What if…?

Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.

-often misattributed to Pablo Picasso.

The statement in a somewhat longer form originally came from this essay:

One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.

Eliot, T.S., “Philip Massinger,” The Sacred Wood, New York: Bartleby.com, 2000. 

I discovered this because somebody wrote a post called Good Poets Borrow, Great Poets Steal… and took the time to research the quote and include the relevant snippet in their writing. And Bartleby’s allowed free access to that original essay.  That’s called fair use in the copyright world, to be able to take a snippet from someone else’s writing and put it into your own to illustrate a point. Artists have been doing it for centuries. So have forgers. So have print makers. What about that Salvador Dali print you had hanging in your dorm room in college? You probably couldn’t have afforded the original. So somebody pays a licensing fee and runs off a couple of million Dali prints (at least). Secondary spinoffs of original productions often make a lot more money than the originals do after they are first sold. Artists don’t actually get a share of profits of re-sales of originals. Picasso’s estate would be owed a bundle if that were the case.

That is not unlike the music or book publishing industry as well. The original creative item for the average musician or writer may sell enough copies to allow the creator to do further work if they’re lucky. The real money comes from the ancillary marketing efforts such as merchandising, concerts and appearances, secondary rights such as video games, movies and script options, translations, second and third editions in different formats such as paperback, feature articles, photo shoots for big publications and so forth. The spin off is potentially huge. And so are the profits. Unfortunately most artists and writers represented by the big publishers have had to give up a lot of these secondary rights in order to get signed under contract in the first place. Is it any wonder that these corporations are so protective of their real revenue stream?

This is much on my mind lately due to the SOPA protests going on in the US and around the world. If people outside the US think it doesn’t affect them, think again.

The purpose of the bill is allegedly to stop piracy. I personally don’t think piracy is a problem and that it’s far more of a benefit than a detriment to marketing of creative materials. Apparently I am not the only one that thinks like that. The huge tech publisher O’Reilly has written a great piece on why SOPA and it’s ilk are really bad for business and why they don’t chase pirates. O’Reilly Media – Stop SOPA BTW the pirating of tech books is probably higher than of any other kind of book if counts on torrent sites are any indication. Yet O’Reilly’s business has grown continually. Isn’t that interesting. I, like a lot of people who have worked in tech and information related fields have probably bought more then 50 O’Reilly tech books in my lifetime, still have a couple on the shelf, even though I am very aware of where I can download them. Sure quite a few of them were bought at Book Warehouse or the Half Price Computer book store when they were remaindered, which is the phase just before they are shredded. Yes book sellers and publishers shred what they can’t sell. How many dollars of “potential revenue” is that worth? Similar fates await old CDs, DVDs, merchandise and other “potential revenue” sources governed by the SOPA pushers.

So what is vociferously protected today with copyright violation hysteria is tomorrow’s garbage.

The question arose as to which blog I should put this piece on. I decided to put it here because I’ve addressed the issue of piracy at great length with a post here before; Steal This Book (or not) which was partly in response to the Shambhala Sun’s  post Digital dharma downloading: Is it sharing? Is it stealing?.

It would be interesting to know if any of the publishers of dharma material have ever shredded their own publications once they’ve gone out of print. I do know they send out an awful lot of review copies, for free, postage paid, because I have 2 books sitting beside me with another on the way.  They’d save a lot of money and staff time if they’d just ask those who will pirate the books to provide reviews on Amazon or elsewhere. They’d probably have a lot more reach than this blog (or any blog) as well.

And something else. If I review the book I will probably download a copy of it from somewhere if I can. Why? Because I don’t have time to retype all the paragraphs of quotes I might use in a review or an excerpt. I’d probably excerpt a lot more that way too. I am not a stenographer for the publisher.  It’s a lot more efficient to cut and paste for a review article, for which I am getting paid in the form of a free book which I may or may not have read had I seen it on a book store shelf, and which ultimately will become a shredded pile of paper at the end of its marketing life cycle. One publisher did start giving electronic copies. It requires so many logins and account setups that it was like I was trying to penetrate the Pentagon to get at the book. The book was then copy protected so I couldn’t cut and paste. To top it all off it was a time limited book, so it essentially deleted itself before I finished the review. So I deleted the review I had been working on and won’t review for them again. I can’t think of a way it could have been made more inconvenient.

What if?

One thing I’ve always enjoyed is playing with the “what if” idea. It’s the kind of thing trend trackers, futurists and science fiction writers make their living from and it’s an interesting exercise in that one has to look at both the past and present deeply in order to draw out whatever factors of plausibility might be available for a particular future scenario.

Since SOPA/PIPA and related bills in Europe, Australia, Canada and India (and elsewhere) are up in the news I want to address censorship and the whole idea of file sharing. When a law is overwritten and too broad it tends to become a catchall for lots of unrelated things. Consider the Patriot Act in the US, which bolsters Homeland Security, the TSA, Fusion centers and other draconian institutions.

The trouble with poorly written laws that have too much scope is that they generally tend to get pushed to their legal limits and then beyond them. The spirit of the law gets lost along with the letter of the law. People think they understand the intent of it and keep expanding their authority under those suppositions. Who knew the Patriot Act and it’s cousins would lead to old men getting their colostomy bags emptied out when they are trying to catch a plane to see their grand kids or that security agents would be groping the crotches of toddlers? Certainly not the Patriot Act law makers.

Here’s a few things that SOPA and it’s cousins could engender if we use our imaginations a little bit. And you can be sure corporations have people to do just that if it means an extra squeeze on the marketplace.

-banning re-tweeting on Twitter. Technically by re-tweeting you are using someone else’s content to bolster your Twitter status, retain or obtain followers, and possibly make money. If Twitter is part of a public persona that you maintain in any way related to commerce, your job or any money making endeavor you could be charged unless you have paid a licensing fee to each and every person you retweet.

-banning all sharing on social networks including Facebook, Google+, Diaspora and others. Same as the Twitter scenario

-banning about 80% of YouTube content due to minimal usage of songs, images or ideas that originated with someone other than you. Every photo, including an album cover scan, image of an artist, piece of a song, or even a single chord played in a way particular to a certain artist could at minimum get your account closed down.

-music lessons would be confined to the classics and public domain works. Your child may not learn to play Stairway to Heaven on the guitar in 8th grade without the proper paperwork or you and your children will be fined or imprisoned. And she certainly couldn’t sing a Lady Gaga song and get famous for it.

-closing your Flicker or other photo sharing account due to infringement.  If you take a picture of your kids and they have Disney logos on their clothes for example, that is grounds to close your account. If you post a video on Facebook of your kids watching TV, if any of the TV images are visible or the sound audible and identifiable, that is grounds to close your account.

-all links in any blog post you make must be checked thoroughly on the site they link to in order to insure that the linked site does not further link to material that might violate SOPA. I don’t just mean the post you link to but the entire site you link to. For example if you link to a story in the New York Times, you must examine every page of the NYT to insure they haven’t linked to anything related to piracy. Of course they can afford not to get shut down for it but can you?

– Wikileaks or anything like it will be prosecuted (as if it isn’t already!) All whistleblowers will have to write first hand accounts of events and will not be allowed to use any documents from the source. Hence all whistleblowing will die, because either said accounts are heresay according evidence rules in most courts and inadmissible or they will involve the 5th Amendment, that is the person will have to incriminate themselves as a participant to wrongdoing.

-public utterances, including speeches will no longer be available. What public figures, legislators, law makers say will become the property of various rights holders including those who provide the media on which it is recorded. They may decide to keep it out of reach completely or charge a fee for it’s access. This is happening already. It costs $10 to watch Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech.

-Fact checking will die. Any site that publishes or links to content ostensibly belonging to someone else can be shut down. So if a newspaper links to an original document that someone claims copyright on they would be liable.

-fair use will be further squeezed and finally eliminated.  You may not quote anyone without their express written permission.

All of these could take place even without a charge being laid. At present, under the DMCA, all that is required is an accusation made by someone with sufficient pull in the entertainment industry, to pull down a website.

Additionally there have been all kinds of secret warrants issued to get information on people who have expressed themselves under the #occupy hashtag on Twitter. The Boston DA has subpeona’d from Twitter all the user information (including DMs) on a large number of people who used that hashtag including journalists and including foreigners. Many people are fighting back attempting to quash these fishing expeditions. It’s a whole other post (or 10) to get into all the details. Suffice it to say there’s a lot more going on in this vein, against ordinary citizens, than CNN or your local newspaper is telling you. And it’s going to get a lot worse.

The Nightmare Scenario

Suppose you’re not even in the United States and you link to some resource on the Internet. Suppose that resource has used downloaded material without authorization. Happens all the time. I do it and you probably do too, knowingly or not.

Suppose then that you are arrested, removed to the US, locked up indefinitely without trial (under the NDAA which recently passed), sent to Guantanamo or Syria (extra-judicial rendition is current practice), tortured for the hell of it, maybe released in 20 years or maybe you just disappear. The end result will be determined by how much money you have.

At present even under the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) passed in 1998 one can be extradited to the US to face charges even though such a scenario involving linking is not a crime in one’s own country. This is happening right now to an English student who’s never even been to the US because of a “crime” that’s not even illegal in England. The guy ran a website with links. (Just like Buddhist Torrents) No copyrighted material on it at all. Here’s a couple of media links in case you think I’m bullshitting.  ‘Piracy’ student Richard O’Dwyer loses extradition case , ‘Piracy’ student loses US extradition battle over copyright infringement  The US has not even submitted prima facie to the English courts to bring this scenario about in many extradition cases of a similar nature. Yes that’s a failure of English lawmaking. But most other countries who have extradition treaties with the US face similar situations.

This is the future plan for Julian Assange BTW. Sweden has an extradition treaty with the US that greatly favors US interests, even moreso than the English treaty.

Here’s more on the foreign angle from Australia

Long arm of US piracy law will reach further than you think

And from the US publication Ars Technica

What does SOPA mean for us foreigners?

So this is not just an American problem it is a global problem. This kind of Corporate Colonialism, in which we are subject to the overreach of a foreign government acting at the behest of the entertainment industry cartel, affects everyone, everywhere. That’s why it’s got to be stopped. That’s why I placed signs on this and my other blogs and spent the day signing petitions and writing letters and this blog post.

Better Remedies

There are many other ways that copyright issues can be handled.

Here are a few better ideas I’ve come across:

Creative Commons Licensing is probably the best model we have at the moment. But it’s not really been legally challenged. How would it hold up in court? Many of the provisions of it could be written into law if the legislators could get their minds around other ways of looking at copyright.

CopyLeft essentially places creative items into a public domain but in such a way that modifications of the item are accounted for. It is affiliated with GNU software licensing which is often used for Open Source projects. 

There are others. Individuals have also added comments that could be easily implemented if the law makers could get over the pre-Internet mindset with regard to intellectual property.

Mumon wrote on Facebook:

One commonsense reform: if a corporation decides to take something "out of print," its copyright should be greatly weakened. An ancillary effect would be people could pay for textbooks for their kids at the basic university level.

Here are a couple of videos from well known individuals addressing these matters as well. These are people who would allegedly directly benefit from SOPA. They don’t seem all that distressed about piracy.

Neil Gaiman


Joss Stone


Thom Yorke


Trent Reznor – Steal It

We All Play by the Same Rules or Not

On the Point of Contact blog a while back was a post called Buddhists, racism and the selective application of local ordinances . It was about the recurring problem of Buddhist sanghas to obtain permission to build temples or conduct Buddhist practices in some areas. Zoning regulations among other things have been used to keep Buddhists out of neighborhoods or at least from making their presence well known.

Jack wrote there:

"…privilege and racial/religious discrimination does not necessarily come in a fury of angry voices, drama or violence. It is a cold, logical and well-rehearsed application of an undue burden placed upon certain groups while not on others."

"unreasonable expectation of burden" is a critical observation in how privilege plays out in this and other scenarios. It is the crux of privilege.

Privilege isn’t just about money or aristocratic behavior when we are talking about it in the socio-political sense. It is about access.

Money can buy a certain amount of access in many situations but the fact that it has to be bought by certain groups and is not afforded automatically again falls under the expectation of burden. To the privileged group a considerable amount of access is afforded automatically.

And that is why when privilege is enacted those who enact it don’t see it. There is often the retort "Everyone plays by the same rules". The questions are who set up the rules and who is enforcing them? Who is being complained against when the rules are violated? When rules and their social enactment are already stacked against a group then violations are pretty easy to come up with.

This reminds me of that business with the atheists and the cross at the 9-11 site. Atheists objected to a Christian symbol being portrayed. They were told to just shut up and get over it. Yet when Muslims wanted to build a community center in the vicinity-not even at the site-the backlash was long and loud.

It happens in many communities and on large and smaller scales.

I’ve gone to local planning meetings over the years and the NIMBY sentiment is definitely alive an well. The list of things people don’t want in their neighborhoods is long indeed.

Some I’ve noted, even in open minded Vancouver Canada include:

-certain kinds of ethnic restaurants (usually applied to late night sushi places even though there are bars across the street which are open later and are much noisier)
-half-way houses of any kind
-homeless shelters of any kind
-charitable organizations that deal with mental health issues (drop in centers, clinics)
-drug rehab facilities
-religious institutions who’s architecture doesn’t fit with the "character" of the neighborhood (this most usually applies to Hindu and Sikh temples)
-signage in languages other than English or French except in certain areas or if the signs have E/F as well.

Even within condominium complexes or apartment buildings there are often coded rules that are thinly disguised racism, mostly to do with cooking (“smells” or “odours” that might pervade hallways), the type of draperies one can use on their windows (no colors, only a white backing-this means no signs or flags as well), what can be done on balconies-no laundry hanging or "excessive" gardening. Some of these can get pretty detailed.

This is all what may be called the institutionalization of privilege. It’s written into various rules and enforced by the dominant groups. Of course it isn’t stated directly as racist or discriminatory and all kinds of other rationalizations are given but when you look at the actual practices and who is always on the receiving end of the additional scrutiny, it shows up pretty clearly. Those who set the rules win.

All playing by the same rules. I don’t think so.

A Thousand Cuts

Microagressions is a blog project that anyone can contribute to. It is about those little incidents that happen on a daily basis to reinforce silence, discomfort, exclusion and difference.

People post their incidents, often summarized in a few sentences and their reaction to these incidents. Some though, once read require no further explanation.

Here are a few samples:

“Ma’am, you have to wait with your own party! Excuse me, ma’am, you have to wait your turn!”

I was with my boyfriend’s family waiting to eat breakfast with Cinderella in the castle at Disney World Magic Kingdom Resort. His family is white, I’m Asian. After a half an hour wait, our party was called. The cast member tried to stop me from “following” them.


The number of people who congratulate me for “turning” my openly bisexual husband “back”. That is, if they like me, they congratulate me. If they don’t like me, they insinuate that I’m not (pretty/classy/charming/feminine) enough to be with a “real” man.


“I like my women how I like my olive oil – extra virgin ; )”

A Facebook status by a friend.


At the local diner, the waitress asked my friend what I would like to eat. Apparently, because I use a wheelchair, I am unable to order my own lunch.


“No disrespect, man.”

Man on street apologizing TO MY BOYFRIEND after harassing ME and realizing later that I was walking with a guy who was a few steps behind.


“Here, taste this. You’re the rice expert.”

I am a 15 year old Asian female.


“I don’t think I like your tone of voice.”

White male lawyer, “responding” to my politely angry sister’s question about our condo association’s roofing contract. This lawyer had had no problem answering the question posed by an angry man minutes before, of course.


“Men can’t be raped. If you’re a man you consent by default.”

Made me feel isolated.

In all these cases many people are tempted to say something like “Get over it”, “Suck it up”, “It’s no big deal”, “It’s just a joke”, “Just kidding”, “You’re taking this too seriously”, “You’re too sensitive” . 

If such things were only to happen once or twice in a lifetime, or in a year, or in a month, or in a week that might be possible. But for many people these microagressions are an almost daily occurrence.

The blog states:

Each event, observation and experience posted is not necessarily particularly striking in and of themselves. Often, they are never meant to hurt – acts done with little conscious awareness of their meanings and effects. Instead, their slow accumulation during a childhood and over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience, making explanation and communication with someone who does not share this identity particularly difficult. Social others are microaggressed hourly, daily, weekly, monthly.


this project is a response to “it’s not a big deal” – “it” is a big deal. ”it” is in the everyday. ”it” is shoved in your face when you are least expecting it. ”it” happens when you expect it the most. ”it” is a reminder of your difference. ”it” enforces difference. ”it” can be painful. ”it” can be laughed off. ”it” can slide unnoticed by either the speaker, listener or both. ”it” can silence people. ”it” reminds us of the ways in which we and people like us continue to be excluded and oppressed. ”it” matters because these relate to a bigger “it”: a society where social difference has systematic consequences for the “others.”

but “it” can create or force moments of dialogue.

The effects of these types of small moments become cumulative. Not unlike a blister developing after repeated friction on one spot of the skin. As it continues it becomes more and more painful and even debilitating in some cases.

These little unmindful moments are when we recite what we have heard, what we have been socially conditioned to accept and even believe, without question. These little unmindful moments when we blurt out something, not usually even meaning injury and not even considering injury as a possibility.

These little unmindful moments when we can’t understand the effects of our words and actions, when we don’t want to hear, or to believe what we hear.

Injury requires intent. Doesn’t it?


Note on the Title

This post’s title “A Thousand Cuts” comes from the misunderstanding of a method of execution used in ancient China which is more properly rendered slow slicing. It was often used in racist literature to illustrate the notion that Chinese people were barbarians.  It was harsh by current standards but not much moreso than execution and punishment methods in use all over the world at that time. Some of those included keelhauling, the lash, electric chairs, decapitation, drawing and quartering-only outlawed in England a few years earlier than slow slicing (1870 compared to 1905) and caning.

Brain Myths and Bad Science

The Smithsonian magazine has an article about brain myths. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Top-Ten-Myths-About-the-Brain.html

Item #10 on that list is the myth that there are major differences between male and female brains. The article states:

10. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
Some of the sloppiest, shoddiest, most biased, least reproducible, worst designed and most overinterpreted research in the history of science purports to provide biological explanations for differences between men and women. Eminent neuroscientists once claimed that head size, spinal ganglia or brain stem structures were responsible for women’s inability to think creatively, vote logically or practice medicine. Today the theories are a bit more sophisticated: men supposedly have more specialized brain hemispheres, women more elaborate emotion circuits. Though there are some differences (minor and uncorrelated with any particular ability) between male and female brains, the main problem with looking for correlations with behavior is that sex differences in cognition are massively exaggerated.

So of course right after reading that I come across this nonsense in the Wall Street Journal from APRIL 30, 2011.  The Online World of Female Desire.

The author, a computational neuroscientist, draws some of the most ridiculous conclusions from analyzing website data. Read the comments for some of the objections to those. I don’t even want to go into how stupid the conclusions are and how fraught with bogus correlation. That doesn’t even count the abject stereotyping, heteronormative rest of the bullshit.  I’m not a little girl looking for either a daddy or a baby-daddy.

“Feminine intuition” is some kind of stereotypical folk myth that the dude is trying to pump up with statistics but fails miserably. But you know he’s got a book to sell.

And it’s not only about women. Men with “…the much simpler male brain” may have trouble understanding that. Yes he did write that phrase.

If this shit is what passes for science, with it’s alleged objective of truth, then we’d better move back into the caves quick. Ridiculous.

Almost as ridiculous as the recent Kanazawa incident at Psychology today where he tried to put forward distorted data to say that black women were not as attractive as others mostly due to increased testosterone. Not only is the testosterone hypothesis completely the opposite of what is found in most studies the definition of “attractiveness” is not even elucidated. It’s eugenics wrapped up in bullshit evolutionary psychology plain and simple. P. Z. Myers brought up many good points as did some PT bloggers. Here’s a couple of links from Pharyngula blog discussing the matter.

I guess even Psychology Today has limits

Not everyone at Psychology Today is incompetent

When alleged scientists are so biased and blinded by their own social conditioning, beliefs and desire to publish anything at any cost it’s very difficult to take them any more seriously than some of the most wacked out religious believers.