Friday, July 3, 2009

Senator Franken

Priced to Sell

Is free the future?

"In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay," Chris Anderson writes, "but eventually the force of economic gravity will win."

by Malcolm Gladwell

At a hearing on Capitol Hill in May, James Moroney, the publisher of the Dallas Morning News, told Congress about negotiations he'd just had with the online retailer Amazon. The idea was to license his newspaper's content to the Kindle, Amazon's new electronic reader. "They want seventy per cent of the subscription revenue," Moroney testified. "I get thirty per cent, they get seventy per cent. On top of that, they have said we get the right to republish your intellectual property to any portable device." The idea was that if a Kindle subscription to the Dallas Morning News cost ten dollars a month, seven dollars of that belonged to Amazon, the provider of the gadget on which the news was read, and just three dollars belonged to the newspaper, the provider of an expensive and ever-changing variety of editorial content. The people at Amazon valued the newspaper's contribution so little, in fact, that they felt they ought then to be able to license it to anyone else they wanted. Another witness at the hearing, Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post, said that she thought the Kindle could provide a business model to save the beleaguered newspaper industry. Moroney disagreed. "I get thirty per cent and they get the right to license my content to any portable device—not just ones made by Amazon?" He was incredulous. "That, to me, is not a model."

Had James Moroney read Chris Anderson's new book, "Free: The Future of a Radical Price" (Hyperion; $26.99), Amazon's offer might not have seemed quite so surprising. Anderson is the editor of Wired and the author of the 2006 best-seller "The Long Tail," and "Free" is essentially an extended elaboration of Stewart Brand's famous declaration that "information wants to be free." The digital age, Anderson argues, is exerting an inexorable downward pressure on the prices of all things "made of ideas." Anderson does not consider this a passing trend. Rather, he seems to think of it as an iron law: "In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win." To musicians who believe that their music is being pirated, Anderson is blunt. They should stop complaining, and capitalize on the added exposure that piracy provides by making money through touring, merchandise sales, and "yes, the sale of some of [their] music to people who still want CDs or prefer to buy their music online." To the Dallas Morning News, he would say the same thing. Newspapers need to accept that content is never again going to be worth what they want it to be worth, and reinvent their business. "Out of the bloodbath will come a new role for professional journalists," he predicts, and he goes on:

There may be more of them, not fewer, as the ability to participate in journalism extends beyond the credentialed halls of traditional media. But they may be paid far less, and for many it won't be a full time job at all. Journalism as a profession will share the stage with journalism as an avocation. Meanwhile, others may use their skills to teach and organize amateurs to do a better job covering their own communities, becoming more editor/coach than writer. If so, leveraging the Free—paying people to get other people to write for non-monetary rewards—may not be the enemy of professional journalists. Instead, it may be their salvation.

Anderson is very good at paragraphs like this—with its reassuring arc from "bloodbath" to "salvation." His advice is pithy, his tone uncompromising, and his subject matter perfectly timed for a moment when old-line content providers are desperate for answers. That said, it is not entirely clear what distinction is being marked between "paying people to get other people to write" and paying people to write. If you can afford to pay someone to get other people to write, why can't you pay people to write? It would be nice to know, as well, just how a business goes about reorganizing itself around getting people to work for "non-monetary rewards." Does he mean that the New York Times should be staffed by volunteers, like Meals on Wheels? Anderson's reference to people who "prefer to buy their music online" carries the faint suggestion that refraining from theft should be considered a mere preference. And then there is his insistence that the relentless downward pressure on prices represents an iron law of the digital economy. Why is it a law? Free is just another price, and prices are set by individual actors, in accordance with the aggregated particulars of marketplace power. "Information wants to be free," Anderson tells us, "in the same way that life wants to spread and water wants to run downhill." But information can't actually want anything, can it? Amazon wants the information in the Dallas paper to be free, because that way Amazon makes more money. Why are the self-interested motives of powerful companies being elevated to a philosophical principle?

Indian Court Overturns Gay Sex Ban

NEW DELHI —In a landmark ruling Thursday that could usher in an era of greater freedom for gay men and lesbians in India, New Delhi's highest court decriminalized homosexuality.

"The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognizing a role in society for everyone," judges of the Delhi High Court wrote in a 105-page decision, India's first to directly address rights for gay men and lesbians. "Those perceived by the majority as 'deviants' or 'different' are not on that score excluded or ostracized," the decision said.

Homosexuality has been illegal in India since 1861, when British rulers codified a law prohibiting "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal." The law, known as Section 377 of India's penal code, has long been viewed as an archaic holdover from colonialism by its detractors.

"Clearly, we are all thrilled," said Anjali Gopalan, the executive director and founder of the Naz Foundation, an AIDS awareness group that sued to have Section 377 changed.

"It is a first major step," Ms. Gopalan said during a news conference in Delhi, but "there are many more battles."

Thursday's decision applies only in the territory of India's capital city, but it is likely to force India's government either to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, or change the law nationwide, lawyers and advocates said.

Outside the hall where the Naz Foundation news conference was held, dozens of young men and women gathered to celebrate, along with a group of hijras, men who dress and act like women who classify themselves as belonging to neither gender. "It is a victory of human rights, not just of gay rights," said one 22-year-old man who only identified himself as Manish.

Gay men and women have rarely been prosecuted under Section 377 in India in modern times, but it has been used to harass, blackmail and jail people.

Madoff the God of Plunder

Daniel Bruno Sanz

by Daniel Bruno Sanz

A prodigy euphonium player and member of the United States Army Band stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, befriended me and I was invited to workshops, rehearsals and concerts. I became a protégé of "Pershing's own" United States Army Band and "the President's own" Marine Corps Band. I became one of the best amateur tuba players in the country before I was legally old enough to drive and then got my very own horn: an affordable B&S rotary valve CC tuba handcrafted, ironically, in East Germany.

Convinced that the Army Band was my future, I practiced and performed regularly, and within a few years, learned the bass line to the score of hundreds of military marches, symphonic tone poems, overtures and symphonies. Works like the Planets by Gustav Holst, the Procession of the Sardar, John Philip Sousa's the Washington Post March and the Rakutsky March from the Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz. These were the tunes that filled my ears and my favorite composers were those who had written prolifically for my instrument: Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Strauss and Sousa.

At the age of fifteen, I bought a five-dollar, obstructed view ticket to see the National Symphony Orchestra matinee performance of Das Rheingold, Wagner's four hour introduction to the Ring Cycle. I was unfamiliar with Wagner's operas and the German mythology and history surrounding them. With a few exceptions such as the Prelude to Act Three of Lohingrin, which I had performed, his works were too long, expensive and complicated for all except the most determined orchestra companies. Students and amateurs didn't even attempt them. In the RingCycle, Das Rheingold is followed by Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). These four operas make up the epic fifteen-hour Ring of the Nibelung, intended to be performed over four days.

When composers wanted to speak loudly and deliver a forceful message, they chose my instrument to express themselves. Instead of counting hundreds of rest bars while sweet violins serenaded the listener, I was kept busy projecting baselines and even melodies. Certain composers repeatedly call on the tuba to deliver their message. Stars and Stripes Forever, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, Slavianka's Farewell and the incomparable Preobrazhensky March stir powerful emotions in an audience.

The Preobrazhensky March, first performed on Red Square for Peter the Great, was the last music Generalissimo Stalin's troops heard on the night of November 7, 1941, before they were sent to meet their doom against Hitler's invincible Wehrmacht. They smashed it to bits on the outskirts of Moscow.

Then one day it hit me: the more nationalistic the composer, the more active my part. Claude Debussy didn't write for tuba, but Brahms sure did. So did Mahler. Wagner even designed a new tuba for the sole purpose of playing his operas. As unlikely as it may be, the tuba has lessons to teach about nationalism, militarism and geopolitics. Now, viewing Wagner's opera as a non-musician and member of the audience, it speaks to me about the leitmotif of avarice and Bernard Madoff.

Affirmative action vs. New Haven Firefighters

Second-hand smoke is good for you

When you drink tequila at a bar, you don't get those around you drunk, but when you smoke pot indoors you DO get those around you high with second-hand smoke. The argument against smoking cigarettes in public is that you're spreading cancer. Inarguably bad for you. Having woken up stoned out of my mind simply because someone smoked pot in my bedroom while I was asleep, I'd argue that getting someone high when they don't want to be, like spiking the punch with LSD, is a rude and potentially dangerous thing to do. However, now that we know marijuana smoke not only doesn't cause cancer but may actually prevent and cure it, the argument could also be made that public tobacco smoking must be accompanied by equal amounts of pot smoking - just to counter the cancer effect.
To understand the insane disconnect between science and policy concerning marijuana, just check out these two articles. See if you can figure out which one contains actual science (hint, it's boring).

Marijuana Smoking Does Not Cause Lung Cancer, UCLA Expert Dr. Tashkin Concludes Protective Effect "Not Unreasonable"

Marijuana smoking -"even heavy long-term use"- does not cause cancer of the lung, upper airways, or esophagus, Dr. Donald Tashkin reported at this year's meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society...

Stephen Sidney examined the files of 64,000 Kaiser patients and found that marijuana users didn't develop lung cancer at a higher rate or die earlier than non-users. Of five smaller studies on the question, only two -involving a total of about 300 patients- concluded that marijuana smoking causes lung cancer. Tashkin decided to settle the question by conducting a large, population-based, case-controlled study."Our major hypothesis," he told the ICRS, "was that heavy, long-term use of marijuana will increase the risk of lung and upper-airways cancers."

The Los Angeles County Cancer Surveillance program provided Tashkin's team with the names of 1,209 L.A. residents aged 59 or younger with cancer (611 lung, 403 oral/pharyngeal, 90 laryngeal, 108 esophageal). Interviewers collected extensive lifetime histories of marijuana, tobacco, alcohol and other drug use, and data on diet, occupational exposures, family history of cancer, and various "socio-demographic factors." Exposure to marijuana was measured in joint years (joints per day x years that number smoked)...

There was time for only one question, said the moderator, and San Francisco oncologist Donald Abrams, M.D., was already at the microphone: "You don't see any positive correlation, but in at least one category, it almost looked like there was a negative correlation, i.e., a protective effect. Could you comment on that?" [Abrams was referring to Tashkin's lung-cancer-only data for marijuana-only smokers in 1-10 j-yrs category.] "Yes," said Tashkin. "The odds ratios are less than one almost consistently, and in one category that relationship was significant, but I think that it would be difficult to extract from these data the conclusion that marijuana is protective against lung cancer. But that is not an unreasonable hypothesis."

And this one...

State rules marijuana smoke is a carcinogen, may require dispensaries to post warnings

Joints and baggies sold at California's medical marijuana dispensaries will soon carry a new warning label. Next to tags like "Purple Haze" and "White Widow" will be the advisory: Contents may cause cancer when smoked.

On Friday, California added marijuana smoke to its official list of known carcinogens, joining the ranks of arsenic, asbestos and DDT. Pot brownies, lollipops and other non-inhalables are not affected by the new ruling.

Scientists found the pungent smoke shares many of the same harmful properties as tobacco smoke, warranting its inclusion on the Proposition 65 warning list. The law requires the state to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity, and businesses and government agencies must post warnings when they use such chemicals or sell products containing them.

"Marijuana smoke is a mixture of different chemicals, and a number of those were already on the Prop. 65 list," said Allan Hirsch, chief deputy director of the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which made the designation.

Okay, that last one was boring too, but it was also absolutely insane. Ignoring the science showing pot may prevent cancer, they declare it a carcinogen because it "shares many of the same harmful properties as tobacco smoke." That doesn't prove anything. Here's how their logic works. You can make orange juice from oranges. Oranges are a fruit. Apples are also a fruit, therefore you can make orange juice out of apples.

Just because two things share properties doesn't make them equal, otherwise Battlefield Earth and Pulp Fiction would be equally bad for you just because John Travolta's in both of them.
It can be hard to grasp things that are counterintuitive, the earth going around the sun despite the intuitive fact that the sun obviously goes around the earth. It's got to be explained in a rational manner before anyone will abandon their instincts.
It's just common sense that smoke isn't good for your lungs. People die of smoke inhalation all the time. When people die in fires, it's often the smoke that kills them, so it's perfectly rational to presume that the smoke of anything, whether trees or leaves or an occasional book, won't be doing your lungs any good. Smoke anything rolled in paper and you're smoking a bleached and pulverized tree with the tobacco or pot. Throw a book burning and you'll rapidly discover that the smoke you create from Shakespeare is just as toxic as the smoke from Hitler, at least as far as your lungs are concerned.
It's perfectly rational to presume if the smoke of one plant causes cancer, the smoke of all plants causes cancer. It's just not logical. There's a perfect kind of smoke that's actually good for you. That's counterintuitive. It's also true.


Un-American Independence Day

What are Fourth of July celebrations like abroad?

Hillary Clinton announced in June that, for the first time since 1979, Iranian diplomats could be invited to July Fourth celebrations at American embassies and consulates. It was all for naught: None of those invitations were accepted, and then the State Department rescinded them in the wake of post-election violence in Tehran. Why all the fuss? What are embassy- and consulate-run July Fourth parties like, anyway?

Like stateside celebrations, more or less. All over the world, American diplomatic posts hold Independence Day events that are designed to mimic traditional celebrations. Revelers eat backyard barbeque staples, listen to patriotic music, and, at the better-financed parties, watch fireworks. A typical menu includes hamburgers, hot dogs, and build-your-own-sundae bars. Lots of red, white, and blue balloons are in evidence, and the ranking American delivers remarks about the value of democracy.

Overseas parties are heavy on pomp and circumstance. Marine security guards present the colors, and someone sings "The Star-Spangled Banner." Embassies near military bases may enlist the services of military bands for even more elaborate performances. In some cities, the July Fourth party is the hot ticket of the summer, and invitees (including local leaders, journalists, and other ambassadors) turn out in elaborate religious regalia or full military dress. A few American expats may be included in the festivities, but the ceremonies are more about promoting the United States to foreigners than celebrating it with citizens.

Stop motion fireworks

Washington Post cancels lobbyist event amid uproar


Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth said today she was canceling plans for an exclusive "salon" at her home where for as much as $250,000, the Post offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record access to "those powerful few" — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper's own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer was detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its "health care reporting and editorial staff."

With the Post newsroom in an uproar after POLITICO reported the solicitation, Weymouth said in an email to the staff that "a flier went out that was prepared by the Marketing department and was never vetted by me or by the newsroom. Had it been, the flier would have been immediately killed, because it completely misrepresented what we were trying to do." 

Weymouth said the paper had planned a series of dinners with participation from the newsroom "but with parameters such that we did not in any way compromise our integrity. Sponsorship of events, like advertising in the newspaper, must be at arm's length and cannot imply control over the content or access to our journalists. At this juncture, we will not be holding the planned July dinner and we will not hold salon dinners involving the newsroom. "



New Budget Estimate Of Public Plan Proves It Lowers Cost And Covers More Americans

A couple of weeks ago, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a preliminary score of the health care legislation under consideration in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The bill was estimated to cost $1 trillion over 10 years, while reducing the number of uninsured by "only" one-third. As many informed bloggers noted at the time, the cost estimate was incomplete because the legislation that the CBO reviewed did not contain language about a public health insurance plan or an employer mandate.

Nevertheless, Republicans seized on the opportunity to engage in merciless political attacks, citing the incomplete CBO score as proof that health care reform is not worth doing:

John McCain: "[The CBO estimate] should be a wake up call for all of us to scrap the current bill and start over in a true bipartisan fashion."

John Boehner: "[T]he public option would cost over $1 trillion, and would cause 23 million Americans to lose their private health care coverage."

Lindsey Graham: "The CBO estimates were a death blow to a government run health care plan."

The HELP Committee has since added language for a public plan option to its legislation, as well as an employer mandate provision. The AP reports the new results:

The plan carries a 10-year price tag of slightly over $600 billion, and would lead toward an estimated 97 percent of all Americans having coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Chris Dodd said in a letter to other members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. [...]

The [employer mandate] provision is also estimated to greatly reduce the number of workers whose employers would drop coverage, thus addressing a major concern noted by CBO when it reviewed the earlier proposals.

In other words, the addition of the public plan dramatically reduced the overall cost of the bill and ensured coverage of almost all Americans. So what excuses will McCain, Boehner, Graham, and other Republicans offer now? Their attacks were not only found to be baseless, but their concerns about the costs and coverage have also been addressed.

Loudon Wainwright III sings "The Paul Krugman Blues" in Madison Square Park

Chart of the Day: MJ death not as interesting as Princess Diana's

Posted by Sharon Hong

Interest in Michael Jackson's death was similar to interest in the deaths of "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert and Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showed Wednesday.

Pew surveyed 1,022 people and asked them to gauge how closely they were following a news story in the past week. Thirty percent said they were following news reports on the death of Michael Jackson very closely -- 28% said fairly closely, 23% not too closely and 19% not at all closely.

For comparison, Pew compiled individuals' responses to the same question that was asked following the death of other stars and well-known figures. Results showed people were most interested in the deaths of Princess Diana in 1997 and John F. Kennedy Jr. in 1999.

Public interest in deaths of stars and well-known figures (in %)

Gone with the Filibuster