When Elephants Dance

Michael Frasse has an interesting essay on the Arts and Farces site called When Elephants Dance that covers the battle between the entertainment industry and everyone else. Here’s some stuff from the essay:

When elephants dance, it’s best to get out of the way. That’s exactly what’s happening now as the entertainment industry — the recording, publishing, and motion picture industries, mainly — attempts a worldwide intellectual property power grab with two distinct targets. Think of it: a coup and a lock on all published content in the same year, amazing isn’t it?

Target number 1 is the average customer: anyone who purchases software, an audio CD, an electronic book, or a movie on DVD. The entertainment industry sees customers as pirates, plain and simple. In their collective mind’s eye, we all have a wooden leg, eye patch, and a filthy talking parrot on our shoulder. While the Constitution grants customers certain rights with regard to copyrighted material, the entertainment industry very much wants to separate us from those rights.

Target number 2 in the sights of the entertainment industry are technology behemoths like Microsoft, Intel, IBM, and Apple. These companies, in the perverse worldview of the entertainment industry, make the tools — computers mostly — that allow customers to practice their piracy.

He covers a lot of ground in the essay: copy-protected CDs, Internet radio, copyright, moral rights, the DMCA, the CBDTPA and the entertainment industry’s “soft money” donations made to the Hollywood ass-kissing senators who introduced it:

And finally, he proposes these measures:

  • Revert the term of copyright to 14 years, immediately and retroactive to all existing works.
  • Recognize moral rights in the works authors create, like every other civilized country on the planet. Make it immediate and retroactive to all existing works.
  • Prohibit any corporation from owning a copyright. Corporations create nothing; they’re consensual hallucinations and exist at our pleasure. I don’t know about you, but I’m not much pleased any more.

Make sure you check it out.


More musical notes

O Crest Whitestrips Where Art Thou?

From this story in the New York Times (free registration required):

The Grammy success of “O Brother” (a total of five awards), the album’s subsequent No. 1 ranking on the Billboard chart (above Brandy and Alanis Morissette) and its impressive sales of 4.4 million copies have all seemed to send a message to the country music industry.

Well, the album did send a message, and that message has been received and marked: Return to Sender.

If there’s one culprit in the current state of country music, it may be Crest Whitestrips. Yes, Crest Whitestrips, the new dental whitening system. Because when you point a finger at Crest Whitestrips, you’re pointing at Procter & Gamble, the product’s maker and one of the largest purchasers of radio advertising time. And the major advertisers are the people who really control what you hear on the radio, especially country radio.

You can keep your Garth Brooks. I’m listening to this guy instead.

Lollapalooza returns?

1991 was a really exciting time for music. It very clearly marked the end of what I what I used to call “The Great Music Drought” that began in the latter half of the ’80’s, when Cheese Metal bans walked the earth and formerly respectable outfits like R.E.M. and U2 started putting out crap ballads (“They think that ‘slower’ means ‘deeper”, my pal George used to say).

In 1991, the Machester scene brought a fusion of guitar pop and dance. Techno was just getting started; even then The Prodigy were already cranking out some catchy tunes, and Messiah was doing the rock-meets-electronic music thing long before The Crystal Method. Raves were still interesting and new, and I have the goofy hat and pants to prove it. In the Pacific Northwest, a bunch of bands were mixing the best elements of punk and metal, while farther south, groups like Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were doing the same with funk and metal. Father east, bands like Sonic Youth and a new group calling themselves Smashing Pumpkins were doing wonderful Hendrix-esque things with guitar noise. Near and dear to my heart, groups like Ministry, KMFDM and Nine Inch Nails were proving that the keyboard was not a wimpy instrument. Before today’s obsession with bling-bling, hip-hop was mutating into interesting strains, what with Black Sheep, Del the Funkee Homosapien on the West Coast, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and Das EFX on the east coast and Urban Dance Squad and MC Solaar out in Europe. Hell, even the pop fluff was better — give me Black Box over Eiffel 65 any day. It was a great time to be a DJ, which — funny enough — I was.

1991 also marked the first year of Lollapalooza, which had a pretty varied line-up: Siouxie and the Banshees, Ice-T and Bodycount; Nine Inch Nails, Butthole Surfers, Living Colour and Jane’s Addiction, all on the same stage. The ’92 lineup was still pretty decent, but by the last show in 1997, its lineup had already skewed towards cheese-metal, and we were yet in another Great Musical Drought with Korn on one side and Britney on the other.

Now it seems as though Lollapalooza will be coming back in 2002. And this time, Clear Channel — the people who brought you homogenized broadcast radio — will have something to do with it.


Between what’s going on with my two lines of work — computers and music — I may have to go looking for a new career. Maybe children’s television.


Almost forgot…

Happy Passover, everyone!

And it’s Easter Weekend coming up, so Happy Easter too!


Wait till they start doing it to CDs with good music

Although one may view it as karmic punishment for encouraging Celine Dion to keep recording more audio diarrhea, it’s still bad news: there are reports that the copy-prevention (or copy-protection, as the Techniban like to call it) on Celine Dion’s latest waste of polycarbonate screws up Macs. The CD won’t eject, it messes with the way the computer subsequently boots up, and may even mess up the drive’s firmware.

The ironic thing is that a Mac was very likely used in the recording of her latest album.

For those of you who are in Canada and shop at HMV (or if there’s a CD shop in your city with a return-for-exchange, no-questions-asked policy like HMV’s), I suggest you buy a copy-protected CD and then exchange it. At HMV, when you exchange a CD this way, they make a note of the reason for the return. Say it’s because you don’t approve of the copy protection; you have the right to play CDs on the computer, and fair use laws allow you to make personal MP3 copies and mixed tapes and CDs. The record companies might not care much for their customers, but they do listen to their retailers.

Thanks to Cory at BoingBoing for the heads-up.


Sorry for skewing technical…

…but I am a computer programmer after all. I promise, there’s some funny slice-of-life stuff coming soon. Promise.

By the way, this Sunday marks the end of the first quarter of 2002, which means it’ll be time for the AccordionGuy Quarterly Report, complete with point-form presentations and charts, but still more fun that most quarterly reports!

American Techniban


We live in what the Japanese call a joho shakai — an information society. In such a place, technology and politics are bound to interesect; when they do, you can read all about it in Declan McCullagh’s Politech site. Declan, who lives in Washington, DC and is the Washington bureau chief for Wired News, covering the stories where the Beltway meets the Valley. He’s also a renowned photographer whose work has appeared in several magazines (and on his site).

Operation Enduring Valenti

In a recent posting to Politech, Declan points to a great essay by Richard Forno called Operation Enduring Valenti. The name of the essay refers to Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), the guy who fought against VCRs, claiming that they were to the movie industry as the Hillside Strangler was to women. The latest “Hillside Strangler” against which Valenti is railing is digital technology. I’ll let Forno sum up what Valenti’s up to:

Under the guise of ‘preserving America’s intellectual capital’ and supported by the funding of the entertainment industry cartels, they seek to sustain the entertainment industry’s Industrial Age business model (and monopolies) in the modern Information Age – where such models are rendered obsolete by emerging technology. By doing so, these elected puppets of Hollywood will continue earning campaign contributions and ensure their job security.

Perhaps we should call this group of Emmy-Award winners the “American Techniban” movement, given their fanatical views on technology, evolution, and society.

Valenti’s MPAA, along with their buddies the RIAA (who not only hate stuff like Napster, they don’t even like it when you make your own mix tapes or CDs) backed an evil law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which makes it illegal to even discuss the inner workings of copy protection, and instead of protecting copyrights has been used as a club against free speech online. Now they’re pushing the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA), which will make it illegal to make or sell hardware or software that doesn’t have “government-approved” (and remember, many goverment officals are in Hollywood’s pocket) copy protection. In his essay, Forno points out something very important about the CBDTPA:

It should also be noted that with the exception of one executive from Intel, every person invited to testify on the proposed CBDTPA was from the entertainment industry….there were no artists, musicians, producers, or consumers invited. So much for this being a ‘consumer-friendly’ bill.

In other words, the entertainment industry just wants you to keep your mouth shut and your wallet open.


Accidental Genius

Etymology time! The root of the word “decide” come from a word meaning “to kill”. Every time you make a choice, you kill off other possibilities. This is the problem with letting the government and the entertainment industry decide what kind of technologies are legal: by simply declaring a piece of technology illegal because it could be used to infringe on copyright, what other uses for the technology are you killing? If the entertainment industry could go back in time about eight years, they’d have lobbied to make the home computer either illegal or at least legislate it into a retarded box that you’d use for only for typing and viewing ads for movies and albums.

Back in the early 1980’s Apple Records (the Beatles’ record company) and Apple Computer came to an agreement that Apple Computer could keep their name as long as they stayed out of the music industry. At the time, no one forsaw home computers and music intersecting outside of the soundtrack for video games. However, with the invention of MIDI (Music Instrument Digital Interface) in 1983, it didn’t take long for computers to be used as composition devices and as backup musicians. Apple Records could’ve taken the bastard route and tied Apple Computer up in lengthy legal proceedings, but instead chose to — ahem — Let It Be. And a wise decision too: Macintosh computers were the muscians’ computer of choice in the ’80’s, and more so in the ’90’s with the advent of hard disk recording, which allowed for more versatile, higher-quality digital recording gear that took up considerably less space than bulky tape machines (just try and find a decent recording studio without a Mac these days). This not only made life easier for big artists in their studios, but opened the door for many musicians who got their start making recordings on home computers in their bedrooms or small studios.

The computer is but one of many devices that had a life beyond the original intention. The transistor, a much smaller replacement for bulky vaccuum tubes, was originally designed for smaller computing devices for the military. A U.S. manufacturer used the transistor to make smaller hearing aids. However, in the 1960’s, a clever but small Japanese company really got its potential and starting manufacturing radios small enough for you to carry around, creating the portable music device industry. That company? Sony. Check out their long but fascinating history here; the Walkman story is here.

(Lightning would strike again with Sony several times, most notably with the Walkman. Sony was in dire financial straits at the time, and the board of directors was telling its president, Akio Morita, to concentrate on profession video products. They nearly killed the Walkman: Akio, baby, what’s with the tiny tape player that can’t even record? And no speakers? Are you crazy?)

Wired has a good story on how inventions grew past their original intentions. Among them: how the phonograph was originally meant to play back telephone messages, the mechanical clock was for regulating the prayers of monks and how Viagra was originally for stopping chest pain instead of delivering boners aplenty.


The War on Corporate Terrorism Marches On

Some words from the other cool Asian tech evangelist

While working as OpenCola‘s Director of Developer Relations (which made me Cory’s lieutenant on the evangelism front), I used former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki as my role model. He remains my role model as in my developer relations and promotional work with Peekabooty. I’m sure his offbeat techniques were part of the inspiration behind my using the accordion as a guerrilla marketing tool.

Guy is the grand master of writing inspirational stuff and giving rousing speeches. One of his most notable was a high school commencement speech he delivered in 1995 to the graduating students of Palo Alto High School. It was delivered in the style of a David Letterman “Top Ten” list. If you’ve never read it, give it a look; there’s lots of good advice to live by.

Take special note of point number eight:

#8: Challenge the known and embrace the unknown.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in life is to accept the known and resist the unknown. You should, in fact, do exactly the opposite: challenge the known and embrace the unknown.

Let me tell you a short story about ice. In the late 1800s there was a thriving ice industry in the Northeast. Companies would cut blocks of ice from frozen lakes and ponds and sell them around the world. The largest single shipment was 200 tons that was shipped to India. 100 tons got there unmelted, but this was enough to make a profit. These ice harvesters, however, were put out of business by companies that invented mechanical ice makers. It was no longer necessary to cut and ship ice because companies could make it in any city during any season.

These ice makers, however, were put out of business by refrigerator companies. If it was convenient to make ice at a manufacturing plant, imagine how much better it was to make ice and create cold storage in everyone’s home. You would think that the ice harvesters would see the advantages of ice making and adopt this technology. However, all they could think about was the known: better saws, better storage, better transportation. Then you would think that the ice makers would see the advantages of refrigerators and adopt this technology. The truth is that the ice harvesters couldn’t embrace the unknown and jump their curve to the next curve.

Challenge the known and embrace the unknown, or you’ll be like the ice harvester and ice makers.

This is what Big Content is failing to do. Their industry is based on hoarding information while the Internet is about freely exchanging it. Rather than embracing the unknown and finding ways to harness this revolutionary technology, they’re creating draconian laws meant to preserve their business models and monopolies. It’s as if the ice harvesters and ice makers decided to pay members of congress to pass laws restricting refrigeration, what with consumers being nothing but a bunch of good-for-nothing freon freeloaders.

Maybe it’s time to put the Big Content companies on ice.

Another Big Content Map

I really like my friend George‘s term “Big Content”. The only better turn of phrase I’ve heard was on the Daily Show when the U.S. backed out of the Kyoto Accord. John Stewart called it a victory against “Big Climate”.

My pal Ryan (whom, like George, I’ve known for almost 15 years!) sent me the URL to another media ownership map. While not as detailed nor as up-to-date as PROMO’s map, it’s got nicer graphic design and makes for a better poster for decorating your copyright law fallout shelter.

This map also has some great facts, including:

  • His Fuhrer’s Voice! Bertelsmann AG, the company that absorbed RCA, was a major printer of Nazi Propoganda during the Third Reich.

  • That ain’t workin, that’s the way you do it, money for senators and rules for me. Viacom broke US rules controlling media ownership when it bought CBS. Lucky for them, they’re Senator McCain’s fourth-largest “career patron” — within a week, he proposed changes to those rules. Is that a war hero in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
  • Don’t mess with the Mouse. In 1998, Disney-owned ABC News killed a story that asked embarrassing questions about hiring and safety practices at Disney World.
  • Rupert Murdoch ate my brain: “Our reach is unmatched around the world. We’re reaching people from the moment they wake up until the moment they fall asleep.”


“Look to the cookie!”

First, a joke

Two psychiatrists are walking down the street when they run across man lying on the sidewalk, beaten and bloodied, moaning in terrible pain.

“Look!” said one psychiatrist to the other. “Whoever did this needs our help!”

Incident at Charlottesville

In January, a group of black high school students in Charlottesville, Virigina led a series of assaults on students at the University of Charlottesville. All the victims in the assaults — some of which resulted in broken bones or stitches — were either white, south Asian or south-east Asian, and none of them knew their assailants. Police suspect that race might have been a factor; some of the arrested suspects allegedly admit to specifically selecting victims who “looked white”.

Charlottesville’s mayor says that the city’s reaction must include more than just punishing the attackers. He and other town leaders have started effrorts to investigate his city’s racial climate and social structure in attempt to find the root causes of the attacks. There have been a series of community meetings to discuss the issues of race and violence in light of the attacks. One of the victims attended the meeting, saying that his attack inspired him to want to do something about improving race relations. In my humble opinion, I think these are good responses that go beyond simply trying to cure the symptom and missing the disease. So far, so good.

What annoys me is the hand-wringing and rationalizations of the the attacks. For example, here’s what the University’s Dean of African-American affairs, Rick Turner, had to say:

I’m not condoning this act, but I think that we have a group of high school students, particularly African-Americans who are angry, and I think that anger stems from being left out historically, the schools, being poor…so I think all those played a role in this.


Now, as a first-generation immigrant and a force of darkness myself (“person of colour” sounds too wimpy), I know that the playing field isn’t level. Mom and Dad have always told me: “No matter how long you’ve lived here, no matter how much better you can speak, spell and write better than the locals, and no matter how well you’ve absorbed the culture, remember that they’ll always look at your face and skin and say ‘you’re not from here.’ You’ll always have to work harder.” In spite of all that, I should not be excused for opening a can of Crouching Tiger-brand whup-ass on someone just because he’s white, or because my people’s history was obliterated by ancestors he’s never even heard of.

Here’s a gem from Jim Burton, a retired factory worker who attended one of the community meetings:

“We really don’t have a problem here. I think what happened here is somebody just blew this all out of proportion. I believe this was just kids being kids. I don’t think they intended to hurt anybody, but they were just misinterpreted.”


It’s “kids being kids” only in the Lord of the Flies sense and they inteded to hurt just as much as the people behind the brutal murders of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr.

My own story

The reason that crap like this gets me so mad is that it happened to me.

It was the day before Frosh Week 1988, the day before Queen’s University’s newest wave to incoming students arrived for their week-long initiation, a day before a week’s worth of revelry and debauchery for us second-year students. My friends and I were at Alfie’s, the school’s largest pub, drinking pitchers of Lime and Lager and dancing to Bizarre Love Triangle and Yin and Yang the Flowerpot Man. I was dancing with Joan, a red-haired friend of mine, when a six-foot something blond guy walked up to me.

“You’re a fucking chink fag,” he said with gritted teeth.

“Nice day for it,” I replied. I was too busy dancing to deal with some drunk asshole. Besides, I’m a flip, not a chink, you fucking moron.

I found out later that he was upset because he was attracted to Joan and thought I’d beaten him to the punch in picking her up. I have two things to say: wrong, and tough shit.

He grabbed me my my shirt. “Why don’t you fucking go back to where you fucking came from?”

Oh, great. Not just a racist, but one who also uses cliches. I grabbed his neck and started pressing on his Adam’s apple. All the while, I was wondering where the hell the bar staff were. Usually, they jump on you if you did so much as stand on a chair.

“I came from across the street, asshole,” I said.

My friend Rob Moore Ede, always smiles, saw the altercation and came up to us. He faced the guy, made the peace sign and said “Peace, man.”

The guy looked at Rob with incredulity, and perhaps taken aback by Rob’s message of universal peace and love, let go of me and looked like he was about to walk away.

“Well,” Rob said to me, “that looks like the end of –”

That’s all I heard. The guy spun around on his heel and clocked me right in the nose. That’s not what knocked me unconscious — the back of my head smacking the dance floor did that.

I came to about a minute later to see a lot of blood on my new shirt. Joan had completely gone to pieces and was crying profusely. Some of my bigger friends were jockeying to be the one to teach the guy a lesson.

“Just give me the word,” Simon said, “and I’ll fucking waste him.” He yelled across the bar at the guy. “You hear me, homes? I’ll fucking waste you!”

I was being carried out the back exit of the pub while my friend Simon kept asking for permission to try out some new martial arts moves on the guy. I was in to omuch pain to really care about justice, or revenge and too scared to think straight. All I could ask was “Why did that guy hate me so much? What did I ever do to him?”

The worst part wasn’t the beating, but the excuses that followed. Some of my friends knew this guy and tried to “make me understand where he was coming from”.

“Look, Joey, he’s from a small town. All the people he’s evevr known until a year ago are white. He’s also from a poor farming family — he hasn’t travelled like you or me. Be a trooper, try and understand where he’s coming from. Don’t press charges.”


I got more or less the same from the student constables, students charged with keeping order at the campus pubs and events.

“Hey, sometimes people say things they don’t mean when they were drunk. Besides, I hear it was over a girl. It’s just a misunderstanding.”

If it was over a girl, then why did he never mention her? All I heard were racist epithets. Fucknozzles.

Between my so-called friends and the constables, I was disheartened enough not to press charges. I ended up living with that haunting feeling that I was no longer safe in my school.

Justice finally came, thanks to my housemates, who formed a posse and captured him one night. They dragged him back to the house, where they forced him to write a very long letter of apology at the point of my housemate Mark’s crossbow, I came home from the engineering pub to find his letter, which ended with a promise to not even look at me the wrong way.

That kind of incident happened in the Queen’s University of the 80’s and very early ’90’s, before student groups started taking notice of race-based attacks and tried to do something about it. It didn’t always succeed; Alfie’s Pub’s management practically looked the other way when my friend Dhimant got pounded by a couple of racists on the dance floor and as a DJ at Clark Hall Pub, I had to use a beer bottle to clock a guy who was queer-bashing one of the patrons. I won’t tolerate bigotry, and that goes double when I’m playing a really good set.

Not what Dr. King was striving for

I feel for the poor students who got beaten. I can only imagine what it was like for them — I was attacked by only one guy, and I didn’t need to go to the hospital for my injuries. I wonder if they feel The Fear when they walk on campus now, and I can imagine their frustration at the community holding a bake sale to raise funds for the assailants’ legal fees as well as their medical bills. I can only hope that they had loyal housemates like I did.

If the races were switched — if the assailants where white and the victims black, there’d be sound condemnation from black community leaders, and rightfully so. They shouldn’t be pussyfooting around the issue simply because the violence is black-on-white. By all the “I blame society” statements, all they’re doing is drawing attention away from the fact that innocent people were very badly hurt. That should still be the most important thing about the case.

What’s going in Charlotteville is shameful. I’m all for the city of Charlottesville looking beyond just punishing the youths involved and trying to make sure that they don’t continue down the path of hate. But being a member of a minority group, no matter how oppressed, doesn’t give you bonus rights, some kind of karma credit or a “get out of personal accountability free” card. You can say that the brutalities of racism far outweigh a handful of students getting beaten up, but you then reduce the victims to mere statistics.

And as someone once said, statistics are people with their blood and tears wiped away.

Recommended Reading

The discussion at Plastic about the incident at Charlottesville.

A stool-softeningly stupid op-ed piece at the university’s aptly-named paper, the Cavalier Daily. Moron professional journos often get their start as moron college journos.

The NPR story (RealAudio required) on the incident.

One more asshole in the mix: former Klansman and current asswipe David Duke get in on the action!