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Category: Politics

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23 August 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

Don’t Copy That Floppy

Don’t Copy That Floppy: Anti-piracy rap propaganda of the early 1990s.

Via: Mark Pilgrim
See also: “Don’t Copy That Floppy” lyrics

17 August 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People

Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People: Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media: Blogging technology is transforming journalism and extending freedom of speech, but the government and corporations want to clamp down free speech with freedom-of-information restrictions and copyright abuses.

See also: We the Media

12 August 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

Tightening the Reins on Gmail

Tightening the Reins on Gmail: California's Senate voted yesterday to support a bill that restricts how Google's Gmail service will be allowed to implement its controversial advertisement targeting feature. The bill requires that Gmail work only in "real-time," not create records of email scans, and not collect personal information from emails.

28 May 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

GAO: Fed Data Mining Extensive

GAO: Fed Data Mining Extensive: The GAO released a report yesterday on the extensive use of government data mining, and government watchdog groups release their own reports with suggestions for protecting privacy and limiting the invasiveness of data mining.

28 May 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

We ♥ Jews

According to Trisha Lynn on Tartsville, the search term “jew” has been googlebombed by an anti-Semitic group, so the number one search result is their web site (which I’m obviously not going to link to). I submitted a spam report to Google, just in case nobody else thought to do so. Trisha reports that some bloggers are doing grassroots counter-googlebombing to get the Wikipedia entry on “Jew” into the number one spot. Boy oh boy, the Web sure has introduced the world to some exciting new forms of political activism!

Blathering on about corporate superheroes…

Chris Butcher is fed up with the injustice in the world of DC and Marvel comics! (via Sean Collins)

I think that one day, maybe if Bendis gets bored with superheroes, He and Maleev (or he and his “ALIAS” artist Michael Gaydos) are going to start turning out the best crime graphic novels that the comics industry has ever seen; the new work will make the excellent JINX and TORSO look anemic in comparison. If this were the Japanese comics industry, we’d already have it too. We’d have Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima doing LONE WOLF & CUB. But this is America, and so we get a good run of DAREDEVIL, which will inevitably end and be followed up by CHUCK AUSTEN, which is… Well.

Because… well, I guess because apparently if Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev and Michael Gaydos were Japanese then they wouldn’t do superhero books. Which, hey, I don’t know any of those guys, maybe they hate superhero comics and wish they could do their own special thing but those fucks at Marvel won’t let them. But the funniest thing about these outraged rants against the tragedy of good creators working on superhero comics, for me, is always the moralistic tone. (And here I’m also thinking of Tim O’Neil’s review of The Filth in The Comics Journal, but I haven’t read that myself, so maybe Tim didn’t put it in such a moralistic context.) It’s like, if only Marvel weren’t so evil and were more like Japanese publishers they’d let Bendis do whatever he wants, but they’re evil so they make him do evil trademark-babysitting. Chris’s special twist on the anti-superhero schtick is that creator-owned superheroes are fine, but corporate-owned superheroes are bad, they’re bad even if they’re good. OK, sure, but I think there’s maybe a problem with this. I was reading a really good interview with Grant Morrison a couple days ago, and as Morrison talks about writing JLA, he seems to have a genuine affection for the characters, which suggests to me that he in fact wanted to write JLA. And I’m going to make an assumption here, based on the joy and love I see in Daredevil and Alias, that Bendis also actually wants to write these corporate-owned Marvel characters. Why? Well, here’s what Morrison has to say:

After FLEX MENTALLO, I knew I had to do some superheroes. More specifically, I had to see if I could bend the entire superhero industry in a certain direction in order to effect a large scale magical working - a shiny pop direction I blueprinted in the last book of the FLEX MENTALLO series […] Using the big icons of JLA I figured I could really influence the trend away from dead end realism and towards a hyperfuturist renaissance of the comic book imagination. I’d been working on this since ANIMAL MAN but getting access to the JLA allowed me to bring big concepts and wild ideas back to the mainstream.

I conjecture that Bendis isn’t writing Daredevil and Ultimate Spider-Man as part of a magical ritual, but I’m sure he has his own reasons. David Mack, in his introduction to Daredevil: Parts of a Whole, says

I’ve always felt that my writing is felt most powerfully if I am able to write it from a personal context. I need to be able to emotionally imbue the character with my own personal experience. The challenge [with Daredevil] was to find a way to do this, bring something of my own to the main characters (and to my new characters), but also to write the book in a way that respected the rich history of Daredevil, and all that the previous writers have brought to the character.

Of course, some people would ask why Mack doesn’t just write his own characters in the first place and avoid these compromises. But… Several of Jeff Noon’s novels sample heavily from Lewis Carroll’s work. Stephen King’s Dark Tower alludes to all sorts of pop culture from Dr. Doom to Star Wars to The Wizard of Oz. Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze retells the Trojan War myths of Greece. Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen uses characters, settings, and plots from Victorian and pulp-era trashy literature. I know, I know, here I am comparing Moore’s clever metafictional use of real literature and some guy doing trademark-babysitting on Superman, no comparison. First of all, as David Fiore so eloquently put it:

Mina Harker, for God’s sake? Dracula is the Plan 9 from Outer Space of Novels!

Second of all, is Alice in Wonderland better than an X-Men comic? Well, it’s probably better than X-Treme X-Men (I’ve read not an issue of X-Treme X-Men, so I suppose I wouldn’t know). Is it better than Morrison’s New X-Men? Hell, I like them both. I haven’t read Alice in many years, maybe I would think it better than New X-Men. I know a lot of people will laugh at me or feel sorry for me because I think such a question as “Might a corporate superhero comic like New X-Men be as good art as Alice in Wonderland?” even requires consideration before answering “No.” Sorry, I don’t believe in high-art/low-art hierarchical dichotomies. And I don’t care about the question of what gets to be art at all, just to preemptively answer arguments about whether I should even be referring to a corporate superhero comic as “art.”

OK, now that I’ve got that mild little rant out of the way, my point is, writing about other people’s writing is a fine old tradition in literature, and writing new stories for characters that other people created is simply a direct way of writing about other people’s writing. When Shakespeare lifts material from older sources, it’s cherished art. When Jeff Noon writes a novel about Alice, or when Grant Morrison rewrites the Marquis de Sade novel 120 Days of Sodom in The Invisibles, it’s art (or sometimes it’s just empty postmodern cleverness, depending on your point of view). When Brian Bendis writes Daredevil, it’s a tragedy he’s not writing crime comics like he should be. Or maybe, and I’m about to propose a crazy theory here, maybe Bendis actually thought he had something to say about the Marvel Universe. Or maybe he just likes Marvel’s money. Or maybe he likes Marvel’s money and he thinks he has something to say about the Marvel Universe…

This is an unorganized mess! Oh well, it’s not like I’m getting paid to write this. Formal essay structure can get fucked.

Look, more Chris Butcher!

Oh, and for those of you who would argue that we don????????t need another JINX, or that ALIAS and DAREDEVIL are the new JINX’s from Bendis, all I want to do is point out the difference between POWERS and even Bendis’ most mature Marvel work. The differences, what he can and can’t do, are obvious. Plainly stated, particularly when you put the two works in sharp contrast. POWERS is the one that people are going to remember 10 years from now.

I think the weird thing about that passage there is that he says he wants to point out the differences between Powers and “even Bendis’ most mature Marvel work” (which would be, I guess, Alias?), and then says the differences are obvious, and then apparently the only differencea are that Bendis has more creative freedom with Powers and people will remember Powers ten years from now but won’t remember Bendis’s Marvel work. Which, hmm.

Alias Powers
Naughty words Yes Yes
Sex Yes. Granted, only one scene, but I’ve only read one volume of Alias and I’ve read several of Powers, so like I said, unscientific data collection here. Yes
Violence/Gore Yes. Maybe not as much as Powers, but come on, it’s not like we judge art based on liters of blood (well, I don’t). This whole comparison thing here is just a snarky joke anyway. Yes
Mispellings None that I recall, but I’m sure there were a few An easier question would be, “Does Powers have any words spelled correctly?”
Creative Control OK, this is probably the sticking point…

Wait, I already talked about this. The challenge of saying something personal with a character somebody else created, writing a story about a character somebody else created because you have something to say about the character or maybe something related to the character or something that you think can be said best or only through that character. Alan Moore can say whatever he wants, with a great deal of creative control, about Mina Harker and Alan Quatermain and Captain Nemo and all these characters because they’re in the public domain. If we were still using the United States’ first copyright law established in 1790 which allowed authors 14 years of monopoly over their creations, Daredevil would be in the public domain now and Bendis could write all sorts of Daredevil stories without asking Marvel. (Of course, there’s trademark to take into consideration, but at any rate we can imagine a set of intellectual-property laws which allow much greater creative freedom than the ones we have now, in which case Bendis wouldn’t have to do work-for-hire at Marvel to write his Daredevil stories.) But we’re not, and I don’t know how long Marvel gets to hold their copyrights, but it’s a long long time.

So creative control is an issue. But, you know, I think Bendis has a lot of creative control with his Marvel comics. Not as much as Powers, no, but a lot. Creative control is overrated anyway. Casablanca was produced within a studio system which epitomized creativity by committee. Does this make it (and all the other classic movies created within the studio system) an inferior movie to, say, Citizen Kane, which Orson Welles was allowed to produce with absolute creative control and no studio interference? I guess some people would say so, I don’t know why they’d think that though. To add nuance, yes, it would be nice if good creators like Bendis and Morrison never ever had to adhere to Marvel’s (bizarre and inexplicable) content restrictions.

This is what my point, such as it is, amounts to: There’s a big difference between Jessica Jones getting mixed up in a murderous sex scandal involving Captain America, and Jessica Jones getting mixed up in a murderous sex scandal involving a Captain America parody. And, like I said, it would be nice if intellectual-property law in the United States didn’t suck, but it does, so if you want to write something about Captain America you have no choice but to play along with Marvel.

As a final note, one obvious response to all this is that maybe Bendis doesn’t want to say anything about Captain America and is only working for Marvel because he needs money and benefits and stuff. Sorry, don’t care! Money is fine, but if an artist creates a piece of art then I’m going to assume the artist had some creative drive to create that art. I’ll readily criticize the corporate stranglehold on creativity, but I’ve never seen justification for the notion that corporate copyright and lack of creative control on the part of creators have a necessary negative effect on the artistic and aesthetic qualities of a work.

Pop Revolutionaries

Apple and Pepsi’s Super Bowl tv ad: this is brilliant! I’m sure all you people who actually watch tv have already seen this a million times, but I was introduced to its wonders only today thanks to Warren Ellis (who is apparently rather offended by the ad). Two corporations saying “Hey kids, you should download music legally, but hell yeah, way to stick it to the Man!” And they use Green Day’s (quintessential corporate pseudo-punks) cover of “I Fought the Law.” This ad is satirizing, like, everything. Faux-punks like Green Day, real punks like The Clash, corporate copyright hysteria, the pop rebellion of filesharing, corporations who appropriate anti-corporate punk symbolism to promote consumerism, people who rail against corporations who appropriate anti-corporate punk symbolism… Why can’t all evil multinational corporations be this hip and ironic?

News item: Texas most repressed state in Union

Texas mom faces trial for selling sex toys.

Texas law allows for the sale of sexual toys as long as they are billed as novelties, BeAnn Sisemore, a Fort Worth attorney representing Webb, told the Houston Chronicle before a gag order was issued by the judge presiding over the case. But when a person markets sex toys in a direct manner that shows their actual role in sex, then that person is subject to obscenity charges, she told the newspaper.

Congratulations, Texas, you win the prize for most bizarre law inspired by sexually repressed Christians. Can we all please just accept that some people actually have healthy attitudes toward sex and stop trying to prosecute people for having fun?

Sisemore plans to file a federal lawsuit to get insane obscenity laws overturned, so hopefully some good will come of this.

the pain of backward-glancing thoughts

This could be a long, meandery post, so I’ll get right to the point. Arguments about morality (and plenty of other things) often get phrased in a way that creates some link between the activity in question and historical precedents. I have an example here, but all I want to know is what mythical past these people are interested in finding again. I’m not one to think we live in the best of all possible times or anything absolutist like that, but I’d rather have the freedoms I have now than ones I would have had in plenty of other historical contexts. And so I don’t know what to do when I read in the Cincinnati Enquirer’s letters to the editor:

“Sexual abstinence and monogamy are major pillars of a lasting society. Children deserve to hear the truth regarding life - anything of true value must be obtained through self-control and seeking to honor the interest of others above self. Without more emphasis on abstinence training in the culture, promiscuity will continue to defraud the masses of true beauty and eventually life itself.”

I’ve succeeded so far in staying out of the marriage debates, because my views are strong and not going to convince anyone who disagrees with them. In fact, I’m not sure it’s right to call them debates when all the terms are contested. I’m just interested in the idea that there’s a way things used to work and that we ought to be working our way back to that. (Well, ok, I also have a lot of interest in the ideal of self-sacrifice, to the extent that this would be one of our categories if I wrote what I think about most often. I think there’s a lot of good to be found in placing the “interests of others above self” and am in many ways not yet comfortable choosing my desires over others’, but I’ve also hurt myself almost irreparably in the past by doing this. And so I’m very conflicted and thinking a lot about it.)

Anyway, going back to going back, in last night’s episode of Quicksilver, Isaac Newton was trying to work backwards to figure out what laws god had set to govern the world, and he (Newton) was using geometry rather than calculus because it was less abstract. Because calculus was an abstraction of geometric issues, using it would necessitate distancing himself from the truth. If I still had my copy of The Search for the Perfect Language I’d be able to cite all the arguments about in what language god spoke the world into existence. According to Herodotus, who didn’t have the Genesis god to contend with and merely wanted to know what language children raised without language would speak, I think it was Phrygian. So I know there can be a primordial urge to know and understand and contend with who we were, and that’s what the whole thorny “creation of self through narrative” is supposed to address, and I will come back to that theme soon. I’m just not sure how people hope to do this on a cultural level. And I’m not even being pedantic about being in a pluralistic society and all that. I just want to know where people want to be, I guess.

I don’t even know what it means to have a society supported by “sexual abstinence and monogamy” (presumably as a binary opposition, not simultaneously for any given individual) because I can’t imagine there’s ever been one and I’m not sure what criteria a person could come up with to force any past history into this simple a setup, even after nipping off unnecessary heels and toes. I’m always interested in the personal metaphors and touchstones that people create for themselves, but it’s hard to imagine anything that would make me want to project them onto some sort of system of norms. David Fiore has lots of fascinating and fun theories about big-R Romantic and Transcendentalist influences in Marvel comics, but that doesn’t mean (I hope!) that he goes around on message boards telling readers that it’s the only way to read these comics “correctly”. That was really the core of my initial realization about the “creation of self” thing. I understood taht it was a theme that linked most works I really, really enjoy, and that it seemed to be this aspect of them that I found attractive. I don’t think other people have to see this or like it, but it’s become a useful system for me.

Growing up, I read a lot of historical fiction, and I haven’t entirely given it up as an adult. One thing I often find exasperating is putting a modern protagonist with modern sensibilities and tone in the guise of a legitimate historical picture, which can happen in books from The Moon Lord (where it was fascinating in its own way) to the Oprah-approved The Secret Life of Bees, which annoyed me a lot. Then there’s the aforementioned Quicksilver, which I’ll have to blog on more when I’ve finished it, because the same narrative tricks used in different places in the text seem to be giving me vastly varying impressions. What made history interesting was that it was different from my life, and there are translation issues involved for me to understand (to the best of my ability), and I’ve always enjoyed thinking about that. I thought about what it would be like to translate myself into a Greek context or a medieval Christian one, but that doesn’t mean I’d advocate moving society in that direction. I’m not sure I advocate moving society at all. I’m much more interested in individuals. And it’s because I’m interested in them that I wonder why so many of them long for something they never knew, something that exists only in their imaginings, and yet they feel the pain of its absence. I follow my own advice: forget your nostos, but keep your eyes open. For me, at least, it’s better that way.