Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Posted both because I feel obligated to post, and because I think this issue deserves more coverage. Gotta bump up the Google counts and all that.

This makes me want to download some Top 40 music illegally. I haven't downloaded music illegally or indeed at all in months*, and most Top 40 tunes aren't my thing, but just out of spite.

Just so we're clear, Microsoft is selling Zune players empty of any Universal-branded material, and UMG still demanded a cut. Why? Because these devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it.


Aside from being childish and irrational on the part of the music companies, this is an upsetting precedent. What we have here is one large company (Microsoft) agreeing to presume the guilt of its customers, and change it's business practices because of that, all at the behest of other large companies. The idea that they're operating on a faulty premise, or that even if true their conclusion is bizarre, seems to have never entered the equation.

Well, maybe it's irrational in the sense of "the arguments backing it up are bad logical constructions," but it's not irrational on the part of the music companies at all. One company won a court battle (estimated cost: varies greatly, but a one-shot expense that's over with) and now it gets a cut of sales of someone else's product (estimated value: more than one dollar for every Zune sold ever, plus the creation or reinforcement of a precedent, which might be far more lucrative) for not actually producing anything of their own. Sounds like a great racket if you can pull it off. And caving on this doesn't really hurt Microsoft. They'll just raise the retail price a bit or take a little bit more out of a subcontractor, and it's not like they have a reputation for consumer-friendliness to waste. It makes perfect sense for them if they can get away with it. It's just a crying shame that they did.

Ezra Klein posts a lot about the idea that how we relate to (businesses like) Wal-Mart is the most important decision facing the country. Radley Balko posts a lot about law enforcement with too much power, or irresponsible use of the power they have, or a culture or set of leaders that give them that power. I don't mean to downplay important issues like that by posting about copyright law, but people fiddle with details in labor laws and degrees of protectionism in economic policy while certain oligarchs have become honest-to-god robber barons of their private domains with relatively little fanfare. This is not good.

* Tangent: technically I have, via music videos on YouTube. But in a practical sense, I haven't, because if there's any way to access those files on my hard drive I don't have a clue what it is, and certainly not easily. I'm surprised the language doesn't already make a distinction between downloads that by default become yours permanently, and things that are technically downloaded but might as well come from a library. Come on all you early adopters out there, somebody coin a term!
There are a number of half-finished posts in my blog that haven't appeared, and probably never will. I started writing them but decided I didn't need to air that particular bit of dirty laundry, or saved it to finish later but lost the train of thought that made the idea interesting, or let a timely event go for too long. This post I just found skimming through my logs, though, is none of the above. It's from a February event, but it leads into a more general question, so I updated and finished it.

David Irving, a British historian, was convicted to three years in prison for denying that the Holocaust happened. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out, this event should stand out in our minds even if for no other reason than the fact that it's on the short and shrinking list of topics that almost all Americans agree on. "Irving is a scumbag, but just saying something offensive shouldn't be illegal" - practically no one disagrees. Lots of people pointed out nuance and context and understand (but not agree with) laws against denying the Holocaust exist in Germany and neighboring countries, but if anyone said that America should have such laws, I didn't notice them.

But information provided by Kevin Drum's opinion on it made me wonder about something. Besides obvious and self-proclaimed bigotry, he's also either stupid or lying, according to Wikipedia. During the trial he recanted his previous defenses of Nazis - so did Irving just figure this out now after 20 years of a career as an apologist and lied about having done so earlier, or did he figure it out in 1991 as he claimed but continued to maintain his public stance instead of disavowing and making amends for it in the years since?

So what I wondered was, when exactly have loathsome beliefs or actions been held by well-intentioned people merely because of error or indoctrination or misdirected animus, rather than coming from people who were loathsome in the first place? You see it in fiction all the time, from Shakespeare's conception of Brutus and others whose names escape me right now, all the way up to Darth Vader. It's a wonderful plot device from the writer's point of view, a villain with complicated or even sympathetic motivations. Or a tragic figure who does something and feels guilty about it but the damage is already done. And I saw an example just this morning in the new NBC show Heroes (the way the plots go, I shouldn't make any assumptions unless we see the body or hear it straight from the horse's mouth, but whatever), where writers revealed a caring, protective side to Mr. Bennett and opened up the possibility that he's been an actual good guy all along, when the viewers have been led to believe he's an evil mastermind or mad scientist. Five minutes later, he forced a fix on a heroin addict who's desperately been trying to get the monkey off his back.

What's the real-world equivalent, though? When has someone on the road to hell actually had the good intentions the proverb gives them credit for? Good fiction often presents judgments of people as complicated, but how often is that actually the case?

It's impossible to prove that there is no such example — let's see here, first try to find a universal standard for evil beliefs, then check out everyone ever who ever held one of them, then see if any of them have been convicted of unrelated crimes, then see if they are nice people in their personal lives... And I could come up with a list of people like David Irving there, but it would probably say more about my partisan proclivities than anything else.

And for that matter, this isn't even a strong statement — in real life, hateful or self-deluded people tend to be dishonest or destructive in other ways as well? Stop the presses! But it reminded me of other things, so I wondered.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Quiet afternoon. Well, I can't call that unusual since there's little I need to do on most Wednesday and Friday afternoons, but today it seems more relaxed than most. Maybe because production is quieter than usual, for some reason. They aren't always boisterous and it doesn't bother me as much as some people even though they're just around the corner from my desk, but it would be impossible to not notice. Or maybe it was my work yesterday and today. I had my last story done by noon, which isn't too unusual, but I made it a point to have one story done last night instead of just leaving at 5 p.m. So today I didn't get done much earlier than usual, but it was better-paced, and therefore a more relaxed and less rushed morning. Edited because the original paragraph was so garbled in a couple places, you'd think I had written it at 2:30 a.m. instead of 2:30 p.m.

So all in all, I'm looking forward to either leaving early today. If I'm lucky, maybe even early enough for a nap. And I might follow this post with more detailed update on my life or deep thoughts on politics (non-deep thoughts: WOO HOO!) or something.

Aaargh, should have known better than to write that. It's right up there with "At least it's not raining," and "How could things get worse?" I was just told to go to the dedication of a new hospital wing. But on the plus side, at least I'm guaranteed to not get out too late this afternoon. The update will, as always, have to wait.