Green Topsy Turvy

You will find this post from Treehugger.com startling, especially in light of the fresh round of attacks on Al Gore’s lifestyle

(Didn’t I warn people that the disconnect between Gore’s preachings and Gore’s sense of entitlement might blow up? Now environmentalists who live nothing like Gore are defending his energy gluttony with the same craven language that Communist sympathizers used 40 years ago to justify the palaces of the nomenklatura.) 

Anyway, back to Treehugger, a site about “mak(ing) sustainability mainstream”

…is it possible that George Bush is a secret Green? Evidently his Crawford Winter White House has 25,000 gallons of rainwater storage, gray water collection from sinks and showers for irrigation, passive solar, geothermal heating and cooling.

And you will find the comments a riot of invective coming from both sides.  Like this one here:

Oh come on PEOPLE!!! What, do you think GWB chose the stone, geothermal system, rainwater harvesting system, and insisted on the southern orientation of the main windows? PUHLEASE!!! He happened to have a halfway enlightened architect who designed a house that pleased him aesthetically and happened to also have these features as a side note. This is what celebs and people of stature do: hire those who can make them look good in one way or another.

GWB doesn’t have a friggin clue, other than he can tell his friends how green ONE of his homes is.

Followed by this one:

Why does he need a clue? He hired someone who did. That counts too.

All I can say is, bring on more news like this!  (Or like this!)  

The left-right blogosphere divide is so 2006.  I want everyone who believes all that is good resides on their side and all that is evil and dishonest on the other to experience sudden and repeated attacks of vertigo that call their worldview into question. Today’s as good a day to start as any.

Environmentalists shouldn’t worry about any of this.  It’s a sign, maybe, that more people are taking environmentalism and global warming seriously.  Americans are not ideologues by nature.  They are questioners.  The embrace of environmental consciousness will mean many smart people of good faith will come to different conclusions as to what constitutes sustainability or good policy.  It won’t be dictated from above.

Do People Still Read Kurt Vonnegut?

I think they do.  This column from Philly.com’s Sandy Bauers is a sort of reminisence of reading Kurt Vonnegut, the humorist/science fiction/political novelist and essayist.  Bauer’s hook is the release of some new audio versions of Vonnegut’s work, but the writer nicely recaptures the pleasure of reading him back in the day. 

Until I read Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, no novel made me laugh harder than Breakfast of Champions.  Reading Slaughterhouse-Five at age 14 influenced my attitudes just as much as the Kinks, the Beatles or R. Crumb.

Vonnegut’s politics put him squarely in the progressive protest camp, but with a sense of irony, skepticism and empathy totally lacking in today’s desperately bitter progressive “netroots.”  Vonnegut is never embittered by his adversaries; he’s more amused by them, even when they hold the power to destroy the world (and in some of his novels, do so).  And, as Bauers illustrates in this byte, Vonnegut is a bit shy about making utopian pronouncements of what would happen if, perchance, he were to win the day:

In Breakfast of Champions, which Stanley Tucci reads with delicious cunning, the obscure author Kilgore Trout visits a Midwest arts festival.

“Oh, Mr. Trout,” the hotel clerk gushes. “Teach us to sing and dance and laugh and cry. We’ve tried to survive so long on money and sex and envy and real estate and football and basketball and automobiles and television and alcohol and sawdust and broken glass.”

Trout, disheveled, the pockets of his oversized and threadbare tuxedo bulging with mothballs, is incredulous. “Open your eyes,” he says. “Would a man nourished by beauty look like this? You have nothing but desolation and desperation here.”

“I see exactly what I expect to see,” the clerk retorts. “I see a man who is terribly wounded because he has dared to pass through the fires of truth to the other side.”

I also recall an exchange from Slaughterhouse-Five where Vonnegut depicts himself telling someone he is writing an anti-war novel.   “Why don’t you write an anti-glacier novel instead?”  This was at the height of the Vietnam War protests, and sure, they were plenty angry.  But Vonnegut’s gentle fatalism about humanity was part of the scene, in a way you never see now.  

Imagine Kos or Atrios or their commenters having Vonnegut’s humility and sense of humor.  You can’t.  The netroots is a field where no irony grows.  But without that leavening ability to see the ridiculousness on all sides, they are left preaching to their increasingly rabid choir and with zero influence outside of it.

Europe’s Schizophrenic, Suicidal Left

Picking up the theme of the last post, author Nick Cohen today chronicles the Britain’s left’s incongruous support for radical Islamists.  To join in common cause against America and its remaining allies, socialists and progressives must abandon virtually everything else they purport to believe and have fought for their whole lives:

As al Qaeda, the Baathists and Shiite Islamists slaughter thousands, there is virtually no sense that their successes are our defeats. Iraqi socialists and trade unionists I know are close to despair. They turn for support to Europe, the home of liberalism, feminism and socialism, and find that rich democrats, liberals and feminists won’t help them or even acknowledge their existence.

Why is this happening? Cohen cites three causes.  The obvious one is George W. Bush, whose policies and persona, and especially his flubbing of the Iraq war, have made him a universally derided figure throughout Europe, a disdain that covers almost the entire political spectrum.  As in the US, the real stakes in the Iraq war — indeed the real events taking place — are completely obscured by the rage it has engendered. 

(The milder American form of this phenomenon is playing out now in the House of Representatives, but seems to be ebbing ever since Rep. Murtha made the curious mistake of bragging in public about what was suppoed to be a “stealth” strategy before he’d had the chance to implement it.  That the strategy relied on secret manufacture of a fait accompli is a tacit signal that the U.S. anti-war movement lacks confidence in its political support, the movement’s arrogant rhetoric notwithstanding.)

Cohen also cites another fairly obvious factor:  The corruption of the left by multiculturalism, which saps the movement’s formerly vigorous moral clarity. Nowadays, the left can only attack racism, sexism, homophobia or any other retrograde social ill within one’s own country and culture.  It is insensitive and “culturally imperialist” to do so when these things are practiced by Muslim radicals with their heads in the 12th century and rocket-launchers on their shoulders.

Until very recently our Labour government was allowing its dealings with Britain’s Muslim minority to be controlled by an unelected group, the Muslim Council of Britain, which stood for everything social democrats were against. In their desperate attempts to ingratiate themselves, ministers gave its leader a knighthood–even though he had said that “death was too good” for Salman Rushdie, who happens to be a British citizen as well as a great novelist.  

The third factor Cohen cites is the one I find most chilling — and the one I suspect the left will resent him the most for bringing up:  Fear.

Beyond the contortions and betrayals of liberal and leftish thinking lies a simple emotion that I don’t believe Americans take account of: an insidious fear that has produced the ideal conditions for appeasement. Radical Islam does worry Europeans but we are trying to prevent an explosion by going along with Islamist victimhood. We blame ourselves for the Islamist rage, in the hope that our admission of guilt will pacify our enemies. We are scared, but not scared enough to take a stand.

How sad.  Perhaps leftism as we knew it is really over. 

We underestimate how much influence socialism and left politics has had over the America we now see around us.  Conservatives in our country want to drag us back to the world of the Founding Fathers, but we’ll never go there.  We believe in a vision of a just society with a deep tolerance for diversity because over the past 100 years or so the left has persuaded us to adopt it and it has been woven into the fabric of American life.  Most Americans read the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence through a filter of left-inspired social justice principles — mostly for the better.

We also forget that the dirty word “appeasement” — its negative connotations associated with comforting delusions that some had about Adolf Hitler in the 1930s — was a policy of conservatives largely opposed by liberals and the left. Something has changed at a very deep level if the left is now willing to appease a movement that is objectively just as intolerant and deadly as were Naziism and fascism — and maybe moreso.

Socialism was once “the wave of the future.”  The wave has passed, but has left behind a corps of activists — innately adversarial people — who have been so confused for so long that they now will march for those who want to destroy everything their forerunners built.   They retain a lot of political influence, especially in Europe. What do we do about them?

The Islamismophobe

Novelist and University of Manchester Creative Writing Professor Martin Amis answered some reader questions at the Independent about a month ago — including some questions a journalist seeking to appear even-handed would never dare ask. This is a good thing. Amis seems at his best when provoked.

Along with Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan, Amis has been accused of being a British literary neo-conservative, or Blitcon for short, in the New Statesman. So some of the questions appear to come from the sector who agrees with that assessment. For example:

The phrase “horrorism”, which you invented to describe 9/11, is unintentionally hilarious. Have you got any more? JONATHAN BROOKS, by email

Yes, I have. Here’s a good one (though I can hardly claim it as my own): the phrase is “fuck off”.

I wasn’t describing “9/11″, as you call it. I was describing suicide bombing or suicide-mass murder. And the distinction between terrorism and horrorism is a real one. If for some reason you were about to cross Siberia by sleigh, you would be feeling “anxiety”; when you heard the first howl of the wolves, your anxiety would be promoted to “fear”; as the pack drew near and gave chase, your fear would become “terror”; “horror” is reserved for when the wolves are actually there.

And in a question referring to Amis’ famous father, Kingsley Amis, author of Lucky Jim:

How do you think you might have ended up spending your working life if your father hadn’t been a famous writer? JOHN GORDON, Eastleigh

Well, John, that would depend on what my father had chosen to do instead. If he had been a postman, then I would have been a postman. If he had been a travel agent, then I would have been a travel agent. Do you get the idea?

But what motivated me to post this colloquy was Amis’ views on a London protest he witnesses shortly after returning to England:

The most depressing thing was the sight of middle-class white demonstrators, last August, waddling around under placards saying, We Are All Hizbollah Now. Well, make the most of being Hizbollah while you can. As its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, famously advised the West: “We don’t want anything from you. We just want to eliminate you.” Similarly, when I went on Question Time the other week, a woman in the audience, her voice quavering with self-righteousness, presented the following argument: since it was America that supported Osama bin Laden when he was fighting the Russians, the US armed forces, in response to September 11, “should be dropping bombs on themselves!” And the audience applauded. It is quite an achievement. People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist, and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead.

(Emphasis mine.) Thank you, Amis. The self-destructiveness of this mind-set, not to overlook its deadly irony, cannot be exposed enough. I don’t necessarily think there are a lot of U.S. Democratic Party leaders who would join a pro-Hizbollah protest; but they and the “netroots” certainly do invest more time and energy expressing outrage at our own democratically-elected leadership than they ever do against this most illiberal of cults.

Maybe when Bush is out of office, this tendency will fade. I hope.

(Thanks for the tip to DodgerThoughts commenter Andrew Shimmin!)

Hillary, Bill and David*

David Geffen’s reported remarks that NY Sen. Hillary Clinton was “incredibly polarizing,” calling her husband, former President Bill Clinton, “a reckless guy,” and speaking of both Bill and Hillary, “Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling,” were obviously unexpected by the Clinton campaign and deeply resented by the candidate.

The campaign’s public reaction seemed disproportionate and out of control, as shown by campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson’s retort that

“Our expectation was that Sen. Obama, who was running a campaign premised on changing our politics, who has decried the politics of slash and burn, would denounce the comments, say that these comments don’t represent his thinking or his campaign. We were, frankly, surprised that he didn’t do that. It makes you wonder whether or not he agrees with them. It’s a little ironic that the candidate on one day would say, ‘I want to change America. I want to change politics. I want to lift us up. I want to stop the politics of slash and burn,’ while at the same time his leading supporter in California is attacking [President Clinton] and Sen. Clinton in very personal terms.”

The reference to Barack Obama comes because Geffen recently held a fundraiser for the Illinois senator and Clinton rival. But in normal-people-land, it would seem curious to lash out at a third party, Obama, for insults Geffen directed squarely at oneself and one’s spouse.

Geffen is not a surrogate for Obama; he just raised some money for him. It’s evidently frustrating for Sen. Clinton to have lost the support of such an influential donor, but her mouthpiece Wolfson would have it that Obama is now responsible for every utterance out of Geffen’s mouth.

Imagine how that would work if that were true. Obama would give Geffen a list of things not to say. Or maybe Geffen would call Obama’s campaign before speaking with a reporter, so he wouldn’t make a mistake. Yeah, right. David Geffen is nobody’s sock-puppet.

I suspect that of all the things Geffen said, the most offensive to Hillary Clinton was the word “they.” Meaning Hillary and Bill.  When you’ve got one of the Democratic party’s biggest supporters pointing out the problems “they” bring to the campaign, Hillary becomes unstuck.  She’s known to have a thunderous temper; and I’m sure it was her anger that launched Howard Wolfson on his fool’s errands in the media yesterday.

Bill Clinton is a “now you see him, now you don’t” presence in Hillary’s campaign. When she needs him, magically he appears. But then she snaps her fingers and he’s gone, along with his name. The banner across the top of her campaign website reads “Hillary for President,” and the links all refer to someone only named Hillary:  “Join Team Hillary,” and “Hillary on Iran,” and

In her first HillCast, a regular series of web broadcasts, Hillary talks about the Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act, her new plan to stop the president’s escalation and to start redeploying troops out of Iraq.

“Clinton” is in the URL and in the legally required notice, “Paid for by the Hillary Clinton for President Committee.”  If you can make it out, you can see Bill Clinton’s scribbly signature on the home page, affixed to a fundraising appeal.  When the campaign needs cash, “now you see him.”  But when the candidate is trying to establish her bonafides on the issues, “now you don’t.”

And yet.  Hillary Clinton is campaigning against Obama as a more experienced candidate, even though she has been elected official no longer than he has, because she’s counting her eight years in the White House as First Lady as a relevant credential. Who was she living with during those eight years? Someone who is actually much admired these days by certain kinds of Democrats who wonder what happened to a party that seems to have been taken over by strangely irreconcilable “netroots.” But obviously someone Hillary thinks has a lot of unwelcome baggage.

Strange that the most successful Democratic politician since the 1940s is such a pariah, and even stranger that he’s a pariah now, nearly a decade after Monica Lewinsky and the other scandals have faded into confused memory.  You have to wonder.  If Hillary Clinton built her campaign on themes taken from Bill’s 1992 and 1996 wins, wouldn’t that have some potential appeal?  We do have dynasties in American politics, and for the most part, they are reassuring to voters.  We wouldn’t have Teddy without Jack.  We wouldn’t have W without his daddy.  We wouldn’t be bothering with Hillary — an uninspiring leader, a boring speaker and a too-cautious policymaker — if it weren’t for Bill.  Bill, older and wiser, might be the perfect candidate for 2008 if the Constitution didn’t bar him from running.  Geffen’s remarks would have bounced right off him.

It is a family dynamic, not a political one, that’s being played out here.  There’s a lot of rage just below the surface, rage that has been controlled, tranquilized, compartmentalized and banished–mostly.  But we caught a glimpse of it today.

*UPDATE:  Arianna Huffington made some of these same points in an earlier post that I didn’t see til later.  My excuse is I had about a 20 hour day yesterday that began early in Boston and ended late in SoCal. 

Spontaneous Admission

Just noticed this embarassing blurt in a NY Times story this week about the reissue of a 10-year-old Anna Nicole Smith biography, “Great Big Beautiful Doll.”   You think maybe the publisher feels a little bit guilty making money off a corpse? 

The book, which is priced at $16.95, was originally published in hardcover in 1996, but Barricade, almost eerily prescient, had completed an updated version weeks ago that was scheduled to be issued in trade paperback this spring.

Last fall, Carole Stuart, the publisher of Barricade Books, had observed Ms. Smith’s recent troubles, notably, the death of her 20-year-old son and the paternity dispute over her newborn daughter. (Ms. Stuart’s late husband, the publisher Lyle Stuart, was famous for courting controversy with books like “The Anarchist Cookbook,” “The Turner Diaries” and the literary hoax “Naked Came the Stranger.”)

“I just thought, so much has happened in the 10 years since the first book came out that it would make a good trade paperback,” Ms. Stuart said. “Then of course last week she dies. And so we suddenly got really, really attractive to the distributors and to the book buyers.”

She added hastily: “We didn’t kill her or anything.”

But she admitted that Barricade Books is relishing its apparent monopoly on books about Ms. Smith.

Yeah, I’ll bet.  The detectives on Law and Order might even call that a motive.

John Edwards’ Blog Lesson*

If you know this blog, you know I tend to stay away from the stuff that other bloggers go on and on about.  The bigger the meme, the more room I give it to roll on through. But the story of John Edwards and the two bloggers he hired and then had to let resign (or whatever), is so mysterious, it’s been nagging at me, so I have to discuss it.

I don’t think Amanda Marcotte is a bigot.  On her site, Pandagon, she says she is “pro-sex, pro-feminist, pro-freedom,” which is like motherhood and apple pie, baseball, hot dogs and Chevrolet as far as I’m concerned.  She’s got a mean streak, no question, and she lets fly with harsh and graphic sarcasm particularly in response to organizations like the Catholic church that, in her view, repress women. 

She’s not the first feminist to feel rage like this against the Catholic church.  Remember Madonna, dancing in front of a burning cross?  Or Sinead O’Connor, ripping up a picture of the Pope?  I’m a guy, so I don’t feel this rage, but I’m hardly in a position to begrudge her the feelings she has. But anyway, it’s not like she’s obsessed with the topic.  She can be a charming and perceptive writer, and she’s energetic in her approach to blogging.

Melissa McEwan also seems like a bright young writer with a progressive bent, for whom the “anti-Catholic” charge was a bad rap.  However, she is also a fierce feminist who refers to herself as “Queen Cunt of Fuck Mountain,” and to the religious right as “Christofascists.” 

If you read a lot of blogs, especially on the progressive side, this kind of language is fairly typical.  It is not aimed solely at religious people; it’s aimed at conservatives, Republicans, DLC Democrats, Joe Lieberman Democrats, the media especially Fox News… It’s how they express themselves. 

If asked, I would tell all these progressive bloggers that words like “fucktard” and “Bushitler” are getting tired.  They aren’t persuasive, they’re alienating.  But it’s the language they seem to enjoy, and the Internet was made for this kind of thing.

Amanda was supposed to be the blogmaster for candidate Edwards, and Melissa was supposed to serve as a liaison to the extensive blogger network of progressives.  They had both settled in North Carolina to assume their new jobs.  But then Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League released a statement demanding they both be fired.  Edwards didn’t fire them, but he publicly disassociated himself from the things they’d said in their blogs, and, inevitably, both resigned within days.  

Marcotte and McEwan had done nothing new to warrant Edwards’ scolding statement, nor the termination of their political careers, between the time of their hiring and the time the controversy surfaced.  If the campaign had done minimal due diligence, they would have known the kind of electronic paper trail these bloggers had left behind.  They must have done this. So why did Edwards hire them? 

Presumably, the campaign knew that anytime a journalist or commentator is hired by a politician — never mind if they use a blog as their medium — their past words will be thrown in their face.  Pat Buchanan is the most famous columnist to serve stints on the White House communications staff, and there was no shortage of adversaries who tried to hang intemperate words he wrote as a journalist around the presidents he served.  Sidney Blumenthal had the same experience when he worked for Clinton.  (His response was to become even more outrageous as a political aide than he’d ever been as a writer.)

The most recent example before Marcotte and McEwan is White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. ThinkProgress, a progressive site, had a ton of fun finding critical things Snow had said about his new boss, President Bush — calling Bush “an embarassment” and “impotent.”  For some reason, Bush looked past this record and hired Snow anyway, and any controversy about it died quickly.  But Bush is a lame-duck president.  Edwards is a candidate, a dark horse, running for the nomination of a party where big-city Catholics are important.

Lots of Catholics will vote for a pro-choice candidate.  They’ll vote for Democrats, knowing that among their elites are many who disdain their faith.  But they’ll have a hard time swallowing a candidate who embraces people who seem to have no reverance for their beliefs whatsoever.  To quote Donohue:

“Writing on the Pandagon blogsite, December 26, 2006, Amanda Marcotte wrote that ‘the Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics.’ On October 9, 2006, she said that ‘the Pope’s gotta tell women who give birth to stillborns that their babies are cast into Satan’s maw.’ On the same day she wrote that ‘it’s going to be bad PR for the church, so you can sort of see why the Pope is dragging ass.’ And on June 14, 2006, she offered the following Q&A: ‘What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit,’ to which she replied, ‘You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology.’ 

This kind of colorful talk — which goes way beyond commenting on the church’s anti-choice stance — is something no mainstream campaign could tolerate.  Edwards’ people should have found it, and it should have stopped them in their tracks.  Forget the Catholic League.  Edwards’ political rivals would have hauled this stuff out.  It’s often forgotten that the first candidate to attack Michael Dukakis for releasing rapist-murderer Willie Horton on a weekend prison furlough was not George H.W. Bush, but Al Gore.  Gore didn’t put the racial twist on the story that Bush did; but he looked for the weak spot, found it, used it, and then left it for the Republicans to pick up in due course.

You think Hilary Clinton would do any different?  But say she didn’t.  Say the Marcotte/McEwan writings had gone unexposed until the November campaign — perhaps against GOP nominee and (pro-choice) Catholic Rudy Guiliani.  You think Guiliani’s campaign would have been able to resist grandstanding to the faithful about these ‘blasphemous’ campaign aides?

The rules of politics haven’t changed just because of the Internet.  If anything, they’ve been reinforced and accelerated.  Hard-core, wild-west, shit-stirring bloggers have no more place on a political campaign than slash-and-burn op-ed columnists did; and it was unprofessional of the Edwards campaign to think otherwise. 

I don’t feel bad for Marcotte and McEwan.  In the short run, their lives are disrupted, but this controversy could end up making their careers in the field where they are best qualified — as writers. 

But I keep thinking about Edwards, who made his zillions as a plaintiff’s lawyer suing doctors and hospitals.  Litigators like him know the “gotcha” game better than anyone on the planet.  One stray word that strengthens their case, and they will hammer the defendent with it until they’ve reduced them to bloody pulp.  How could people working in his name not have seen what was inevitably coming?

*UPDATE:  Happened to run across a post by Dan Gerstein in The Politico.  Gerstein, was communications director for Sen. Lieberman’s general election campaign win over netroots’ crush Ned Lamont.  He assails the liberal blogosphere for its unquestioning defense of Marcotte and McEwan:

But the reality is, as I experienced over and over again in the Lamont-Lieberman race, this is the liberal blogosphere’s standard-less operating procedure. They have decided that the best way to fight the “right-wing smear machine” that they so despise is to create an even more venomous, boundary-less, and destructive counterpart and fight ire with more ire.

It also goes to show just how deeply most liberal bloggers believe that Republicans and conservative are morally illegitimate, and as such, any criticism or argument made by the other side is on its face corrupt and dismissible. If it is said by Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who has a history of controversial statements himself, it automatically becomes invalid, no matter the inherent integrity of the underlying proposition.

What these liberal bloggers fail to appreciate is that this petty, polarizing approach is not how you ultimately win in politics – especially in an era when most average voters outside the ideological extremes are fed up with the shrill, reflexive partisanship that dominates Washington, and when the fastest growing party in America is no party.

The blogger bomb-throwing may be good for inflaming the activist base, and, as they demonstrated in the 2006 Lieberman-Lamont Senate primary race in Connecticut, for occasionally blowing up the opposition. It’s not bad for bullying your friends, either, as the liberal blogosphere did last week in pressuring Edwards to not fire the two bloggers who penned the offensive anti-religious posts.

But the typical blog mix of insults and incitements is just not an effective strategy for persuading people outside of your circle of belief – be they moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, or the swelling number of independents – to join your cause. In fact, it’s far more likely to alienate than propagate them. 

*ANOTHER UPDATE:  Thinking about this issue, I remembered another unlikely combination between a politician and an out-of-control writer:  Jimmy Carter and Hunter S. Thompson.  But Thompson was never more than an “unofficial advisor” to the future president.  This post is a Thompson bio that includes the story of his visits to Plains, Ga.

Sweet DRMs, Baby

It sure looks as if digital-rights management (DRM) coding will die without a friend in the music business.   First Steve Jobs blames the music industry for the restrictions iTunes places on purchased music, and calls for a DRM-free marketplace.  Now this

Almost two-thirds of music industry executives think removing digital locks from downloadable music would make more people buy the tracks, finds a survey.

The Jupiter Research study looked at attitudes to Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems in Europe music firms.

Many of those responding said current DRM systems were “not fit for purpose” and got in the way of what consumers wanted to do.

And yet, the article goes on to say:  

Despite this few respondents said DRM would disappear in the near future.

What are they saying? Is DRM a kind of vampire?   The biggest retailer doesn’t want it.  The producers don’t want it.  Obviously the consumers don’t want it.  So let’s round up the villagers and storm the castle.  

Among all those questioned, 70% believed that the future of downloadable music lay in making tracks play on as many different players as possible. But 40% believed it would take concerted government or consumer action to bring this about.

Despite these feelings, said (report co-author Mark) Mulligan, record labels are committed to using DRM because their digital music strategies revolve around these technologies.

“Despite everything that has been happening the record labels are not about to drop DRM,” said Mr Mulligan. “Even though all they are doing is making themselves look even less compelling by using it.”

“Concerted government or consumer action,” eh?   Well consumer action is already happening in the form of music piracy, which is still going strong among younger music fans.  What more do you want them to do?  As for government action, which government? Music is borderless.  These music execs have far more power to enforce some kind of anti-DRM, interoperability mandate than a national government.  They just need to get their act together.

The Latest Yoo’s*

Check out this search result I got on Daily Kos when I typed in the words “John Yoo.”  Just the titles tell you the kind of demonic role this UC Berkeley law professor plays in the minds of the left’s leading blogger and his acolytes: 

John Yoo: Worst Person in the World
SF Forum on Korematsu w/ John Yoo etc
John Yoo lays groundwork for blaming Congress
Pointing out John Yoo
John Yoo, un-American fascist
Did John Yoo Pass The Bar?
Meet John Yoo (A Short List of Sources)
The lies of John Yoo
John Yoo: torturing language, seeking the jackpot
John Yoo: Bush’s Conscience?
John Yoo’s Falsehoods
John Yoo suggests you ignore the Constitution
John Yoo supports impeachment
John Yoo: Habeas Corpus COSTS TOO MUCH MONEY
John Yoo – Nut Job
John Yoo says surveillance illegal
Editing John Yoo
John Yoo: Deception, False Framing, and the so-called “War on Terror”
Justice Stevens Schools John Yoo
The Most Dangerous Mind in America
Frameshop: Bush’s Permission Slip for Dictatorship (UPDATED 2.0)
Is It Safe? (w/POLL)
Yoo Suck
Yoo Da Man
Yoo on Gitmo Ruling: Supremes ‘Suppress Creative Thinking’
Presidential Adviser Says Bush Can Legally Torture Children
Bush Advisor: A-OK for president to crush children’s testicles
BUSH’S FORTY FIVE DAY CRIME SPREE
Korean researcher admits massive fraud (satire)
Has TIME’s Man of the Year Gone Too Far?
Bush Administration admits deceiving Congress!!
John Dean on Impeachment
Prosecute the Torture Policy Makers at The Hague
Handling the Truth, and Democracy
Letter to John Conyers: Do not give the Bush Administration de facto pardons
Civilized Warfare: How Insane Can You Get?
White House picks pastry chef w/ light touch
URGENT ACTION NEEDED! Stop torture judge confirmation.
What Ever Happened to the Founding Brothers?
The President’s Judicial Power?

 

Well, in case you’re interested in what somebody like that thinks about civil liberties, Professor Yoo has a column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.  Here’s how it ends:

The threat of an out-of-control, Nixonian executive seeking to harass its political enemies is not what looms before us today. Legitimate political activities and speech by American citizens are not being suppressed. Three elections have occurred during the war on terrorism, with the last one switching control of Congress to the opposition party. Free speech and creativity have exploded on the Internet.

Civil libertarians suggest that any wartime reduction of civil liberties creates a “ratchet” effect that will permanently diminish freedoms in peacetime. Others say that panic always leads government to go “too far.” Some claim that majorities will always abuse power to oppress minorities. Historical precedents provide some support for these claims.

But civil liberties have expanded in peacetime and contracted during emergencies throughout our history. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, but also liberated the slaves and expanded individual rights against the states. Civil liberties surged in the decades after World War II. Wars sometimes lead to social and economic upheavals that expand individual freedom. Wartime governments have also moderated discriminatory policies to rally all sectors of the nation. War expands executive power. But it does so for a reason — because wars need to be won. Hate, opportunism or greed toward minorities occur outside of war as well. Slavery and Jim Crow were the products of peace, not war.

John Yoo does not scare me as much as he does Kos and many others.  Some of what he has to say makes sense.  I don’t think the left is really listening to him; click on the links above and you won’t find much intellectual meat; just “gotcha”-style rantings. 

But it does strike me as both ironic and misleading that he would use the adjective “Nixonian” to draw a contrast between the powers he claims for the Executive Branch now and the evil doings of past presidents (he also points out that presidents Lincoln, Wilson and FDR committed worse transgressions against civil liberties).  

Let’s buy Yoo’s point, just for the sake of argument:  Bush is not Nixon.  However, the rap against Bush isn’t so much what he’s doing with his presidential authority; it’s the sheer amount of authority he has claimed.  Bush might not have the evil, vindictive qualities of Tricky Dick, but after January 2009, someone else is going to be president, and then later somebody else.  Will none of them be “Nixonian?”  

*Update, 2/12/07:  Professor Yoo must not have had many papers to grade last week. He coauthored an op-ed in today’s NY Times, which draws the only conclusion one can fairly draw from Congress’ willingness to oppose the escalation/redeployment/surge in Iraq, but only symbolically:

The truth is that the Democrats in Congress would rather sit back and let the president take the heat in war than do anything risky. That way they get to prepare for the next election while pointing fingers of blame and spinning conspiracy theories. It is odd to see the Democratic Party turning toward isolationism, bonding with paleoconservatives, and so bitterly averse to the ideals of democratic nation building.

War is not about instant gratification in a hail of klieg lights, our truncated Gulf war notwithstanding. In an interdependent, globalized world, we can’t shrug our shoulders and shirk in the war on terrorism. America made a fundamental change in foreign policy after the 9/11 attacks: to support and spread democracy. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, should understand this well. She made her national reputation as a junior representative in the 1980s criticizing the Chinese dictatorship after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the public would soon tire of war and engage in overheated accusations of bad faith. It is quite right that Congress review, and consider, from its unique perspective, what changes, if any, it now wants to make. If Congress really believes the Bush administration has set us on the wrong course, it can act tomorrow to cut the sinews of war in Iraq. But its failure to do so seems an acknowledgment that the consequences would be far worse than what we face now.

Put Down that Sock-Puppet or I’ll Shoot!

If you’re an author with a book being sold on Amazon, and you post a fake rave review, or if you’re a company that creates a fake blog where consumers are represented as raving about your product, you could be prosecuted in Europe as a criminal!  From Britain’s TimesOnline:

Online consumer reviews are playing an ever greater role in shaping shopping habits, with websites such as TripAdvisor for the travel industry being seen as increasingly influential.

However, a string of businessman in the UK and the US have been caught posing as supposedly independent customers in an attempt to boost sales.

A recent investigation found that poorly rated travel establishments could lift their reputations from one to four stars in hours by posting fictional positive reviews.

Shortly before Christmas, the owner of the Drumnadrochit Hotel near Loch Ness admitted to posting a fake review of his own venue on the TripAdvisor site, calling it “outstanding” and “charming”. David Bremner said: “Maybe I shouldn’t have done it. But I don’t think it’s that big a deal.”

Well, it is certainly true that before I buy anything, I try to find customer reviews to verify the manufacturer’s claims.  Don’t you?  But I take anything I read with a grain of salt.  I’m not sure I’m ready to see some poor hotel owner locked up in a Brussels prison for trying to lure me in.  What about “buyer beware?” 

I think the Word of Mouth marketing trend, all the research suggesting “people like me” can make me want to buy something, runs aground right here.  I’ve watched fake “people like me” try to sell me stuff on TV my whole life.  You’d have to be pretty naive to think the Internet is magically different from all other media in this respect.

Vote for Mono

Besides their nominations for 2007 Grammy awards, what do Mary J. Blige, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, the Flaming Lips, the San Francisco Symphony and Lynn Marie and the Boxhounds have in common? 

Answer:  Without a doubt, all their Grammy-nominated recordings were made in stereo — stereophonic sound, which, according to Wikipedia

is the reproduction of sound, using two or more independent audio channels, through a symmetrical configuration of loudspeakers, in such a way as to create a pleasant and natural impression of sound heard from various directions, as in natural hearing. 

Note the loaded language in this definition:  Stereo is superior — “pleasant,” and “natural.”  Anything else is presumably unpleasant and unnatural.

To achieve this “natural” effect,

Stereophonic sound attempts to create an illusion of location for various instruments within the original recording. The recording engineer’s goal is usually to create a stereo “image” with localization information. When a stereophonic recording is heard through loudspeaker systems rather than headphones, each ear of course hears sound from both speakers. The audio engineer may and often does use more than two microphones, sometimes many more, and may mix them down to two tracks in ways that exaggerate the separation of the instruments to compensate for the mixture that occurs when listening via speakers.

To prove their skills in this area, recording engineers used to do tricks, like having a guitar solo start in the left speaker than swing over to the right and back again.  Who doesn’t love that?   Dig the condescension in this anecdote from an audiophile blog entry about Bob Dylan:

Dylan, it seems, has never really gotten over the juke box age. When he recorded a live album with the Grateful Dead in the late 1980s, members of the band were astonished that he made the final track selection on the basis of a playback of the material not on state-of-the-art studio quality speakers but on a 30 dollar cassette player. Their conclusion was that he stills listens to music with the ears of the teenage boy who discovered the glory of rock’n’roll in mono in the L&B Café back in Hibbing, Minnesota in the mid-1950s.

Ah, mono — monaural sound.  What does Wikipedia say about that?  Not much:

Typically there is only one microphone, one loudspeaker, or, in the case of headphones or multiple loudspeakers, they are fed from a common signal path, and in the case of multiple microphones, mixed into a single signal path at some stage.

Monaural sound has been replaced by stereo sound in most entertainment applications.

Horrors!  How did we ever live that way?  Well, most of us didn’t.  The first stereo records started coming out in 1958 (the technology was already 20 years old by then, but was not commercially available).  For about a decade after that, the two modes were incompatible; your record changer could play stereo or mono, not both.  To those of us who grew up during the 60s, stereo vs. mono was like color vs. black-and-white TV.  Stereo was clearly better, just as color was clearly better.  If you were stuck with a black-and-white TV and a mono hi-fi, you were missing out.  It was like being partly blind and deaf.

However, Bob Dylan isn’t the only music legend who in the past 50 years avoided jumping onto the stereo bandwagon.  The Beatles issued mono versions of all their records until Sgt. Pepper, and John Lennon at least believed the mono mixes were superior.  Phil Spector’s 1991 remastering of his run of great hits like ” Be My Baby” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” was titled “Back to Mono,” in honor of the recording format that allowed him to build his amazing Wall of Sound

I can’t find the exact quote, but Spector once said he didn’t like stereo because a stereo recording gave too much power to the listener.  In mono, the particular mix of sounds was up to him.  By sticking to mono, he wasn’t looking backward.  Spector was probably the greatest sonic innovator in pop music.  Accounts of his recording techniques — his unusual orchestrations, his use of echo, his compelling percussion sounds, the way he fed sounds from a recording studio full of musicians into an empty one for another set of microphones to pick up — are almost as astonishing as the results.

Brian Wilson was another musical genius who preferred mono.  One might retort that Wilson’s whole world is in mono — the Beach Boys resident genius is deaf in one ear.  My response would be that, at least in his case, his one functioning ear could find more beautiful sounds in a recording studio than almost anyone else could find with two.  Stereo and mono mixes exist of his masterpiece, “Pet Sounds,” and if you ask me, the astoninshing blend of instruments is not helped by stereo.    

For years, I’ve read that the Zombies’ “Odessey and Oracle” is a lost 60’s classic, a British heir to “Pet Sounds,” so I finally picked it up the other day.  It’s pretty great, and I agree it’s amazing that of the album’s 12 tasty songs, only the hit “Time of the Season” is familiar.  The version I got has both stereo and mono mixes, and to my ears, even listening on earphones, the mono mixes sound better. 

Classical and jazz remasters from the 1940s and 50s recover the pristine origins of these old recordings, but present them in mono, because monaural masters are what they have to work with.  If you want to hear Charlie Parker or Artur Rubenstein, or the original cast recordings of shows like Oklahoma! or Kiss Me Kate, you have to settle for mono, but if that’s the music you want to hear, you won’t feel at all deprived. 

Frank Sinatra worked with the greatest pop orchestral arrangers in the world through the 1950s when he was on the Capitol label, and produced some of pop’s best recordings.  He worked with many of the same arrangers in the 1960s, and I think most Sinatra fans would agree, the results were inferior.  The “natural” separation of instruments that stereo allows sometimes calls more attention to the recording techniques and distracts from the music.   

To be sure, there are beautiful stereo recordings out there.  I’m not advocating that recording artists all reverse course.  But just as some movie-watchers apparently avoid great movies solely because they are in black and white, I hope music fans aren’t avoiding older recordings strictly because they’re in mono.  Mono is not inferior to stereo.  It’s not “unpleasant” or “unnatural” — it’s just different.  And it must mean something that so many of music’s legends seemed to prefer mono. There’s nothing stopping today’s studio whizzes from trying it again.

Farewell to Anna Nicole Smith; Farewell to the 1990s

As gross as the public Anna Nicole Smith became later in her life, I will always remember those amazing Guess? Jeans print ads. She was featured in small-town and farm settings, wearing a gingham blouse to go with the jeans.  In my memory (I can’t find any copies of these ads online), Anna Nicole sits on bails of hay, rides in a convertible with a scarf on her head, leans against a fence; unaware of her exotic looks, feeling right at home in a “Last Picture Show” world.  

Those ads almost perfectly embodied pop culture in America in the 1990s: A dream landscape of baby-boomer nostalgia…a yearning for the pre-1960s pleasures of a simpler life, black and white movies, amber waves of grain, innocent yet abundant sexuality. 

Back when those ads ran, I think everybody wanted to live in that world. Even Bill Clinton chased the dream with a similar idealization of long-ago, imagined times, Monica Lewinsky. Monica was the earnest co-ed to Anna Nicole’s serene country girl.  Same kind of childlike face and voluptuous figure, same innocent, idealistic facade. 

And the same big mess when the dream faded into the ethers, and the aging dreamers moved on — to the emergencies and disasters of the 2000s, to the disappointment of realizing how meaningless these fantasies always were.

With Anna Nicole Smith’s unfortunate but seemingly inevitable passing, the 1990s finally goes down the memory hole, gone for good.  Those times weren’t meant to last.

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Lightbulbs and Global Warming…?*

A year ago, I called attention to a British environmental activist’s campaign to ban the incandescent light bulb.  “Ban the Bulb” had a simplicity and elegance to it that appealed to this exiled PR man’s sense of how to communicate the imperatives of global warming. 

I’m not into finger-wagging on climate change, or attaching blame.  I’m into solutions, the less bothersome the better.  Getting people to switch to a source of lighting that uses dramatically less energy and thus is much cheaper over its lifespan makes more sense to me than 1,000 Al Gore “Inconvenient Truth” spinoffs or Arianna Huffington autograph sessions.

Just as I expected, a U.S. political leader has embraced the idea, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s a Californian, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine.  From the press release on his website:

“Incandescent light bulbs were first developed almost 125 years ago, and since that time they have undergone no major modifications,” Assemblymember Levine said. “Meanwhile, they remain incredibly inefficient, converting only about five percent of the energy they receive into light. It’s time to take a step forward – energy-efficient bulbs are easy to use, require less electricity to do the same job, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and save consumers money.”

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a nonprofit organization that focuses on energy policy, replacing a 75-watt incandescent light bulb with a 20-watt compact fluorescent would result in the same amount of light but would save 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide and save customers $55 over the life of the bulb (while the life of one 75-watt incandescent bulb is roughly 750 hours, the life of a compact fluorescent is a whopping 10,000 hours). Meanwhile, incandescent bulbs use 750 kWh over 10,000 hours, while compact fluorescents use only 180 kWh.

Well, I hope Assemblyman Levine didn’t count on getting a lot of support for this idea based on my advocacy.  This idea is getting the California nuts and flakes treatment from some quarters.  Ann Althouse:

This is a California idea. If I lived there and faced this ban, I’d buy my lightbulbs in another state. It’s just too horrible to live in such an ugly glare. People who have no aesthetic sense don’t understand how a limit like this affects people. I’d be happy to make up for it by turning off more lights or using dimmers.

Why don’t you ban air conditioning?

Glenn Reynolds:

I’m quite interested in compact fluorescents — I’ve installed quite a few in my house, and I’ve been experimenting to see which ones suck (most of them) and which ones are okay. But banning incandescents? That’s just silly.

Now a ban on private jets? Much less intrusive, and there’s lots of reason to think that this sort of thing has gotten out of hand. Flying commercial — you can even fly First Class if you want — is a small sacrifice for our business and political and entertainment leaders to pay in order to fight the scourge of global warming. Plus, who knows, if the “jet set” starts flying commercial again, maybe commercial flying will get better . . . .

Certainly, Reynolds has a point about private jets — I’ve made the same point.  And, I get it that some compact-fluorescents are ugly, or flicker like office flourescents, and for some people can trigger migraines.  But let’s chill out here. Levine’s talking about 2012. If, as Reynolds says, there are some that are “okay,” why is it so hard to imagine further developments in the next five years to give consumers more good choices? It simply beggars common sense that the only alternative to a 125-year-old wasteful technology is an “ugly glare.”

Besides, the likelihood of Levine’s proposal becoming law anytime soon is nonexistent.  It’s a publicity stunt — the good kind of publicity stunt, one that educates people and stimulates a more informed debate.  Maybe it will sell more energy-saving bulbs.  Maybe it will cause people to turn off lights when they aren’t using them.  Maybe we’ll figure out a tax incentive to accomplish the same thing.  The debate has to start somewhere.  

Right now, I hate all the rhetoric about global warming. It’s so apocalyptic, on both sides.  Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.  Assume there is at least a good chance there is man-made climate change.  Assume there is an opportunity to mitigate it through a reduction in pollution from greenhouse gases.  Look for the most cost-effective, least economically damaging ways to attain those reductions. Push the technology, fund the research.  Make things happen. 

Maybe the seas will rise.  Or maybe future scientists will conclude the panic was silly.  We can’t know the future.  But we can make changes.  Levine’s proposal is a practical contribution, and I’d like to see more of them.  

*Update:  Just noticed that Glenn Reynolds has a new post up about compact flourescents. As he finds more bulbs that give off a satisfactory glow, his tone shifts.  Given his huge readership and his reputation as a small-l libertarian, he’s doing a lot of good.  Obviously, a guy like him will never endorse a bill that mandates a change in the market — he calls regulatory intervention the “hair-shirt approach.”  But Glenn’s talking as if Levine’s bill has a prayer.  It doesn’t. 

Reynolds and Levine, together, are educating people based on their respective positions in the intellectual firmament.  I’m sure Levine’s proposal got a lot of liberals and environmentalists to say, oops, why haven’t I made the switch?  If they’re interested in a non-tree-hugging consumer’s evaluation, they can turn to Reynolds.  Blogecology at its finest.