that screwed up. But the opposition to the First Lady's agenda from several sources stems two fold, and it's not really being discussed. While trying to frame the opposition as being about "parents' rights to parent" and "big government" it boils down to simple opposition for opposition's sake, and "big government" is fine so long as it spends money on campaign sponsor's crap.  That his opposition is two fold, is far more subtle than some would give the man credit for. I am feeling generous though...

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Terra Nova was a Bait and Switch?

Yes, Korea's dictator for life has died.  Newt is plunging at the polls. Huntsman may run as a Libertarian. There is important stuff going on in the world, but I assume that folks are heading to boards like Fark or debating endlessly on Facebook on these topics. I decided to take on a different subject.

Terra Nova was a surprise for me. Not that it snuck up on me, I've been there pretty much from the first episode, but what I am appreciating about it, is how the writing staff lured us in with the characters. With the plot arcs. It's not the best series on TV right now--I still hand that one to Dexter for smart writing and characters that while not always likable, they are internally consistent. Something that is rare on TV nowadays.

Terra Nova snuck up on me, because on the surface it appears to be much like a lot of other TV series about time travel. A certain lack of regard for the laws of physics notwithstanding, and certainly a tossed away thought to causality, the show is an interesting thought experiment on how we humans could overcome our depleting our biosphere with pants on head retarded abandon.

It has all the elements. Shadowy government-corporate collusion. Authoritarians riding herd over scientists and doctors, idealistic colonists, an everyman with a family who is considered a criminal but just wants to be a Dad and protect his own, the quasi-adopted daughter of the military Commander who is in league with rogue elements and rebels.

From the get go, you are see the familiar cast of characters and figure: ...well, maybe the dinosaurs will look cool... Least that's how I approached it. It's how I looked at Primeval--another show that plays around with causality and time loops and physics and twists them up like a kitten with a ball of string--though, without a Spielbergian budget for their dinosaurs.  To be fair, when you get dinosaurs involved in a series, you almost always get quasi-governmental conspiracies, I suspect because even writers realize that few folks will believe that anyone else might pay for the housing and upkeep of the suckers when they are crossed over into our world, or we roll into theirs'. Time looping is rarely the sort of thing that TV villains ever just do on their own. It's a sort of Big Government project. Yet, when this series got off to its start, it set the archetypes down fairly thickly. Military Commander, his loyal troops, scientists with a lack of backbone, and then enters Jim Shannon, a criminal who sneaks his way across the time bridge to the Cretaceous to unite with his family. The Sixers are the rebels, the colonists are caught up in a somewhat low key struggle.

The thing is, without delving into the endless retconn of Lost very few of our characters are what they seem, even if they hew to archetype. That is refreshing to me. After the endless meandering of  JJ Abrams and Jeffery Lieber's muddled plots and fabricated "surprises" it's nice to see characters develop and reveal themselves for a change on science fiction TV without the "Very Special Episode" trope that usually accompanies it.  It was the strength of Babylon 5 and Farscape. It was part of reason that Firefly looked like it was going to shake out nicely.  Character progression without beating us over the head with it.  I don't quite compare Terra Nova to those shows--in part, because they are entirely different sub-genre--but it is nice to see that the writers payed attention. In a single season, Terra Nova became a show that looked like a few others, with slightly better production values, and is revealing itself to be its own show.

The bait and switch portion of the show is core to the plot. You can see how the show was pitched, and with the strong archetypes, you can see why execs looked up and said, "I understand this, let's do this, and with BIG dinosaurs!" The bait and switch is built into every character.  From the Rod Hallet's Dr. Wallace, who figured he could schmooze his way into the heart of Shelly Conn's Dr. Elisabeth Shannon,  Allison Miller's Skye, the adopted daughter of the Commander and turns out, Sixer mole--turned to protect her missing mother that the rebels have chained up with a nasty virus. Yes, it gets complicated fast, as science fiction shows tend to do. The thing is, and it's the thing that I like about the show, is that the characters, while they are presented in classic archetype fashion, they actually do remain internally consistent. We are presented with them, and make some assumptions. The viewer knows the conventions of the genre, and we're fed them on the surface. We bite, and then the characters reveal themselves, and lo, we find there's a bit more going on than we thought.

Steven Lang's Commander Taylor is the height of this. When introduced, you can't help but think, "Did they just use a bunch of out takes from Avatar to film this?  The show borrows heavily from his performance on the big screen to build a shell of a character around Taylor, before you get to know the man. It's very much deliberate. Hard nosed military Commander, with a bunch of armed troops to protect the scientists and colonists, you're led to make some assumptions about the man, that the rest of the season then shows that you're almost right, and where those assumptions are wrong, they are very wrong. The same with the Sixer's Mira. Arriving in a rogue pilgrimage, she looks at first like a foil to the munificent authoritarian rule of Taylor. And that is what you're supposed to believe, because that is the sort of preconceived notion that you arrive with.

That is really what the show is about. Not wacky surprises or twists, but taking your assumptions, and playing with them. Feeding them a bit, and then showing that the internal consistency of the characters is staying true, and since you assumed wrong about the characters' motivations.  It IS a show about the rapaciousness of man, of conspiracies to strip mine the past to feed the future, of a struggle to build community and make new lives. The thing is, the roles are somewhat reversed, in that the authoritarians as presented are looking to preserve their community and homes against forces that would tear them apart, and force them to desecrate their new home, and the wild rebels are tools of the technocrats in hiding.  That bait and switch has been a nice reveal, because that is what it has been. A season long reveal of the characters' motivations, and while doing so, allowing them to grow into those roles a bit.

It isn't an amazing show. It's not going to knock your socks off, having you laughing, and it on the edge of your seat. It's not going to make your head bleed trying to figure out the "mystery" behind things. That alone endears the show to me--I am tired of retconn being used as a constant plot device and the Heroes/Lost sort of rewriting history at a moment's notice, I hope, has passed on. What this show is, is a nice commentary not only on our politics right now, but how we construct our ideas and make assumptions. It is a show that gives a slight pause, because it is not blindingly obviously referential, and instead drops bread crumbs for you to follow on these stereotypes in a subtle fashion that I thought was dead on American network series television. Let alone on Fox...

The season is done, and I have to say, that I am hoping that this one returns, because it's a show that has some cojones to challenge those assumptions. Not in a "screw you viewer!" that just rips up the character  with some bombshell retconn, but instead has the audacity to keep characters internally consistent, and even make a gentle jape at the viewer for their own assumptions, and then let us in on the joke, with some well intentions.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Dollar Insight...

Yesterday I had to deposit some cash at the bank. Nothing huge, but every dollar counts these days, right?

The only problem was, not all the bills were recognized, and it pretty much illustrates the problems we face right now, not just in our everyday business, but the overall economy as well.

Dropping in cash at the bank is a pretty straightforward process. Used to be you just popped everything into an envelope, and you it all got deposited in the morning. Today, with "improvements" to the technology, you just drop bills into the machine, it reads them, and lo, instantly credited.

In theory.

That is, if the machine can read the bills. That means, the bills that aren't crumpled. The ones that are new. Haven't been used a lot. The higher the denomination, the better. Ones, fives, even ten spots, they get used and wadded up more often, and those are the ones that aren't so easy for the machines to read.

The bank decided that one of the fivers that I included wasn't good enough for a deposit. The tech couldn't read it, so it was rejected, and it went right back into my wallet. Not a big deal, but it does illustrate part of the problem that we face in the larger economy.

There is a lot of to do about tax cuts and tax breaks right now. Who gets them. What gets taxed, what gets a break, what is more valuable to the economy as a whole.  There is the school of thought that prefers to give breaks and recognize only the larger transactions.  Corporations and large businesses are more valuable to the general economy, in much the same way, that bills that are not in general circulation for long are easier to deal with for our banks at the ATM.

The fight against a payroll tax break is much akin.  Banks don't like the idea so much, because they won't be getting an influx of large cash from corporate sources. Instead, there will be smaller amounts deposited. A lot of them.  And more, with a payroll tax break, there won't be huge numbers posted to these accounts, but incremental amounts that will piled into paychecks. These smaller amounts do add up, and more, these smaller amounts will tend to go to things like paying bills. Utilities, gas, insurance, servicing credit card interest, into home loans, groceries, and small purchases. It's not sexy like dropping a few million into a single account, but like the five dollar bill, these smaller payments will circulate a bit more.

Giving large breaks to corporate sources, will mean dropping sexy amounts of cash into accounts. Akin to dropping larger amounts into bank accounts. These corporate accounts tend to head overseas, or are maintained a bit out of the chain of commerce. Put into the stock market. Put into funds that do things at a macro-economic level. Far more dynamic where the narrative heads when we talk about indicators. Bigger. Easier to track.

The problem is, economics isn't just at that macro level.  What we have are issues at the local level. Demand and supply are skewed at the moment, and we see a lot of Americans carrying debt, and crushed under the weight of bills hanging, with interest building.  At one level, this makes banks and utilities salivate at the thought of piling on more charges.  In the long haul, it means more cash extracted from consumers. The problem being, that this strategy chokes a lot of business models by depressing purchasing, and slowing payment on debts, which slows growth, slows demand, and right now, our economy suffers from a lack of movement in cash.

The humble fiver is an illustration of this. Crumpled, not too pretty, harder to read, the bank doesn't like it so much. The thing is, that fiver goes to small purchases. It goes to the gas tank. It goes to smaller purchases. That keeps the chain of commerce going.  In a similar way, these pay roll tax relief plans keep smaller amounts of cash moving as well. It provides not huge amounts of cash, but it does keep the cash moving.  People pay their utilities, they buy groceries, they buy gas, they pay down credit cards, they keep the cash in circulation. They pay for small goods, which then increases demand, which spurs production. It's not as sexy as a huge government contract, it's not an order for a company wide purchase of new laptops or an agribusiness expanding their facilities, but without increased demand, without this liquidity, those larger purchases, those larger demands never show up--or if they do, they do at a cost to local investment.

We are seeing a contraction in purchasing power by the middle class. We are seeing a drop in demand for services, and in response, we have banks increasing fees to make up for that. To squeeze folks when they're down. This in turn, lowers the amount of cash that folks are able to then put into purchases, further lowering demand, and increasing the overall difficulty in getting out of the hole we've dug ourselves into.

At some point, we have to recognize the power of that ugly five dollars. We have to recognize that cash in circulation does us all more good, than just looking at the larger deposits. That we need to put cash into the hands of folks who actually buy the stuff that folks would like to sell. To use the services that folks would like to provide. That cannot happen if folks don't have that cash on hand to do so. That by looking at only the larger purchases, the larger players, that we depress demand, and only exacerbate the difficulties we find ourselves in.

That lonely, ugly fiver, it wants to go to purchases. It wants to be used.  At some point, we need to recognize that those ugly fivers, when they compound over time and across the board, they add up. Not in the sexy way that twenties roll in, and count easy, but in smaller purchases that add up over time, and add up in ways that increase the ball of demand and keep the wheels greased.  Not as pretty, not as easy to point to, but economics isn't pretty, and ultimately, we need those small purchases, we need the cash passed around a few times before it heads up the chain, as opposed to going straight to the large banks, straight out of circulation, and straight out of the general economy.

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

Thursday, December 15, 2011

B-5 and the Attack of the Ads

Possibly the best part about re-watching Babylyon 5. has been not just immersing my the story, and reveling in the pure space opera, but reliving part of the consumer culture of the era.

The time was 1996.  Clinton was in office. We were disentangling ourselves with Reaganomics after Bush began our climb out, and Bill Clinton was battling Congressional Republicans on near every detail of policy.  Babylon 5 was begun as an independent project, out of the channel studio system, with a low budget, but writing that looked ahead in arcs previously unthought of. Brisco County Jr. gave us a young and brash Bruce Campbell. The X-Files were going strong. Deeps Space Nine was half way through its run. It was a heady time for science fiction on TV, there were cartoons galore still on TV that weren't just kid's content, MTV even showed videos on occasion.

And the ads...

The reveling for me is not the slick commercials of the major players.  Not the cereal commercials, the McDonalds ads, the cologne and perfume or clothing ads, though, to be fair, I am remembering the very pale Werther's ads, and chocolate Reisen ads, and the Mentos ads as well that just can't be done today. The hair, the colors, the Mom jeans, those are all there, but for me, it's the local cable ads that are killing me the most. The DragonCon ads. The local electricians and plumbers who threw up advertisements on cable, with the most basic of electronic signage, the furniture warehouses that pulled stunts and tried so damn hard to funny. The tech schools that did put real graduates and not actors up on their ads with an earnestness that just can't be found today.

To be fair, you can't find them like that anymore, because, they are awful. Just terrible production values, not terribly effective, and embarrassing acting. But that was the age. When your local cable companies were exactly that: local. Ran locally, pulling in ads from businesses based in the community and not just from industry giants, and produced not in package deals with a bunch of other industry giants, but your local plumber said, "Hey, you know what we need? An ad here, right after the dating service girl. Damn, she's cute..." Music cued up from some guy down the street who had a keyboard and a cheap mixer, and edited in by a community college student doing his internship, and it was that very earnestness in advertising that I kind of miss.

I have pretty much sliced off my cable today. Netflix. Hulu. I don't pipe in TV the same way I did back in those days. My news comes in on the computer, I get my movies and shows directly from the source, and while I am exposed to a few ads, I limit that by making my X-Box and Mac my prime entertainment sources. It is a very different consumer entertainment environment today, but going through the tapes, I have to smile. Not just at having to run the cleaner tape, laden with alcohol, not just sheer clunkiness of the tapes--the reassuring sound as the motor slams them into overdrive to fast forward or rewind--but the knowledge that THIS was the high tech of the day.  No giant flatscreens, but full size tubes on TVs that could actually kill you if they fell on you. And despite myself, sitting here with my own flatscreen TV, piping in TV on the wireless, I sort of miss those days, where your local car dealership went CRAZY with ads and DEALS!