The Right Way to Fight Movie Piracy

Reacting to this story about the “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel earning $401 million its first weekend by opening in theaters worldwide nearly simultaneously, Thomas P. Barnett calls it “a good way to combat pirating,” meaning the illicit copying of new movies onto bootleg DVDs sold in advance of the movie’s opening in overseas markets.  

What the motion picture industry has perhaps figured out is that they were fertilizing the market for bootlegs with a mindless strategy of rolling out popular films in different markets over a period of months.  Well, it wasn’t a mindless strategy 20 years ago.  It was a way to manage the various costs and levels of effort associated with launching a big film — the ads, the PR, distribution of the film canisters. 

But now, PR- and advertising-fueled awareness of a sequel-ized hit featuring big stars like Johnny Depp can permeate most of the known world in mere days, especially a young market craving to be plugged in to whatever’s hot. There was an irresistable entreprenuerial temptation to service that market illegally.  If the movie-in-demand is playing at a theater down the street, there’s less of a reason for anyone to buy a bootlegged copy.

Rather than using copyright law to stretch a bunch of legal tripwires that, when triggered, make felons out their biggest fans, entertainment property owners ought to take a cue from Disney’s success story and give the people what they want.  They’ll pay a reasonable price for it if they’re given a chance.  You, the entertainment companies, have built this demand.  So service it.

Bright Lights, Big City, Gone to My Planet’s Head

Bright lights, big city
Gone to my baby’s head
Bright lights, big city
Gone to my baby’s head

Nobody’s listening to Jimmy Reed, I guess.   They’re stampeding from the country to the city, all the world over.

As of last Wednesday, May 23rd, more people on Earth are living in urban areas than rural. According to Science Blog, scientists at North Carolina State University and the University of Georgia used United Nations data to determine the moment of transition. 

The United States is long past its tipping point: We became more urban than rural in 1910.

I’d tried to tell the woman
But she doesn’t believe a word I said
Go light pretty baby…
Gonna need my help some day
It’s all right pretty baby…
Gonna need my help some day

You’re gonna wish you listened
To some of those things I said

In spite of all the warnings, the reason for the rural to urban migration is obvious.  Earth’s rural areas are its most impoverished.

Findings by the International Fund for Agricultural Development show that 1.2 billion of the world’s people live on less than what a dollar a day can buy. Globally, three-fourths of these poor people live in rural areas.

The researchers add that, in addition to having a highly disproportionate share of the world’s poverty, rural areas also get the urban garbage. In exchange for useable natural resources produced by rural people for urban dwellers, rural places receive the waste products – polluted air, contaminated water, and solid and hazardous wastes – discharged by those in cities.

NC State sociology professor Dr. Ron Wimberley sees the shift as ominous, according to the university’s news release:

“So far, cities are getting whatever resource needs that can be had from rural areas,” he said. “But given global rural impoverishment, the rural-urban question for the future is not just what rural people and places can do for the world’s new urban majority. Rather, what can the urban majority do for poor rural people and the resources upon which cities depend for existence? The sustainable future of the new urban world may well depend upon the answer.”

It seems to me that this story gets closer to the heart of what I maintain is the world’s most pressing environmental task: Improving basic health conditions for the world’s rural poor, including potable water, wastewater treatment, reduction in toxic chemicals, sustainable and productive agriculture.  As Dr. Wimberley suggests, the fate of the entire world depends on how well we address these challenges. Dealing with global warming is connected with this agenda, but should not take precedence over it.

Go ahead pretty baby
Oh, honey knock yourself out
Go ahead pretty baby
Oh honey knock yourself out

I still love you baby
Cause you don’t know what it’s all about
 

Checking in on CNG: Accidents Will Happen

According to the Daily Breeze, the owner-driver of a SuperShuttle van was killed while refueling at a CNG (compressed natural gas) station in Carson yesterday. Bob Mancuso, 61, was thrown 30 feet by the powerful explosion. There’s no photo to illustrate the story, but the writer describes the back of the van as “twisted out of shape” and the fueling station as littered with “shards of metal and plastic.” It sounds lucky that more people weren’t killed or hurt.

Why did this happen?

Sheriff’s investigators do not know the cause of the 10 a.m. incident, but Mancuso’s wife, Dianne, said her husband had been rear-ended by a drunken driver earlier in the month and had just gotten the vehicle back from the repair shop the night before.

“He got the van back last night and was told everything was OK,” she said.

“It’s not something anybody would ever expect,” she said a few hours after the blast.

Gulp.

Digging around the web for information on CNG, I was a little surprised at the circumstances of this accident. The potential for a deadly accident if a CNG tank is punctured is well-known. I’d be curious what procedures SuperShuttle follows after one of its franchisees is rear-ended to ensure that the fuel tank is not compromised. Does SuperShuttle have an authorized repair shop? Since the franchisee owns and operates his or her vehicle, there’s no revenue coming in if the van’s in the shop. Does that create a perverse incentive to turn around repairs too rapidly?

In the story, Mancuso does not come off as a careless man.

Although a smoker, Mancuso would never hold a lit cigarette while filling the tank, his wife said.

“He had the highest respect for that fuel,” she said. “My husband is stubborn, but he had a lot of respect. That is something you don’t play around with.”

CNG is one of the alternative fuels that began to gain acceptance in the late 1980s as a cleaner alternative to gasoline and diesel. I seem to recall SuperShuttle making a lot of noise about its switch to CNG here locally, but the company’s current website makes no environmental boasts.

The firm was purchased by Veolia Transportation in a deal announced last October. Veolia, which was previously known at Connex, also runs the Metrolink rail service in LA. It’s a subsidiary of the France-based Veolia Environment, which itself was a spin-off from Vivendi. Veolia Environment’s tagline is “The Industry of the Environment.” They’re involved in a number of environmental concerns around the world, but I couldn’t find any specific reference to CNG.

I did look up “CNG accidents” however, and found this horrific story from India, where many of the buses run on CNG:

Ahmedabad, May 15 (PTI): The number of dead in yesterday’s collision between a CNG-run state transport bus and a chemical tanker in Anand district rose to 29 today, police said here.

A total of 29 bodies have been recovered so far and police have been able to identify six of them. They include four women and drivers of the bus and the tanker.

Fourteen people were injured in the accident.

Most of the victims were charred beyond recognition, police said.

The mishap occurred when the bus which was headed towards Vadodara on national highway number eight in Anand district hit the chemical tanker while trying to overtake.

This might be a good time for whatever companies market CNG, CNG fuel tanks, and CNG-powered vehicles to take a look at whether they’re doing all they can to safeguard the public. Are the operators of CNG vehicles properly educated for safety? Are the repair requirements sufficiently stringent? Are the tanks as safe as they can be, given the catastrophic result if they are breached?

CNG is a cleaner-burning, domestically available fuel that will probably get renewed attention as all the presidential candidates campaign for U.S. energy independence and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. When the spotlight hits, the CNG business might want to be ready for questions.

Defining Moments (Updated)*

With the White House an open seat in 2008, you’d think the upcoming election would be about more than Gotcha!  Especially since we seem to be living in consequential times.  But if you thought that, you’d be naive.  Here’s what the most influential and most passionate netroots blogger thinks will win the election for the Democrats next year:

Videotape everything they do

Mon May 21, 2007 at 12:10:19 PM PDT

Every appearance by a top Republican official or candidate should be recorded. Every one of them.

All it takes is one “Macaca” incident to transform a race or create one where one didn’t exist. As the Montana incident blogged earlier today showed, a video can knock out prospective candidates before they even enter.

And this is no longer about finding one big blunder to put on a campaign commercial. It’s about using video and (free) technologies like YouTube to build narratives about opponents, using their own words, at their own events.

It’s never too early to start.

We’ve got a long, difficult slog ahead of us next year. The more material we amass today, the better we’ll able to use that video to support our efforts next year.

I mean, that’s fine.  And, coming from Markos Moulitsas, it’s hardly a surprise.  As he has said of himself: “They want to make me into the latest Jesse Jackson, but I’m not ideological at all.  I’m just all about winning.”

The problem with the politics of scandal, gaffes, embarassments and “macaca moments” is that, like umpire mistakes in a baseball game, candidate blunders tend to even out.  As a group, almost all politicians are weird.   Count on them to hide something that will be exposed, say something at odds with what they profess to believe, or think in their blind arrogance that they can get away with something that won’t stand the light of day.

Calling for an accumulation of “gotcha” moments is a strategy about nothing, to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld.  It’s not about persuading or inspiring voters.  It merely reminds them that we are governed by two-faced narcissistic jerks.  That’s why negative campaigning’s most notable effect is to suppress voter turnout.  It doesn’t make voters say, “Aha! Now I prefer X over Y.”  It makes them say, “I was going to vote for Y, but now, ew.” 

Kos is right. If you turn off more Republicans than Democrats, you’ve improved your chances of winning.  But no matter how much video you capture, you can’t depend on coming out ahead in the gotcha race.  It only works if the other side lets its guard down and lets you off the hook when you make your own blunders.  In the YouTube era, that’s basically an assumption that your opponents will commit professional suicide.  Good luck with that.

But beyond the strategic limits of “gotcha” politics, I also question whether “macaca moments” are what voters will be asking for in 2008.  I won’t go as far as to say voters in 2008 will find gaffes to be trivial, and ignore them. I’m not Pollyanna.  But I hope the Democratic Party only half-listens to Kos.  Tactics will matter, but I predict ideas will matter more. 

*UPDATE, 5/24/07.  Todd Ziegler of the Bivings Report raises a related concern today.

In many ways, the story of the web (particularly video) in politics the last few years has been the story of “gotcha” moments. Bad jokes. Pretty hair. Southern accents. Screaming. Terror taxis. Macaca. No strings.The humiliating videos get a lot more play than the substitutive ones (admittedly nobody has done anything that interesting with video this cycle).

Some of the moments linked to above are unforgivable. But in some cases these “gotcha” moments are examples of candidates being real.

So we’re in a situation where we want candidates to be authentic but are quick to punish them when they are. And the constant presence of voters with cameras ensures that there will be plenty of these gotcha moments.

It seems to me that instead of creating a more open election, we may be creating one where the candidate that is the most on message and the most robotic is rewarded. It can be argued that it wasn’t YouTube that defeated George Allen, but his own lack of discipline on the stump. The candidate that makes the least mistakes wins.

Note to Kos:  Of the seven links embedded in Zeigler’s post, four embarass Democrats.  You’d really have to have partisan blinders firmly in place to think “macaca-moment” politics favors one party over the other.

Washed My &%*@ In Muddy Water

I thought of that old Johnny Rivers tune:

I washed my hands in muddy water
I washed my hands, but they didn’t come clean
I tried to do like my daddy told me, now
I must have washed my hands in a muddy stream

as I was reading about a new book co-authored by an old friend of mine, Dean Calbreath.  Dean is part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the San Diego Union-Tribune that exposed Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s elaborate and shameless schemes to solicit bribes from military contractors bidding on classified projects. 

The team has published a book about Cunningham, The Wrong Stuff: The Extraordinary Saga of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the Most Corrupt Congressman Ever Caught, and TPM Muckracker’s Paul Kiel calls it today’s “Must Read.”  Kiel quotes the following unforgettable (in a bad way) passage:

…even (lobbyist Brent) Wilkes drew a line on what he would do for the congressman. For one thing, Wilkes was totally disgusted by the hot tub Cunningham put on the boat’s deck during the autumn and winter. What repelled Wilkes — and others invited to the parties — was both the water Cunningham put in the hot tub and the congressman’s penchant for using it while naked, even if everybody else at the party was clothed. Cunningham used water siphoned directly from the polluted Potomac River and never changed it out during the season. “Wilkes thought it was unbelievably dirty and joked if you got in there it would leave a dark water line on your chest,” said one person familiar with the parties. “The water was so gross that very few people were willing to get into the hot tub other than Duke and his paramour.” That was a reference to Cunningham’s most frequently seen girlfriend, a flight attendant who lived in Maryland.One of these parties started at the Capital Grille with Cunningham ordering his usual filet mignon — very well done — with iceberg lettuce salad and White Oak. Wilkes used the dinner to update Cunningham on the appropriations he wanted. Cunningham then took the whole group back to the boat where they drank more wine, sitting on white leather sofas while Cunningham told more war stories. Cunningham then took his clothes off and invited all to join him in the polluted hot tub that was hidden from the neighbors by a white tarp. There were no takers.

Talk about a cesspool of corruption…Bleah!