Friday, August 24, 2012

The Trouble with Harry

Years ago, while reading Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, I was struck by the predicament of Claudia, a small child turned into a vampire at the tender age of six. While she continued to develop intellectually, she was trapped in the body of a small girl.

Depending on how you look at it, Claudia was either blessed with or consigned to eternal childhood.

Which brings us to Prince Harry.

Imagine life in the most vertical social strata on planet earth. Barring the most tragic happenstance, Harry is relegated to a lifetime as number-two. It doesn’t matter how well he masters it, he will likely never be king. He is a substitute. A back-up. A three-dimensional, carbon-based insurance policy for the United Kingdom.

It is a future as confining as it is secure.

Harry was frolicking recently in Las Vegas, where he was photographed playing billiards with a female companion. Innocent enough, except that the would-be emperor had no clothes.

While many of us will scratch our heads and wonder what he was thinking, still others will ask simply why not? Does it really matter what Harry does? Why not play strip billiards, even with a cell phone camera in the room?

After all, it’s not as if he has to worry about appeasing a prospective employer, is it? His prospects are neither hurt nor enhanced by his behavior. Harry's path is etched in stone. Harry is Jeff Bridges in Fearless. Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. And Claudia from Interview with the Vampire.

His future is very unlikely to change.

Harry is a young man with everything—except the ability to alter his career path. For all the wealth and the privilege and the fame and even the eager young women, I don’t envy Harry much.

Thumbing your nose at consequence can’t be very fulfilling when so few consequences exist.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The File Host as Cop

There has been much ado lately about copyrights. As there should be. The writer of a book, a song or a movie deserves full credit and any remuneration that work generates. It is theirs.

But when things aren’t copyrighted, and are merely the object of corporate derision, should the same laws apply? Should any law apply?

As noted in this blog before, I am a fan of concert bootlegs. This is not a casual, overnight hook-up, but a committed, twenty-four/seven, long-term relationship. These are recordings of bands and artists in whom I possess intense interest.

And as such, I have faithfully purchased every copyrighted offering, extravagantly enriching all concerned. While this doesn’t entitle me to free subway rides or a civil rights upgrade, it does make me and those like me passionate consumers of the brand.

And with so much corporate hand-wringing about customer retention and the overwhelming cost of bringing new customers to the door (especially in the struggling music industry), is ours really the fire they want to douse?

I speak of the wholesale deletion of Internet files by file hosts, based on some vague and nebulous notion of copyright violation. This fear was instilled by the now-infamous bust of MegaUpload by the F.B.I. last January at the behest of enormous entertainment conglomerates.

Despite my favorite music blogs routinely deleting officially-released tracks from their posts, they are just as routinely subjected to baseless threats and file deletion because they may have violated a copyright.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a direct quote. May have.

Put down your i-Phone for a moment and consider that. If the specter of business interpreting and enforcing law isn’t enough to induce involuntary bowel spasms, perhaps suspicion and supposition becoming scientifically-sustainable fact will.

Pick a name out of the phone book. Call the police. Then tell them this individual might have been speeding last Tuesday. Pretty far-fetched, isn’t it?

Then imagine them acting on it.

This is what happens on the Internet every day.

This is businesses idea of law enforcement. No facts. No proof. No clue. Just lots and lots of assumptions.

Bootlegs are a convenient, three-legged mutt to kick in lieu of capturing the elusive greyhound which is the real problem. It’s casual, path-of-least-resistance policing. Law from the nacho-stained cushions of a La-Z-Boy.

And—sodomites excepted—who can’t get behind that?

I freely admit that in the face of global warming, our stubbornly-anemic economy and ballooning income disparity that rivals that of a third-world nation, this is a fairly minor concern.

But I also have this silly idea that those who aren’t breaking the law shouldn’t be treated as if they were—especially by an entity completely unrelated to and educated in law enforcement.

But that’s just me.

Short cuts to any portion of our judicial process and the way we practice law are never, ever trivial. The interpretation and enforcement of law must always be separate from business. They can't ever overlap.

Because now we know what it’s like when they do.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Shooting of the Month

Hello and welcome to our shooting of the month.

More specifically, welcome to a blind, wanton rampage in a Sikh temple south of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The whys and whens and whos are not important. What matters is that an individual had easy access to weapons of mass destruction.

(If the similarities between this and our reasons for beginning a misbegotten war in Iraq occur to you, congratulations on possessing a functioning brain.)

As a man who seeks a measure of consistency in the world, our passive acceptance of random, mass killings and the manufacture, distribution and sale of assault weapons deeply confuses and saddens me.

Can I assume that most of us are aware that assault weapons aren’t the weapon of choice among people inclined to go squirrel hunting with grandpa? There is no excuse for them—none—unless your name is James Holmes or Wade Page.

They are weapons made for killing as many people as possible in the shortest time possible. Murdering them. Savaging them. Tearing and ripping them apart with tiny, high-speed metal projectiles fired en masse. This is their singular purpose.

Apologies to John Sigler, but I don’t care how many law-abiding NRA members there are. There are tens of millions of law-abiding drivers, too.

Does this mean drivers don’t suffer expensive, federally-mandated safety equipment? Mandatory automobile insurance? Stiffer penalties for traffic violations?

Of course not.

It means that a reckless and careless minority disproportionately affects all of us. For good or for bad. Which is pretty much the way it goes most of the time. Wasn’t there an expression, something about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link?

Where do you suppose that came from?

Will someone—anyone—please tell me how a society that lapses into mania when a certain type of crib or blind kills a handful of infants accepts this? How can a society increasingly intolerant of abortion accept this?

How can a society that shovels hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of dollars to keep premature newborns alive accept this? How does it (how can it?) square with the ‘sanctity of life’ script?

Are the same people who obediently support a social media campaign to eradicate pink slime okay with this? How about those who obsessively download the most-recent footage from their nanny cams, or those who habitually scan their smart phones for severe weather alerts? Are they okay with this?

If so, why? Are we that scared? Apathetic? Or just too busy? To put it in business terms, none of these encourages investment in our future.

Existing side by side with our considerable egos is this fact: guns make life cheap. And the more guns we have, the cheaper our lives become.

Shouldn’t that offend us? Provoke in us a frothing, roiling rage? Doesn’t homicide diminish the number of our followers on Twitter? The number of people available to like us on Facebook? Shouldn’t we at least demand that someone, somewhere do something about this?

Or should we retreat into the naive optimism of our teenaged years and pretend that it won’t happen to us? Or take comfort in the standard-issue NRA fantasy that our guns will protect us; that we will one day blow a big hole in the midsection of a drug-crazed (and preferably minority) home invader?

(Please ignore the fact that statistically, your gun is more-likely to be: A.) Stolen from you B.) Used on you by a household member C.) Used by you on a household member or D.) Used by a household member in a suicide attempt than on that mythical home invader.)

Sounds like a win-win to me.

I know we are wildly erratic creatures, fraught with inconsistencies and moods that change inexplicably. To desire consistency from a society made-up of beings such as us is probably naïve.

And yet, given our ability to edge ever-closer to the truth of the god particle, or to create laundry detergent scented like mountain streams, our inability to escape the tiny, thoughtless confines of our lizard brains is tragic.

Ditto our failure to realize it is shamelessly exploited, and by whom.