Wednesday, January 27, 2010

if there was any doubt, by the way...

More than a month, old, but still: this should begin to seal the argument that privatization and constitutionality are diametrically opposed:

Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities — clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees, according to former company employees and intelligence officials.

The raids against suspects occurred on an almost nightly basis during the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater personnel playing central roles in what company insiders called “snatch and grab” operations, the former employees and current and former intelligence officers said.

You can't outsource government responsibilities and also believe in the rule of law -- you have to choose one or the other. (Thank goodness the still-open Guantanamo Detention Facility is run by the Army!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

sausage gets made

A shot of Jason Updike recording an upcoming COI podcast in our "studio"...

It's magic.

Friday, January 22, 2010

eyes open, pt. 2

An update to our earlier post about Guantánamo Bay.

The Times is reporting today that of the 200 men still being held outside any legal framework, about 50 of them will, uh, stay that way:

The Obama administration has decided to continue to imprison without trials nearly 50 detainees at the Guantánamo Bay military prison in Cuba because a high-level task force has concluded that they are too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release, an administration official said on Thursday.
I've always given moral absolutists a hard time, and it's led to the most heated arguments I've had in many a moon -- I think there are few things more dangerous than those who feel the world falls into clearly defined areas of right and wrong with no room for compromise: that's how wars and suicide bombings get started.

HOWEVER, I am a constitutional absolutist: I believe that our entire legal world MUST fall under that umbrella -- whether you're in the States, on Embassy grounds, coastal Cuba, or some CIA black site in a Polish forest. We're all within its jurisdiction, because that's the only way it works. You don't get to choose who's covered and who isn't -- because who makes that choice? And what happens when the list changes, which it invariably does? (That, by the way, is the inherent beauty of the system.)

We cannot arbitrarily decide that one group of people aren't subject to the rules because it would be too difficult to play by them. That is another journey to the same place that made it acceptable to fly two airliners filled with civilians into office buildings.

If we are right, they are wrong, and thus we need not treat them as we want to be treated (as in fact we, knowing our own weaknesses, stipulate we must be treated), the jig is up, and there is nothing left to defend.

eyes open

Harpers has a hard but important look at probably homicides committed at (in their succinct formulation) "the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo Naval Base."
Some prisoners there are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the George W. Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.
Over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick probes the willful ignorance we've employed to ignore this story:
Some torture stories are just too horrible to contemplate, while others are too complicated to understand. But Scott Horton's devastating new exposé of the possible murders of three prisoners at Guantanamo in 2006 is neither: It's simply too terrible to allow to be true. Which is why it has been mostly ignored this week in the mainstream American media and paid little attention by the usual crew of torture apologists on the right. The fact that three Guantanamo prisoners—none of whom had any links to terrorism and two of whom had already been cleared for release—may have been killed there and the deaths covered up, should be front-page news. That brand-new evidence of this possible atrocity from military guards was given only the most cursory investigation by the Obama administration should warrant some kind of blowback. But changing what we allow ourselves to believe about torture would change the way we have reconciled ourselves to torture. Nobody in this country is prepared to do that. So we have opted to ignore it.
While it was one of my top reasons when voting for the President, I have not shared my friends' impatience with this administration to undo the crimes of the Bush Gang -- if we rushed in to war and extralegal detention without much concern for the consequences, I thought, surely we'll have to take care to back ourselves out in a well-considered manner.

This prudence is allowing inhumane conditions in Cuba to breed radicalism in those it oppresses, and it may still be costing lives.

Hopefully, part of our offerings in 2010 will add something to the conversations we're not having about the crimes being perpetrated in our name. We've submitted the play "War Crimes/slots" (originally given a public reading by Oracle Theatre Inc in 2007) to our friends at BoCoCa and Planet Connections; if accepted, we'll let you know soon. Otherwise, maybe I'll turn it into a podcast episode...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

the rich get richer

An interesting note on Gawker recently -- interesting exactly because it's not news:
James Nachtwey put up a demanding ad for an unpaid lackey (pretty much specifying rich kids only). Instead of lapping it up like starved dogs, New York's photographic community lashed out.
Most of the lashing seemed to be sour grapes -- other photographers were miffed that Nachtwey traded on his fame to get free labor. Well, okay, but where's the outrage for a skilled up-and-coming photographer who would love nothing more than to fetch a big-name snapper's coffee in return for the access, but has to pay, you know, rent?

What's interesting is that this isn't restricted to media -- in the arts, there is no shortage of opportunities for those who can afford to participate in post-graduate acting/playwriting/directing programs. The networking, industry access, extra workshops are all well and good, but if you have student loans and/or a lack of any family money to fall back on, you have to go to work -- and not romantic artsy-fartsy work, work work.

Those of a better-heeled background can futz around, figure out if this is what they want to really do, buy their way into access/productions/theater companies, and you know what? That's life. That's been life for centuries in the artistic world. But when it comes to journalism, it's an outrage.

Yeah, okay.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

fear change, then profit from it

From the familiar free-market-loving freaks:
Change is in the air. A new communications technology threatens a dramatic upheaval in America’s newspaper industry, overturning the status quo and disrupting the business model that has served the industry for years. This “great revolution”, warns one editor, will mean that some publications “must submit to destiny, and go out of existence.” With many American papers declaring bankruptcy in the past few months, their readers and advertisers lured away by cheaper alternatives on the internet, this doom-laden prediction sounds familiar. But it was in fact made in May 1845, when the revolutionary technology of the day was not the internet—but the electric telegraph.
Newspapers and the Internet = newspapers and the telegraph = baseball and integration = baseball and radio coverage etc etc etc...

Friday, January 15, 2010

new podcast episode

Check it out, y'all -- a new episode is ready for download. (It's a funny one this time, we promise.) As always, there are three ways to listen:

(1) Stream the episode below
(2) Visit our podcast page and listen online:
(3) iTunes users can click this link

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

no words (okay, a few)

That would be possible New York senate primary challenger Harold E. Ford back when he was trying to convince the citizens of Tennessee that, uh ... actually I'm not sure what he was trying to do. Going for the deer-and-guys-that-look-like-him-hunting constituency, perhaps:

If this is post-racial America, I think I'll take Barack Obama's blank slate over this -- this just has too much going on; I think my brain is actually melting.

I was never a fan of Hillary Clinton's carpetbagging tour of New York. Like Robert F. Kennedy succeeded (and John Lindsay failed) to do before her, she saw the position of Senator from New York as a springboard for bigger and better things. I always thought that particularly craven.

Now, I find myself open to another carpetbagger, if only because the Governor's appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand was so gross from top to bottom. Lucky me, I get to watch from the sidelines, since the corrupt party machine has barred non-party members from voting in their primary. Enjoy, Democrats--you get to hold your nose twice!
So glad I don't have to choose between these two nuts. Go feast on this interview transcript from a chat with the NYTimes. Some tasty morsels:
A: [...] And, candidly, as you know, I have maintained my Tennessee residence for the first year I was here. I taught in Vanderbilt University. I spent my time at Merrill Lynch here. I had an office in Nashville. One of the articles noted, I continued to vote in Tennessee. I even gave some thought to pursuing the governor’s race in Tennessee. The race was I think this year. I decided against that in ’08, that I would not do that.

Q: Why?

A: I was living here with my wife — we were not married yet. But shortly after the race in November, I moved here. This is the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. We had got engaged. We dated. I wanted to be with her. And so I moved here. And moved is such a legal term. I was not a resident here yet until just last year, because I did not spend the requisite number of days here — being that the majority of time I still spent commuting between here and Nashville, and spending time in Tennessee.

This race has become even more interesting, because as I learn and become more integrated into the city, and appreciate the kind of elected representation that New York and New York State has enjoyed, the kind of independent-minded senators and, for that matter, mayor, and governor and other positions over the years that you have had here — I should say the kinds of people who have held office here.
So I thought more and more about the issues and become more and more integrated into the city, into philanthropic life — not in a big way, but some of the organizations I have contributed to and are now a part of — be it the Prep for Prep program, the Council on Foreign Relations.

My wife — she lived here for five years. New York has, in many ways, become home.
And, again, you combine the central issues confronting the country, which confront New York in a more meaningful and tangible way, arguably, than other cities and locals around the country.

I often have said to people that there are really two cities in the country where the outlook is always forward-looking — there is never really a backward-looking tendency. My banking work has taken me out to Palo Alto, what is commonly called Silicon Valley. And you sense out there is always a forward-looking outlook. And New York City. There is a desire to allow people to become a part of something that is so great and so big.
A Tennesee resident marrying a woman who's lived here all of five years -- my gosh, it's like he's practically one of us.

Q. Have you been to Staten Island?

A. I landed there in the helicopter, so I can say yes.


Q. Let’s talk about gay marriage. You know your record very well, but to quickly remind you, you voted to ban same sex marriage, with the Federal Marriage Amendment, twice.

A. I can say up until 2003, most organizations and national organization that had an office in Washington dedicated to fighting for equality for Americans, I enjoyed broad support and big support from them. The marriage votes drove my ratings down considerably, and arguably rightly so. I have been a supporter of civil unions. My opponent raised the issue on the campaign trail in Tennessee.

As the presidential race unfolded, one of the things I recognized during the campaign: My position on same-sex marriage resembles President Obama’s over the years. Frankly, up until maybe a year ago, that of the senior senator in the state, Senator Schumer, who was opposed to same-sex marriage.

Q. Where are you now?

A. I am for gay marriage. Or same-sex marriage. I don’t want to say it the wrong way. I think people are sensitive to it. I have been painted as being this right-wing zealot on choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think there are legitimate questions around my support for —

Q. Let’s focus on your two votes to ban same-sex marriage. Can you explain that? Walk me through that.

A. The last three years, think about what has transpired. How many states have either courts and or legislatures that have declared same-sex marriage is acceptable in their states? There has been a robust debate.

I don’t think it’s a great leap to go from civil unions to gay marriage — I may be in the minority in believing that. But I don’t think there is. Long before I arrived in New York, my commitment to issues of fairness and equality are clear and obvious and unmistakable. And in light of that, and consistent with that, according the same rights that a couple were married, versus the rights provided by civil unions, I don’t believe the difference is that great. I understand that in certain communities it’s not viewed on equal footing. But my change, or my maturation to that point....

Q. What changed for you?

A. Understand, I did not start at zero and get to 10. I started at 8. This is my point: I think some of the press accounts of my record have been distorted or just been wrong. People make it sound as if — let’s go back to the votes in the Congress.

Q. Do you regret those votes, then?

A: I have been in politics for 14 years. I was elected back in 1996 ... over the 14 years, have I learned and have I listened? Absolutely. Understand, Michael, I did not go from zero to 10. I was for civil unions and believed strongly that the flow of benefits and protections that would be provided in a civil union for same-sex couples, the decisions that have to be made, when health hardships are faced, when economic hardships are faced, I wanted all of those protections. I never strayed from them. It was just the issue of marriage, that particularly over the last three years, I have come to understand differently.

What a weasel.

brilliantly terrifying

Via Gawker, this story wherein Google plans to market ad space in Street View, replacing real world advertising with the virtual kind:

In this patent, Google describes how it plans to identify buildings, posters, signs and billboards in these images and give advertisers the ability to replace these images with more up-to-date ads. In addition, Google also seems to plan an advertising auction for unclaimed properties.

In Google's example, the software could identify the marquis and individual window posters on a theater property and replace them with new information. Through this, a theater could promote a new play in Street View, even if the actual Street View image is completely out of date.

Of course, the patent application anticipates the most obvious question: what if the original property owner isn't interested?
The link can be associated with a property owner, for example the property owner which owns the physical property portrayed. The link can alternatively be associated with an advertiser who placed the highest bid on the image recognized within the region of interest (e.g., poster, billboard, banner, etc.). Any portion of the geographic display image in which the region of interest is located can be selectable (e.g., hot-linked). For example, the image of the coffee shop can be hot-linked to an advertisement for the coffee shop.
This gap between reality and its representation is, of course, not new: baseball fans see advertisements behind home plate that utilize a green screen, and thus aren't really there.

And in our work for the COI podcast, we already run into something similar with copyright law, as a published story and an audio recording of someone reading it are considered two distinct pieces of copyright-able artwork, and can, in fact, have two distinct owners.

But one of the joys of Street View has been knowing that I am getting a snapshot of the world as it appears there. While it's definitely a simple navigation tool, it's also virtual tourism -- and it will undoubtedly lose some of its charm as Progress Marches On.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Law of Unintended Consequences

This week's Economist [subscription req'd] points to a watershed in Hollywood's efforts to monetize the online distribution of their content -- namely, the emergence of a common electronic format:
This week the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), a consortium that includes five of the six big studios as well as technology firms and retailers, agreed a format for digital films and named a single outfit to keep track of purchases. Consumers will be able to buy a film once and then play it on different gadgets. As it will be held on a remote server, they will not have to transfer it from device to device.
The first hurdle to this new standard are the two elephantine outliers: the first, Disney, has its own proprietary system and is trying to do the same thing on a competing platform -- thus undermining the one-stop-shop model.

The other kid refusing to enter the sandbox is Apple, since "it already offers film and television downloads through its iTunes store." Apple's interest runs completely counter to DECE's: it wants to wed content and device as closely as possible: Steve Jobs doesn't care what you watch, just that you watch it on an Apple product. Hollywood producers, though, don't care about content (a fact to which The Game Plan would attest) or platform -- just that you pay for it.

A far more interesting question is whether independent movie producers will be allowed to distribute their work using the same electronic standard. Until now, the whole point of the studio racket was that it was a closed, albeit enormous, distribution system. To continue Hoovering up our dollars, they need to make the consumption of movies over the internet a transaction with as little fuss (and as little electronic know-how) as possible.

That would seem to be a huge leg-up for independent producers who lack access to the brick-and-mortar networks the studio monoliths have spent almost a century building. Should this new standard take hold, it's a fair question whether the existing balance of influence endures in the ether...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Free Conan

First things first -- Conan O'Brien is a favorite of many in our family circle, so by no means do we enjoy that Coco is getting the short end of the stick in NBC's reshuffle, but the network's early recognition that their attempt to shoe-horn Leno into prime time was an unmitigated disaster is spectacular news for scripted shows (and therefore great news for actors).

NBC seems to have learned that the television audience does not want to hear about saving money on production costs. Actually, this is something they should have known going in -- you don't slap a sticker on your product that says: Now With Increased Profit Margins!

The big lesson for everyone else is that there really is a bottom of the barrel here -- and given that we're talking about television, that's even more remarkable. A decade ago reality television saved producers' bacon when its rapid expansion as the result of striking actors provided an unexpected bonanza.

NBC tried to make lightning strike twice, hoping that filming a guy in suit chat with celebrities would prove as popular as tribal councils, physical stunts, and skanky nocturnal hook-ups. Again, in retrospect, this might have been foreseeable, but whatever.

The good news is that actors will hopefully claw back five hours or so of vapid programming to help pay their rent.

Friday, January 8, 2010

new website

COItc has a new website. Bask in its glory and reset your bookmarks:

That is all.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

quick thought

So, yeah, technology-minded people are all a-flutter over Google's new Nexus One phone. But I found this quote in today's New York Times by Andy Rubin, a vice president of engineering in charge of the Android technology, interesting:
“There is an opportunity to make some margin on the unit sales, but that’s not the objective here, our primary business is advertising.”
I think there's an interesting parallel to our own concerns in film, television, and print media -- namely, a drastic change in the consumption habits on the part of consumers.

The difference is that while newspapers, movie studios, and, now, cable companies try desperately to prop up outdated modes of transmission and deny that there's anything remarkable to see here, Google is looking at the landscape, accepting its change, and trying to find its way in a new one. (Granted, it helps that they have billions of dollars to try and influence that change.)

So, minus the enormous pile of capital, maybe the rest of us -- content providers as well as its distributors -- should be looking for ways to keep innovating with what we make, and how we get it out there, instead of fretting about cutting up the pie.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

a not-very-tasty morsel

Some New Year's wonk:

Michael Lind over at has a vital piece about the nature of the economic slowdown, and it is not good news. It's disheartening to those who wanted to believe we were turning the corner, and especially to those who are looking to redefine the Democratic Party as a new, business-savvy outfit (we already knew that was a sham, but somehow Larry Summers still has a job in Washington).

It's worth reading in its entirety. His core argument, though, is that the very assumptions underlying Bill Clinton's claims of a "New Economy" (with elements of an IT-led economic revolution, endless foreign investment predicated on American technological dominance, and an endless supply of jobs provided we could train people fast enough) were all a sham, and the riches of the late nineties were just another speculative bubble.

Lind's biggest point is that to find solutions now, we need to face cold hard reality: that wages and productivity have been, at best, stagnant over the last ten years, and a "recovery" would merely place us at the tip of a slower decline.

And here's some even worse news. Lind outlines:

What about the claim of neoliberals in the 1990s that foreign money was pouring into the U.S. based on rational expectations of a permanent, technology-driven American boom? That pet theory of the New Democrats has been discredited by events (pdf) as well.

Investments in emerging markets have done better than investments in the U.S. in the 2000s. China and Japan have continued to buy U.S. debt, not because they are impressed with Silicon Valley's growth potential, but in order to cripple American manufacturing by keeping the dollar artificially high and the yuan and the yen artificially low. Their debt purchases are part of their strategic industrial policies on behalf of their own export-oriented manufacturers, not a vote of confidence in future American economic dynamism.

This is all the more sobering for the rich world when you witness The Economist's head-scratching this week as it ponders the resiliency of Emerging Markets:

The political and social consequences of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression have been milder than predicted. In developing countries, at least, governments have not fallen in a heap, as they did after the Asian crisis of 1997-98.


During 2009 the largest developing-country stockmarkets recouped all the losses they had suffered during 2008. October 2009 saw the largest monthly inflow into emerging-market bond funds since people started tracking the numbers in 1995. Russia’s central bank estimated that the country would attract $20 billion of capital inflows during the fourth quarter, compared with capital outflows of $60 billion in the first nine months. The IIF now reckons that net private capital flows to developing countries will more than double in 2010 to $672 billion (still a long way below their peak). So much new money is flooding into emerging markets that calls for capital controls are echoing around the developing world.

As they seek stable returns, investors are now fleeing established markets en masse and pouring their resources instead into emerging markets.

Now, this might very well be the makings of another bubble -- this time based on natural resources instead of silicon chips -- but either way it proves two things: America does not embody any great paradigm shift (as Bill Clinton's minions assured us), and in the grand scheme of things, as people once again move in packs to get rich quick instead of well, not much has changed.

Happy New Year.

Friday, January 1, 2010

new podcast episode

There's a new episode of the COI podcast available for streaming and download! In this episode we present Leo Tolstoy's short story, "God Sees the Truth, But Waits." There are three ways to listen:

(1) Stream the episode below
(2) Visit our podcast page and listen online:
(3) iTunes users can click this link