Monthly Archives: October 2009

Why should copyright protect a company’s “right” to disappear a cultural work?

Videogames are cultural works. Talented artists, designers, programmers, and musicians all join together to craft unique, meaningful experiences for a contemporary audience. The resulting products have value for the community, which is why we grant their creators temporary monopolies (“copyright”) to enable them to afford to create more.

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But if copyright is supposed to be about protecting these works for the benefit of the public – then why does it so often work to destroy them? Why do we protect a company’s right to “disappear” (or, in Microsoft-speak, “delist”) a work? Why don’t we explicitly protect those who try, under constant threat of oppressive litigation, to preserve this cultural heritage?

It’s political correctness gone mad!

Here’s a tough call. You’re a television network with a very popular show aimed at the many Australians who play videogames. You’re about to launch a spin-off aimed at a younger audience.

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The problem is this. When the program first launched, you thought of it as a niche “product”, and targeted it at what you thought was the likely audience – young males. You ignored the research that indicated many gamers are female, and instead hired two male presenters. (Three, since you replaced one bloke with another after a year.)

Four years later, somebody points out that you are completely failing to represent a significant segment of the potential gaming audience. In order to remedy this fairly glaring problem, do you see if there’s a potential female host as qualified as the current hosts, and then replace the least popular of them? If so, do you do this immediately, as soon as you’ve decided you’re going to have to make a change – or do you pretend everything’s fine, deceive the doomed presenter with your insincere “support”, and wait until the end of the season before doing sending him on his way? Or do you stick with the current hosts for as long as they want the jobs and the audience likes them, and tell the potential viewers you’ve abandoned to wait their turn? (Silly women, why do they insist on not being ignored? Don’t they trust us to get around to them eventually?)

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Please direct all your fanboy outrage towards the new host, rather than the ABC management who actually fired Junglist.

Or do you use the fact that you’ve just got yourself a second show to start fixing the imbalance without firing anyone?

Note: if you pick the first option, be prepared to look like absolute bastards.

ELSEWHERE: Looks like they’re going to ban every bloody game I was looking forward to this year.

UPDATE (2/11): It’s still going, but ABC management are hoping to starve the story of oxygen by refusing to comment further.

If you’ve any basis for optimism about Afghanistan, please share it

I’m up in Shepparton for work this morning, and won’t be able to do a full blog post as usual. So instead I’m throwing open the comments on the subject of Afghanistan, which we haven’t discussed for a while. Two questions:

  1. Do you honestly think we’re going to have the resources and will to actually establish a functioning democracy in the area?

  2. If so, how? If not, is there any point in not just cutting our losses now and pulling out now?

Given the last eight years, I’m inclined to suspect the answer to the first is “No”. I’d like to believe otherwise, but – kind of like my relationship with religion – I can’t just take it on faith. I need some realistic basis for hope, so I can overcome the fear that Believing would just be deluding myself.

And therefore, although it will make all the deaths and sacrifices made so far a complete waste, it seems to me that admitting we cocked it up and not making it worse – ie, leaving – would be the lesser of the two evils remaining.

It keeps going, and going, and going

The West Atlas Rig has now been leaking oil into the Timor Sea (the Montara oil spill) for more than two months. Up to 2,000 barrels a day, every day, since August 21.

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The slick continues to grow and spread. In one direction, it’s now reached Indonesia.

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October 21, 2009

Several attempts to clean up the spill have been made – spraying the area with dispersants (which, even if it worked, wouldn’t alter the fact that the oil is still pouring out), some shenanigans about bringing another rig across, tow lines snapping, and PTTEP refusing the assistance of a rival company, and then the utter failure a few weeks back to plug the leak with mud. Apparently, oil company rhetoric notwithstanding, we don’t actually have very good technology for fixing the big holes in the seabed that we keep drilling.

Of course, it’s just remote bits of our ocean territory that are being despoiled, so it’s not like we’re going to be putting pressure on our local MPs to apply more resources to fixing the problem. Is it a major topic of debate in Parliament? Hell no.

The thing that gets me is that we’re acting as if this is a disaster that’s concluded, that we just need to tidy up after, rather than one which is continuing to get worse. Every single day. It’s extraordinary.

ELSEWHERE: Andrew Bartlett has a good write-up of the situation at Asian Correspondent.

AND CONSIDER: If the destruction of wildlife and the long-term pollution of our oceans doesn’t move you – what about the loss of all that precious, precious oil?

UPDATE: The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society argues:

“It is shocking that ecosystem and wildlife monitoring around the rig wasn’t in place to start with” said Dr Bossley. “If the Australian Government is serious about mitigating the threats of oil spills they should immediately freeze all new oil and gas exploration applications; develop much stronger conditions and controls over all oil and gas rig and shipping activities; and identify and fully protect all cetacean critical habitats in a network of marine sanctuaries before any oil and gas acreage is released again. The fox minding the henhouse is not good enough.”

It’s a good point.

How petty are we?

We imprison people seeking asylum (most of whom will later be found to be genuine refugees). While we detain them on a remote island and they can’t do anything else, we have a system where we enable them to earn “credits” up to a maximum of $50 a week. If they saved these credits, they could eventually save up for something like an iPod.

This was beaten up and turned into a “the government is buying boat people iPods when I don’t have the self-control to save up for one myself!” story, enraging the locals.

So to stop this, we’re simply resetting their credits each week. We’re telling them they can’t save a little at a time, they can’t try to take control of the meagre resources we give them – they will use them straight away, or we’ll take them back. Saving your pennies up, week after week, to eventually buy something worthwhile, instead of just pissing them away on disposable garbage? THAT’S NOT THE WAY WE DO THINGS HERE, BUDDY.

It doesn’t matter that they’d be sacrificing something in order to obtain such an item, and it wouldn’t be costing us an extra cent – that’s entirely besides the point. The point is the galling notion of refugees enjoying any sort of comfort. Nothing appalls us more.

ELSEWHERE: And what’s happening to the refugees we’ve sent to Indonesia is even worse. Is that the kind of further suffering you were hoping the refugees would be made to endure, enraged Christmas Island locals?

It’s very suspicious

Why do kittehs who’ve been sitting still for hours at a time, always insist on moving the second a camera lens is aimed in their direction?

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This is a lovely sunny spot I’ve found. I could enjoy it all da… hang on. What’s he pointing at me?

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It’s a bloody camera! ABORT! ABORT! Doesn’t the fool know that the CIA are after me?

Clearly, every cat in the world has something to hide.

What brings John Howard’s “Irish” out

Implausibly described by Andrew Bolt as “a leader speaking frankly as he wisely finds, free of spin or timidity”, is this shameless collection of half-truths, catch-phrases and outright bullshit from John Howard, speaking the other week at the launch of some new Quadrant facility, on the subject of a “Bill of Rights”:

TRANSCRIPT

Pretentious Vivaldi-type music.

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JWH: Every good intellectual force needs a cause. If ever there were a cause for many of the people in this room, can I say that cause is fighting with all our might the very notion of any kind of bill of rights for this country.

QUADRANT AUDIENCE: HEAR HEAR

Nothing fires us up like opposing human rights for ordinary people!

JWH: There are many things that bring my Irish out as far as a bill of rights is concerned, and perhaps more than anything else is this insulting proposition that this country is so devoid of respect for individual human rights, that we have to import them from overseas.

Nice. It’s unpatriotic to respect other Australians’ human rights. That’s just what those foreigners want us to do!

The notion that we should transfer to unelected judges, much as I respect the incorruptability and the high intelligence of Australia’s judiciary…

Some of my best friends are judges, honestly!

…the idea that we should transfer to unelected judges decisions which ordinary citizens are just, indeed more capable of resolving than they are.

Nothing more insulting than judges making decisions. Can I get a chant in here? TEAR DOWN THE COURTS! TEAR DOWN THE COURTS! (Much as I respect them.)

I think of all the things that can be said about the notion of the bill of rights is that it would represent the ultimate triumph of the elitist view of politics in Australia. And that elitist view says that you out there, the mob as they are occasionally called – and I occasionally invoked that expression when I was Prime Minister – are not capable of making decisions between right and wrong, that we are not capable of applying our own moral compass to the direction of the country, that we are incapable of resolving the great moral and other issues of the day, and that somehow or other, gifted though they may be, the men and women who sit on the various judiciaries of our nation, are able to do so.

By the same token, it’s insulting to you out there, the mob as you’re occasionally called, that we have laws against ordinary crimes. Doesn’t that also suggest that you’re not capable of making distinctions between right and wrong? What are they saying – that we need laws to stop Australians robbing and assaulting each other? Those elitists!

Come on – TEAR DOWN THE COURTS! TEAR DOWN THE COURTS! (Gifted though they may be.)

I think the diminishing in the role of the parliament, I mean we hear from time to time the the bewailing of the role of Parliament in our society, and the role of Parliament would be massively reduced and would decline enormously through the introduction of a Bill of Rights.

He says that, even though he’s talking about proposals where the bill of rights is just an Act passed by Parliament, so the claim doesn’t make even the slightest amount of sense. Howard is deliberately conflating a constitutional bill of rights like the Americans have – that can only be changed by referendum (nothing less democratic than asking the people directly what the law should be!) – with a bill of rights that can be amended by parliament, which is what is actually being proposed.

The only way that what we’re discussing would limit parliament’s power would be if parliament promised to protect a right and then actually didn’t – and, of course, if the courts did overturn a piece of legislation because it was incompatible with part of the bill of rights, then it could always simply abolish the inconvenient right, as it could any other piece of legislation. It would just have to do so openly and publicly.

In other words, a bill of rights would actually be a form of accountability for parliament – it would still have all the power it has now, only it couldn’t get away as much with saying one thing and doing another.

You can see why the idea gives John Howard the screaming heebie-jeebies.

(We’ll leave the rest of John’s rant about our “distinctive high quality cultural identity” and how courageously he’s willing to invoke the “Islamic fascist” bogeyman for another day.)

Finally basement cat gets the grilling he deserves (and it’s not a cheeseburger filling)

Accompanying their hilarious rant on videogames and other things (“reckless, nonstop dorm masturbation”, for example) that are DESTROYING OUR KIDS, is ChristWire’s expose on the dangers of kitteh ownership. (For one thing, after a few years of same you won’t be able to simply use the word “cat” any more, save with a prefix like “lol”.)

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IN COLLEGE.

The entire thing is highly amusing (did you know that “not one of the Apostles ever owned a cat”?), but I’ll just quote their pwning of ICHC:

The sad, almost perverse domination cats hold over their owner’s lives is celebrated all over the internet. One of the worst offenders and a website surely worthy of a mental health study is icanhascheezburger.com (“I Can Haz Cheez Burger”). This has become one of the most popular destinations online, a bizarre cult of cat worship that almost seems inspired by Bastet’s debauched festivals. Much like the ancient Egyptians, people today have anthropomorphized their pets to the extreme, giving them human emotions and an offbeat and deep-throated human language that they exchange in endless pictures and comment sections. In this inexplicable fantasy world, cats are obsessed with eating freshly-grilled cheeseburgers and command their human owners to do all sorts of odd tasks around the home. The photos on this website reveal the clumsy and unclean interiors that your average cat owner inhabits: open food containers, dirty laundry, gigantic television screens, old couches everywhere.

Indeed. Or, as a lolkitteh might put it -

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I just can’t believe that this sort of depravity can be so easily found on the internet, of all places.

Gold standard satire (I hope).

An Art for an Anniversary

In more turning-into-our-parents news…

My folks have various artworks in their house, each with some story attached that’s meaningful to them, but utterly unmemorable to everyone else. Over the years I’ve heard many of these little anecdotes repeatedly, retellings often accompanied by exasperation that I could have forgotten since last time. I can’t even recall details to illustrate – all I’ve got in my memory associated with the explanations is white noise. Artists related to people who they met while going somewhere and who knew someone who did something or studied somewhere or… sorry, I’ve tuned out of my own paragraph.

Anyway, for our anniversary in December, Keri and I have decided to buy ourselves an Art of our own. We don’t actually know anything about Art, but we thought it would be nice to have something unique hanging on the wall that we picked out together that speaks to both of us. It might not be great art, it might not be a future classic, but it’d be ours, and it would be pretty, and we’d enjoy looking at it.

We were driving back from lunch with my parents yesterday when we saw a sign advertising an art show just around the corner, so we stopped and wandered through. It was one of those shows where the artists are actually mingling around the paintings, so you want to be careful just how candidly you criticise a work, since its creator is probably standing just behind you.

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Hint when photographing paintings: don’t do it in the midday sun. It’ll make them look much paler and less colourful than they really are.

We selected some Arts – we’ve also settled Christmas to each other, now – and had a little chat with the artists while we were negotiating the purchase. Each had a story associated with that painting – and if I were to relate that story to our kids, they’d probably die of boredom. This painting was of a friend’s paddock in Emerald and when she died she made a special point of bequeathing it back to me; it has special sentimental value. But you can have it for $x! This painting is of a pretty little bluff down near Anglesea where my husband took me for a picnic one day and sparrows flew out at us! RIVETING. Oh, I cannot wait to inflict these on innocent children.

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Also, try to photograph them from above rather than a stupid angle to the side that makes them look wonky.

The painter of the third one we bought, an indefensible impulse purchase, was no longer present by the time we arrived. It’s a happy little country scene and we have no horrifically uninteresting story yet associated with it.

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The Mona Lisa it isn’t, but we like it.

Rather than spare our future offspring with the non-painful truth – it’s just a painting we liked, nothing more – we thought we might make something up. It’ll be bizarre, unbelievable – but so boring that they will be able to hear it multiple times before they notice the implausible. If they ever do. That’s the challenge of being a parent.

Only problem is, I can’t seem to make up such a story without falling asleep myself. Maybe I’m not all the way there yet.

They’re still the last best hope for not having a filter

To this point, the Greens have been the one party consistently and effectively challenging the ALP’s internet filter proposal. The Liberals don’t mind the idea at all. And Fundies First just wish they could make it even more severe.

Which is why the announcement that Clive Hamilton – this Clive Hamilton, defender of a filter to save children from online pornography – would be the Greens’ candidate for Higgins struck many of us by surprise.

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With the ALP and Conroy on board, the Greens are the one group who could stand in the way of my crazy internet filtering proposal. Maybe if I join them, I’ll be able to get close enough to Scott Ludlum at a conference to put poison in his tea!

How can the party which has given us Senator Ludlum – the only senator holding Conroy to account – give us a man who thinks governments should censor from adults material that’s inappropriate for children? Who is in fact behind the original proposal that morphed into Conroy’s bastard child? Many Greens members are very unhappy with the nomination, and are not exactly mollified by a press release confirming that the Greens are still very wary of the filter.

I guess we’ll see how the party responds when Conroy actually announces something. With Ludlum, they have a very good track record, and he is their communications spokesman – not Clive “screw your civil liberties” Hamilton. Let’s hope that’s what happens. It’d be a sad lookout for Australians if the Greens joined the two major parties and Fundies First in advocating for an oppressive nanny state. We’d have every single major party supporting a very broken, very oppressive Big Brother system. Some choice… some democracy that would be.