Tampa and servers

I will be going on my honeymoon pretty soon and so my server will be the last thing on my mind. Besides that, there won’t be any Linux computers easily accessible because I’m not taking my laptop. This is bad news for the server because of the constant thunderstorms in Tampa. For the past two weeks we’ve had thunderstorms every day and we even lost electrical power a few days ago. Since a UPS costs money and I neither have paying advertisers nor paying hostees, if the power goes out, rebooting my server, there won’t be any service until I get back. Of course, this is sad for me too because it means you won’t get to read any of the pre-written posts I wrote, but, in all honesty, that’ll be the last thing on my mind. See ya when I get back!

f-spot hits me like Linux’s G-spot…

f-spot is a new program for organizing photos in Linux and is currently in early development. It looks really nice! It seems to rival most picture organizing software out there for any platform. The thing that really got my attention, however, was that the developers are asking people to send in RAW photo files so that they could build in support for that. If they successfully do that, I’ll never turn on my Windows computer again. The only thing I use Windows for nowadays is Photoshop. I have games like Sims 2, but I never have time to play them. Right now I’m too busy planning for the wedding and afterwards I’ll be too busy being married. Therefore, all I need to do is Office stuff and Internet which Linux does amazingly well. I hope the f-spot comes out soon.

Everything has a price

You may know, because they are relatively famous examples, that in British citizens wishing to enter inner London streets during peak times have to pay a toll. This was enacted based on the economic premise of marginal benefit. In case it’s been a while since you took Econ101, marginal benefit is the amount of money someone is willing to pay for a service. If they pay less then that, they feel they are getting a good deal. If they pay that price, the believe it is fair. They refuse to pay a price above that price. In other words, if your marginal benefit from a bag of chips is $0.50, you will cease to want a bag of chips if they cost $0.60. If you still want it at sixty cents, then that was your real marginal benefit. Therefore, the British government figured that they just had to raise the price high enough that a majority of people wouldn’t use the roads and then congestion would vanish. It has mostly worked out right.

In the United States the Route 91 Expressway in California is based on a similar concept. Instead of driving on the free roads, full of so much congestion, come drive on the toll roads, guaranteed to have less congestion because most people don’t want to pay to use a road. (Even Sim City 4: Rush Hour used this concept) It worked on first, until everyone started taking the road and then it wasn’t work paying anymore. The correct economic solution? Raise the price! So they did and it went from $2 to use to the road to $12.99 to use the road. And it worked – as the prices went up, people stopped using it until the right amount of people were using it again. It has been operating for about 10 years and now other states are getting ready to try this.

Hitting home for me is the fact that Maryland is looking to add a similar toll highway on the Capitol Beltway. Anyone who’s ever been there knows that it is infamous for have WAY too much congestion. A toll road would relieve some congestion while providing additional tax dollars for the state. Additionally, this road is going to really be high tech – at least that’s what they have planned for it. Sensors in the road will communicate with the toll boths to dynamically adjust toll prices to reflect the actual congestion on the road. The more congested it was, the more it would cost. This would allow a more complex pricing structure than just peak and off peak. As a techno-geek, I’m excited about the prospect.

When I do move to Maryland, I probably wouldn’t be using either one too often because I’d be workign in-state, not commuting to DC. However, as I think the current shortest route to NYC goes through the Beltway, I’d certainly welcome the ability to go a little faster.

less than a week left now…

By this time next week I will have been married for around six hours. We would have been married under God and with all of my relatives as our witness. We would have had some fun, albeit muted fun, at my reception. If things to go plan, we would have been at our wedding night hotel for about two hours now. In about six and one half we’d have to start getting ready to fly to New York. And twelve hours from this time next week, I should be in New York City, resting or helping get things ready for the New York Wedding. Of course, I’ll volunteer to help, but often times in their culture, this is women’s work to be done. That’s fine with me, I’d certainly try for a nap if I could get one because even we were sleeping at this time next week, we’d still only have six hours of sleep after running around all day. Wedding days are notorious for using up not only all the energy you have, but also your energy reserves. Hopefully I can sleep on the plane to New York, but I don’t usually have good luck sleeping on planes. I have to make sure to find my travel pillow before I go.

I’m really excited. I’m not showing it outwardly because that’s not how I am when I’m excited about things in the future. I usually save that kind of reaction for the day-of. But I’m excited; especially because my fiancee is coming down this Monday. I haven’t seen her since Memorial Day – it’s the longest time we’ve been apart since Freshman year summer. (or maybe one of the winter breaks…Soph) So, we’re missing each other. It’s directly responsible for my lack of sleep. If she were here, I’d be able to go to sleep earlier because I’d see her all afternoon and evening and that would be enough. Right now we usually don’t get to talk until around 9:30pm and I’m supposed to be sleeping by 10p if I want a chance at a decent night’s sleep. Needless to say, that hasn’t been happening. However, once she’s here I see us getting a lot more sleep because we won’t have to stay up just to talk to each other. Plus we’ll have Saturdays and Sundays seeing each other all day long.

Well, I need to get to sleep myself because, unlike most of the other posts which I just scheduled to come on at midnight, I’m actually writing this one at midnight and I have a lot of stuff to do tomorrow to help my dad finalize the house for the wedding reception.

DMCA To be hit with a battering ram

Video game fans may recall the dissapointment when, last year, uS courts forced Bnetd servers to shut down. Bnetd, short for Battle Net daemon, was created by some hackers who had become very upset with Blizzard’s Battle.net. There was rampant cheating and latancy problems. They did what any hacker would do when confronted with a software problem – develop new software that fixes is. They created their own servers to play Warcraft (and Diablo, etc) on and life was good. that is, things were good until Blizzard too,k them to court and won an injunction against them. The judge had cited that law which I hate so much, the DMCA, as one of the reasons why this software was illegal. Also, he said, Blizzard’s license (which you have to agree to or else can’t play the game) says that you can’t do this. Aha! I knew I should have been reading that crap instead of just clicking next to install my favorite software.

Now they are back and have appealed to the 8th Circuit Court saying that the DMCA doesn’t apply. Indeed, many agree that it does not apply in this case. However, they may still lose on the basis of the license they agreed to when installing the softare. A CNET article seems to thing this is likely.

I found their partners in this appeal to be an interesting assortment of characters, a motley crew indeed. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is providing free legal assistance. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Consumer’s Union, and Public Knowledge. I was not surprised to see the EFF there as they, along with the Free Software Foundation, was working hard to protect the right to hack. At first glance, however, I was a little surprise to see the IEEE there. They are a very respectable world-wide organization, of which I have been a memeber since my Freshman year at Cornell. I think they add the greatest amount of legitimacy to this appeal as people will respect them more than a hacker group. The CNET article didn’t explain why they were a part of this, but I figure it has to do with preserving the right to reverse engineer.

The right to reverse engineering in the US is both a blessing and a curse. If you are the one who is being reverse engineered, you view it as a blight, but to consumers it’s one of the best things that can happen. Were it not for reverse engineering, we wouldn’t have $350 computers at Best Buy. It was the ability to see what IBM was doing and then copy it that allowed computers to get more and more affordable beacause competition ALWAYS drives down price. Any company will fight the lowering of the price of one of its products, but it is inevitable. To stop this from going on prevents growth and efficiency. Yes, we may have messed up IBM’s ability to sell computers, but look at the market which sprung from this: CD-ROM, CD-R, digital cameras, affordable scanners, nearly infinite storage, and so on. Thus, to keep the world going, I think the IEEE is seeking to ensure that the right to reverse engineer.

I hope the Bnetd guys win this time.

Googling Myself

I haven’t Googled myself in a while, so I decided to see what would come up with my first and last name. What a paper trail I’ve left since the last time I was here.

Item number 2 on page 1 was a link to my book at Lulu.com, the self-publishing company.

Items 3 and 4 were links to my ICQ page (I had forgotten about that!)

Item 6 went to my webpage on Tripod.com

Item 8 was a question I had asked on the Octave List-serve

I wasn’t found on page 2 and was about to give up, but went on to page 3.

Item 4 was a like to the “family tree” of Phi Sigma Pi’s Beta Nu Chapter, of which I was a member at Cornell

Item ten on page 3 was a powerpoint presentation from the same fraternity.

The lulu book came up again for some reason on page 11.

On page 12 they used my name to try and get others from the Class of 2005 to donate money to the university.

At page 29 I gave up because most people probably wouldn’t go that far down anyway.

Copyleft

I recently found something interesting – a record label which releases all of its music under the Creative Commons license. In particular you are allowed to copy the music as long as you don’t make money off of it. One of their strategies? If you rip a CD for a friend and they really like the artist, they will buy the music. I think this is true as I have recently bought “Mmmhmm” by Relient K, “Dichotomy A” by GRITS, and other CDs I could have easily downloaded. Below is a letter written by one of the founders/owners of the record label – Fading Ways which I loved. I will reproduce it and write comments where appropriate.

To: Michael Geist
CC: Toronto Star music writers, General Discussion Forum at Digital
Copyright.ca

re: “Music licensing would be viable for all” Toronto Star Article by
Michael Geist

Greetings Michael,

Please allow me to introduce myself. Cue the Rolling Stones “Sympathy
for the Devil” please, as the perfect background to the discussion that
may ensue.

I am the managing director of a small (thirty-five titles distributed in
fifteen countries) indie record label based out of Toronto. Having just
been through CMW, where the issues of downloading were a fairly hot
topic, I feel the need to comment on your article, and this issue in
general, since I feel I represent one of the most important voices that
is consistently shut out of the media discussion on the topic: that of
the artists, that is, creators of intellectual artistic property.

I realize that your article, written from the legal stand-point, deals
with the issue from a legal stand-point discussing the legalities of the
matter and encompassing the problems and preoccupations of the IP
owners, meaning the major music publishers.

However, I feel it important to point out that these laws that are being
passed in several countries such as the DMCA of 1998 cannot continue to
pretend to speak for the entire music creator communities the way that
the RIAA/CRIA would like to convince the public. For every major label
release there are hundreds more independent records made, bought and
sold that have increasingly been marginalized by the mainstream music
industry. Our artists sell more records off-stage in Canada than they do
in stores; who accounts for those sales not Soundscanned? Who gives
these artists a voice in the political and legal lobbying for these
issues? Certainly not CRIA. Not even CIRPA, who from what I have
witnessed act like a mini-CRIA when it comes to the issue of downloading.

The first important point here is true. Most artists sell a lot more music at their concerts than anywhere else. These records are not being counted amongst all the other ones out there on Billboard. Although unlikely, some of these could actually be breaking records and we wouldn’t know.

You rightly declared in your article that “For the recording industry,
the equation is simple — file sharing is up and sales are down.” But
this is true only if you swallow the RIAA’s statistical declarations,
which as Bob Lefsetz pointed out on Saturday at the CMW conference, are
as self-contradictory as they are completely fabricated. First of all,
as I’ve pointed out, they are statistics based strongly on Soundscan,
largely ignoring independent music sales; and in their analysis they
also neglected to point out (as Bob Lefsetz asserted) that while Napster
was around, sales were higher than they became later, when the majors
shut down Napster. Lastly, there is absolutely no way to ascertain
whether the people that are downloading music were ever going to
purchase those records – downloading may hurt sales projections, but
whether or not it hurts sales is a debatable and ultimately unprovable
argument. So, to declare in your article that “peer-to-peer networks
(are) tagged as the obvious culprit” is an irresponsible public
propagation of an RIAA-induced myth.

Another great point! Also, as I think he mentions below – the economy is down and music stinks so perhaps THAT is why people aren’t buying – not cause of P2P

The next point I’d like to address concerns the levy on recordable
media. David Basskin, head of the CMRRA, proudly explained at CMW how
complex the process of monetary distribution is – by way of excusing his
agency, and Socan, as to how long it takes to get the funds out to the
creators: it is based on radio play and sales.

Radio play and Soundscan sales, as I’ve said before, completely ignore
the large percentage of music creators. It’s like allowing Cadillac or
Rolls Royce to speak for all car makers.

The recording industry’s claim that “the compensation obtained under the
private copying regime does not come close to covering the losses
sustained by the industry”, therefore, is a complete sham on two counts:
A) Downloading and P2P networks have NOT created any loss for the
independent labels; they are in fact great for business because the net
allows more people to hear music that they would not otherwise know
about. B) Their claim cannot be substantiated anyways, since the only
provable loss of sales have been in their sales projections. A host of
other factors, from the general state of the economy to the increasingly
poor artistic quality of major-label releases, could just as easily be
to blame for the majors’ projections not being met.

This is something we don’t have to deal with in the US, but in other countries people have to pay a portion of blank CD sales to cover “lost” CD sales from P2P. Like he says, this is bogus because it is based on PROJECTED sales (which is good as imaginary) and doesn’t cover indie labels.

Which leads me to another point – and I apologize if I am off-topic
here. From our perspective as an independent label, the measures of
“success” that the music industry adopted during the booming economy of
the 1980’s have revealed themselves to be a non-sustainable business
model, mid-way through the 90s and in the new millennium. Due to
over-inflated recording cost, promotional costs and the salaries of
their large staff and grossly overpaid directors, the major-label
business model increasingly depends on the public to buy records by the
millions, placing the emphasis on the sales figures of the week of
release – much like the film studios’ focus on “opening weekend” gross.
As a result, the major labels tend to focus on the “next big thing”
rather than sustaining and developing career artists. It would be almost
inconceivable for a major to sign a singer/songwriter like Elvis
Costello in today’s business environment, and as a result incredible
talent falls by the wayside.

With the changed economy, and even with their major marketing campaigns,
the major label releases often just don’t live up to their sales
projections, as you’ve pointed out in your article. So, instead of
acknowledging that their business model requires certain ideological
modifications, the industry has chosen to point the finger at the
consumers, aiming to blame them for not buying a million records in the
week-of-release the way they used to in the 80s. Comparatively, in the
70s, when Pink Floyd put out a record, 50,000 sales in the first week of
release was considered a success. The recording industry refuses to
accept that times have changed, and with the arrival of the internet as
a new technology for down-loading they have found the perfect scapegoat
as to why their business model isn’t doing as well as it used to.

Again, perhaps it isn’t our fault they aren’t selling well!

I mention all this because it is of great importance for lawyers such as
yourself to be aware of the complete picture concerning this issue. When
you make the claim in your article that “The recording industry has made
significant strides in recent months in offering new choices to
consumers” what remains unspoken is that, with the legal assistance of
their lawyers and lobbyists, the RIAA have in fact highjacked the
concept of copyright to suit their own purposes – I call it cultural
terrorism.

Copyright was originally meant to offer a fair protection of 14 years to
an inventor or creator of a work. Furthermore, as it concerns music
publishing, the concept of copyright was used by tin pan alley
publishers and later, artists like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin,
as the legal foundation by which cultural commons songs as well as the
IP of black artists were STOLEN from them. Does Chuck Berry get paid
every time Keith Richards plays one of his guitar licks? Did Led
Zeppelin ever really pay fair royalties on “Travellin’ Riverside Blues”
or the host of other blues songs they ripped off?

The point here is the exposition of the inherent hypocrisy of the RIAA’s
position. Music is culture. Culture is free – it is the zeitgeist of our
existence. Hence, from where I’m standing, DOWNLOADING IS NOT THEFT. It
is only theft because lawyers and lobbyists have wrongly made it so.
Keith Richards wasn’t wrong to play Chuck Berry licks, nor should he be
paying for them – what he shouldn’t have done is register them via his
1960’s publisher, Abcko, as being HIS. He did not author them.

Your suggestion of a “blanket licence for peer-to-peer users that would
effectively legalize music file sharing” may seem like a good idea
amidst the mainstream debate, but ultimately it adds insult to injury in
the historical context of all that is wrong with the music industry. In
a perfect world, the dinosaur that is the music industry should accept
its unsustainable position, apologize for the lawsuits, and accept that
consumers HAVE THE RIGHT to sample before they buy – that is the essence
of P2P file-sharing. People that hear music they like will certainly go
out and buy those records if and when they become fans of the music.
Real music fans want to have records in their shelves, in their
collections. The only exception is “fans” of disposable music, who are
becoming increasingly aware that $20 isn’t a fair deal for records that
only contain one or two decent tracks.

You write, “To be both fair and effective, a blanket licence for
non-commercial file sharing would need to provide full compensation to
the recording industry for the losses it incurs due to the file sharing
activity.” I trust I’ve made my position clear, as the director of a
growing indie label as well as an artist: To be fair and effective, file
sharing must be free and legal. The recording industry I’m a part of
does NOT suffer from file sharing activities.

To the majors I say: Sign better artists. I assure you your sales will
increase with legal P2P. To radio I say: If you want to increase the
amount of listeners, play a wider spectrum of music and move away from
corporate payola and/or guidelines from parent companies like
ClearChannel, who are admittedly in the business of selling advertising
and not in the music business. To artists I say: embrace Creative
Commons and denounce the CRIA stance – it does not speak for your interests.

And to the lawyers I say:

While the traditional model of legal ethics dating back to the
institutionalization of law as a profession in the late nineteenth
century dictates that lawyers have a professional responsibility of
neutral “zealous advocacy”, I would advance the notion, seconded by many
law students in our country’s law schools, that lawyers MUST move
towards a more ethical, sometimes referred to as “contextual”, mode of
practice that would place what is morally correct and historically
appropriate ahead of the interests of corporate paymasters like the
major labels. (Special thanks here to Ioana Bala, U of T law, for her
excellent essay on this subject).

Speaking of students, your suggestion that undergraduate students be
charged $8 a month for culture that should be free – as it has been
historically via “fair-use” home-taping and sharing – is absolutely
preposterous. Cut to the ridiculous: when will corporations start
charging for the air we breathe? Coca-Cola Co. is already charging us
for our tap water (Dasani). When will lawyers, being in such a prominent
position of policy-making power in our society, begin standing up for
what is right instead of what is profitable?

You write,
“Consumer demand for music online is clearly here to stay. What we need
now is a solution that allows all participants in the process, including
the record labels, creators, consumers, and ISPs to benefit.” Did you
really mean, ALL participants??

It’s time we start listening to the voices and interests of the creators
and the consumers, because, quite frankly, the record label’s (majors
that is, no one ever talks about the independents) constant PR spin on
this matter is as substantiated as governor Bush’s WMD Iraq claims.

Neil Leyton
www.fadingwaysmusic.com

when direct mailing goes wrong (though not horribly wrong)

I used to to love Anime. I don’t hate it now, but I don’t have as much zeal for it as I used to. Two things happened. First of all, anime is very expensive. Most DVDs have four episodes and cost $24 dollars. Usually it takes 6 DVDs to complete a season or $150 + tax. That’s a lot of money. Second, now that it’s mainstream it’s hard to tell the good anime from the bad anime. Back when I first started watching, it was just starting to become mainstream. There weren’t many titles available and whatever existed was pretty darned good. Studios couldn’t release crap over here or it wouldn’t sell. Basically there was awesome anime and hentai. Now there’s so much anime that best buy almost has an entire aisle dedicated to it in Ithaca. I remember when it was a few shelves and resided next to the porn. I hated being in that section. Now it’s usually by the sci fi movies.

But this is all just a long story to tell you that I subscribed to Animerica for three years. At the time I thought I’d always want to read about anime. But then I remembered why I had stopped subscribing to Electronic Gaming Monthly – both magazines talked about things in such a way as to make me want them, but I couldn’t have them since they were so expensive. Linux Format Magazine, by contrast, gives away all the software the magazine covers in an attached DVD. I think I still have two years or a year and one half on the Animerica magazine.

Animerica is owned by Viz, who gained the most fame for bringing Rumiko Takahashi’s work to the States, like Ranma 1/2. Viz gained the re-publishing rights to Shonen Jump, a wildly popular manga magazine in Japan. Shonen is boy’s manga – so it deals with stuff young to adolescent boys like. Viz also decided to just lauch Shojo Magazine. Shojo is girl’s manga. In Megatokyo it’s a running joke that Piro likes to read Shojo, which is all about “girly” things like love, does that boy like me, and “evil biatch” betrayal by the girl who stole your boyfriend.

Yes, this is all good and well, but what does it have to do with direct mailing? Well, in an effort to get more people interested in Shojo Magazine, they sent one to people subscribed to Animerica – apparently regardless of their sex. So now I have a copy of the first issue of Shojo Magazine. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but now I think I’ll give it to my cousin. She is really into manga now and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind reading this magazine which even has tips on how to dress like the female characters in the manga.

On ears…

I was walking away from the Tv playing in the lunch room when I noticed the sharp reduction in television volume when I had turned around. Instantaneously I noticed what had been in front of me for nearly 23 years or rather what had been beside me. Human ears are uniquely shaped to funnel in sound most efficiently from the direction in which the person is facing. By contrast, if you’ve ever seen a deer’s ears you know that they face sidways and can swivel to a certain angle towards the front and back. I thought a little more and came to the conclusion that this was just another example of predator/prey biology. Lions, bears, and other predatory animals I could think of also had them facing forward. Elephants were another gargantuan example of prey having ears that faced to the side. This, of course, makes it harder for predators to sneak up on prey from behind. Of course, prey already have the advantage of having their eyes close to (or on, in some cases) side of their head, allowing them to see to the side and, in some cases, backwards. I cannot figure out, however, why it would be advantageous for predators to have their ears facing forward. Perhaps, the same way that having both eyes facing forward allows for stereoscopic vision, having the ears facing forward gives the predator a 3D auditory experience. I can’t see a real benefit for this in humans, but for animals with hearing far stronger than we do, perhaps it provides them with additional details about their enviroment. Just another example of the wonderful design of the Creator who strives, it seems, to make an equal playing field. Neither predator nor prey seems to have an advantage – and that’s a good thing. Otherwise either the predators would eat all the prey or the prey would multiply too numerously. Neither outcome would be good for the environment.

Just 10 days left…

And just seven until I see my bride-to-be again. I wish this time would fly by a little faster. Unfortunately, work has been a little slow. I’m in a place at work where I think I may be close to finishing up my project, but I have been making a lot of requested revisions and, as such, have to meet a lot with people. They happen to be a little busier than me, so this has been stopping me. Perhaps today I’ll ask for another project to keep me busy. I think I’m more anxious about the wedding because the wedding means that I’ll get to see Danielle again. If she were living in Tampa, I probably wouldn’t be as anxious, maybe only seventy percent of my current level. The only part of my day that’s flying by right now is the afternoon because I have so much work to do to help my parents get the house ready for the reception next Friday. (and it actually has to be done by the rehearsal dinner on Thursday) So my days drag on while my evenings and nights go by way too quickly.

When you’ve been dating for four years, marriage is an interesting thing. Unlike those couples where the girlfriend is trying to get engaged as quckly as possible to ensure that her man doesn’t leave, we’ve been thinking about marriage since about six months into the relationship. For us marriage isn’t about being exclusive to each other because we’ve been exclusive since we started dating. That’s why, jokes aside, I am not one of those guys who has to be sure to go out there and get his last bang as a free man. It’s also why I’m not having a traditional Bachelor’s party (or maybe not even one at all). I don’t go to strip clubs now and I know that even if I did have an affinity towards them that my bride-to-be wouldn’t care if I went to one after marriage so having your last strip before marriage is also moot for me. (Of course, my religious beliefs play into it as well) So for us marriage is just about legitimizing our relationship in the eyes of God and the USA so that we can start a family. That’s it – we just want to officialize what we already believe. Since about six months ago (and even earlier) we knew we’d always be together no matter what.

Speaking of being legitimized in the USA – Florida (and maybe your state too) has a brochure they like all fiancees to read before marriage. In that book I learned that in Florida marriage is VERY important. You see, in this state, fornication is actually against the law. While you don’t really see people going to jail over it, this shows how seriously the state values marriage. In order to force you to marry to have sex they make sex out of marriage illegal. Again, it’s not really enforced, but it could be if they felt like it. So, I guess that’s another incentive to getting married.

The brochure also explained the consequences of divorce from the one place they knew people would listen – financial. It mentioned how property was split up as well as finances and responsibility for children. It was basically a negative reinforcement tool. Instead of encouraging you to marry for positive reasons it told you to stay married or else all this bad stuff would befall you. But, some people DO have to hear it that way or they don’t pay it any mind.

In any case, I’m looking forward to being joined in holy matrimony with the one I love.

profoundly sad

If I were someone else, I’d cry. I don’t cry for much, though, so I’m not. Today I got some luggage as a wedding present from my grandmother who passed away during Spring Break. She actually had a little piggy bank where she had been saving up money for my wedding present. It came out to be enough for the suitcase and an overnight bag. I am sad because she was so important to me and she’s missing from my wedding. That’s why I put more pictures of her in my wedding video than anyone else in my family. I miss you so much Abuela. Danielle misses you too! Thanks for the presents, I’ll enjoy them a lot.

“We’re all quite mad, really”

That’s what the Chesire Cat told Alice in the Disney version of the story when she informs hims that she doesn’t want to visit the March Hare or the Mad Hatter because they’re both mad. I feel as though the entire US has fallen through the rabbit hole. Don’t get me wrong – I love my country; it’s got the best combination of freedoms and protections that exists in today’s world. But the things people have been saying recently have been scaring me a little. Long-time readers of my blog (who have been with me since the beginning) will know that ever since the 11 September attacks on the US, I have been a bit wary of how our political system has been becoming more and more like IngSoc. There are days that I feel that those speaking for the US are part of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984.

So far everything has been going just fine. There haven’t been any abuses of power (that we know of) and, for the most part, we aren’t just randomly jailing Arabs or Muslims. (Although I did hear this week of a story on NPR where the FBI was just arresting all the Muslims in a Southern California county in an effort to find out information) I’m not much of a conspiracy theoriest, not more than the average person, so I think we’re ok from that point of view. What is really going wrong is our erosion of the Freedom of Speech/Expression combined with our willingness to kill and torture.

You have to really have been living as a luddite to go without hearing about the recent Guantanamo Bay detainee scandal. It has been released that we are chaining detainees to the floor in extreme temperatures. They are leaving then without food for extended periods of time and even, in one of the strangest things I’ve heard, subjecting them to 24 hour periods of music by Christina Aguilera. (the horror!) Some people have gone so far as to call it a Nazi Concentration Camp or a Soviet Gulag. I feel this last group of people is exagerrating qutie a bit. While there may be some torture going on, we aren’t sending people to gas chambers or making them dig their own graves. Still, we’re the US – we always harp on people when they torture – why is it any different for us??

But that’s not even the point of this post. The scary thing is the response from the White House. Scott McClellan says, (paraphrased) “Don’t say those things. You will lower troop morale.” WTF?!? Lower troop morale!?! Don’t bring accountability to our processes with prisoners because you’ll make the poor soldiers feel bad. What kind of an arguement is that? In the ancient days of rhetoric (ancient greece, early USA history) this kind of arguement would have never stood up. Don’t dissent because the troops would feel bad? That is the most 1984-like excuse I’ve ever heard! Another former military man on Tv was saying the same thing. That was the first sign of the madness here. People should be utterly outraged at what McClellan said. He didn’t say, “Ok, we’ll see what we can do or I think you’re exagerating a bit.”

The second point of insanity also worries me as a lover of the beautiful democratic government we have in the US. I have heard numerous accounts on NPR this week of different government officials saying things like, “We don’t have to be nice to them, they’re terrorists!” What if some people have been caught by mistake? They were at the wrong place at the wrong time or bought the wrong book or something and they are being detained? “No, no. I’m sure that almost everyone there is a terrorist.” That scares me. So you mean that just because they MIGHT be a terrorist they shouldn’t be treated fairly? Do you forget the people who we were so sure they committed a crime that we sentenced them to death, only to be saved by DNA evidence at the last minute? You can NEVER be sure enough that everyone you have captured is indeed a terrorist. Also, when will these people be set free? “Never. Because then they would go back to their country even more ticked off and come back and attack us. Until the War on Terror is over, they’re stuck here.” Again, you may remember the government position in 1984 that the countries must stay in perpetual warfare in order to get the citizens to do whatever they wanted. After all, how unpatriotic to dissent when there’s a war going on!

But I feel it’s just the opposite. We’ always touting to “lesser” countries how awesome our Freedom of Speech is and that our citizens have the right to say whatever they want as long as they don’t endanger others (bombs, screaming “fire” in a building, defamation). I love that about our country. There are other countries where the citizens who try to write a blog get sent to jail. Here we have people of every point of view who can express themselves however they want. That is a very beautiful thing and we have to make sure we don’t lose it.

Let us, like Alice, awake from this Nightmare of Wonderland. Let’s get back to the way we were before the Terror Wars. They will never be over and we need to get back to protecting our rights and the rights of others. Do we have to treat the detainees as citizens? No, because they aren’t. But we do have to treat them like human beings. My only hope is that we can get a breath of fresh air in 2008 when a new president is elected (Republican or Democratic). Until then, continue to do all that you can to protect your country from itself.