James Poulos makes an important argument in Vice, that political elites have become so obsessed with economic growth that “Not only does our anxiety push us to become the kind of people least capable of launching our own personal growth plans, it encourages us to ignore the growing number of urgent issues that have nothing to do with the size of our per-capita GDP.”
To be sure, economic growth is important, and provides many benefits, including but not limited to maintaining domestic tranquility, securing our social order, improving the material living standards of almost all Americans (even if at divergent rates) and relieving us of many anxieties and burdens. Poulos doesn’t dispute the benefits of economic growth, but rather points out how an obsession with it can undermine and spoil the very things we are or should be seeking. You should read the full piece here.
There is a complementary obsession to the one he points out, though, one which interacts with the growth obsession to undermine many of the most important discussions and considerations we should be undertaking. It is the competitiveness obsession. In fact, if there is any word that runs close to “growth” as a dominant policy topic, it is its cousin “competitiveness.” Our nation needs to be more competitive with China and India on a global scale of economies and war. Our companies must be more competitive to create jobs. Our workers must be more competitive, to keep those jobs. Our schools must be more competitive in math and science, and our children must be more competitive, because haven’t you seen how long the Chinese lock their kids up in schools? When not competing with the Chinese, our kids need to compete with their peers to (for the most egregious) get into the most competitive kindergartens and grade schools that will feed them into the most competitive colleges, and graduate programs, so that they can get the most competitive internships and entry level positions at the most competitive firms. Along the way hopefully they will meet an equally competitive spouse, so that their children can start off with a competitive genome. Because you never want to let your child “fall behind,” least of all in the womb. How would they ever catch up from that? They would be doomed, or at the least screwed.
To which Poulos has a welcome reminder: “None of us are doomed. Nobody is screwed. Sure, your life might take some weird, sometimes even painful turns. You, like millions upon millions of us since the dawn of man, might experience heartache, disappointment, and tragedy.”
But the most important things in life, the most vital and electric things that enrich the human experience into something greater than anything the most competitive of Darwin’s finches could hope for, are not to be found in competition. Love and companionship, in spite of and through hardship, will not be acquired through a sperm bank sorted by SAT score. The terror and the tenderness of parental love will not be enhanced by private schools charging Ivy-League tuition. The ecstasy and the groundedness of religious devotion cannot be obtained at the expense of another. In fact, each of these can only be obtained by looking beyond the personal immediacy of competition to recognizing ourselves as in relationship, embedded in community.
It is just this community that the competitiveness cult threatens, by driving us to instrumentalize ourselves and our lives. This is perhaps made most plain in the absurdity of the conventional college admissions process, where the early education in civil society and self governance that clubs of interest and service once provided high schoolers has been transformed by their status as mandatory resumé fodder. The building of relationships can turn into “networking,” particularly in DC, where business cards are often accompanied by sheepish-to-shameful grins testifying to the mixed motives of “staying in touch.” There are reasons for this, and people feel a genuine anxiety about keeping their head above water, in many ways driven by the increasing instability of our modern times. That does not diminish, but rather it enhances, the value of Poulos’ imperative: “Let go of our sense of dependence on plans.” What we can compete for comprises only a small portion of our human goods.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet will hold a hearing on Wednesday consisting of a lone witness; the Register of Copyrights, head of the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress. In testimony released today, Register Maria Pallente says, ”I think it is time for Congress to think about the next great copyright act, which will need to be more forward thinking and flexible than before.”
A source told Billboard the hearing is “part of a coordinated, slow march” by House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte and Register Maria Pallante toward reforming copyright.
On its face, the statement is significant for its boldness and its blunt call for an update to the DMCA. But Mike Masnick at Techdirt is skeptical:
In the end, she is thinking big, but there’s a lot to worry about in here, along with a few good things. Perhaps of even greater concern than Pallante’s thoughts, is that, for the time being any process in Congress will be lead by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. While Goodlatte is slightly better than Lamar Smith — and, as he constantly reminds people in Silicon Valley, his son works at Facebook, Goodlatte has a long history of siding with the maximalists, and having little grasp of the importance of the public benefit in copyright.
Also telling is that nowhere in the entire speech did she mention anything about SOPA. Pallante was an unabashed supporter of SOPA, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of the bill back in 2011. The fact that the public rose up against it highlights how these issues have become a significant concern to the public, and one would hope that it would lead Pallante to make clear that any such discussion needs to take that into account.
“The Register’s Call for Updates to U.S. Copyright Law” by Maria Pallante
When the GOP’s hawks make the case for sustained high levels of defense spending, put most succinctly by Rep Tom Cotton this week at CPAC asking whether we could afford it–”Yes we can afford it, and yes we must afford it”–they’re almost always missing the point. A story in the Washington Times yesterday makes a data-rich case for why: it’s the very commitment to those high levels of defense spending that has encouraged the Pentagon to adopt wasteful procurement strategies:
Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, last year called the F-35′s procurement process “acquisition malpractice” because the plane was being developed at the same time it was being manufactured. Glitches found in test flights have had to be corrected during production at a huge cost. The Army sank $18 billion into the Future Combat System to fight on what it thought would be tomorrow’s high-tech battlefield. On the drawing board: 14 ground vehicles, communications hubs and unmanned aircraft that would revolutionize how soldiers fight. Not a lot came of it. Like the F-35, total program costs ballooned, from $92 billion to $159 billion. The GAO, which has chronicled botched weapons purchases, reported that for the Future Combat System, “There is not a firm foundation of knowledge for a confident cost estimate.”
The miscalculations have come back to haunt the armed forces at a time when tighter budgets are forcing it to curtail basic war-fighting preparations such as training, ship and aircraft repairs, and overseas deployments.
In other words, poor stewardship of defense investment has, in a sense, made the sequester’s indiscriminate cuts necessary.
At the very least, the story proves how unreliable cost estimates are for major programs like the F-35, littoral combat ship, and the Future Combat System, and suggests fairly significant defense cuts are possible without endangering national security.
National Harbor–Here’s a CPAC pro tip: If the title of a panel, speech, or event is phrased as a question, don’t be too disappointed when you find out it’s stacked to suggest a certain answer, a token dissident or two notwithstanding. Especially in foreign policy:
“Too Many American Wars? Should We Fight Anywhere and Can We Afford It?” — No, not quite enough, actually, and “we must afford it.”
“Can We Cut Defense Spending and Still Protect America?” — Probably not.
“Could a Federal Balanced Budget Amendment Save America From Congress?” — Of course it could! What could possibly go wrong?
“Has Atlas Shrugged?”
Though there’s some evidence to suggest conservatives are warming up to the notion of copyright reform, well:
“Internet Freedom and Intellectual Property Protection: What is the Conservative View and Why?”
Where do you think the panelists came down?
The conversation predictably revolved around the vast threat to property rights posed by internet piracy. Phil Kerpen gave a short exposition of John Locke’s view of copyright in relation to the Constitution–the hybrid view made best by Adam Mosoff that the copyright clause implicitly recognizes a natural right to profit from one’s intellectual labor. Seton Motley, a fairly well-known activist who writes op-eds various places and blog posts for Breitbart, spent five minutes listing IP lawsuits against Google in an effort to insinuate they’re behind efforts to weaken copyright. He also characterized IP opponents as “liars” and “thieves.”
The opposing view was supposed to be represented by Markham Erickson, an attorney for the Internet Association, but he didn’t show up, so Derek Khanna took his place (Dave Weigel also followed him around yesterday).
Except for Kerpen, who briefly mentioned the due process concerns with SOPA, no other conservative criticisms of today’s copyright system were aired by anyone but Khanna, who focused his remarks on the DMCA and the arbitrary power it grants to the librarian of congress. Since IP is a complicated issue and the panel was comprised of activists and political operatives rather than experts–a common problem at CPAC–perhaps that’s understandable.
During the Q&A I tried to get them to address fair use, orphan works, and the due process question a little more because the DMCA, which is actually on the books, also has problems. Kerpen said the due process point was “well taken” but didn’t address anything else.
If this is how the conservative movement thinks about intellectual property issues, they’ll miss a big opportunity. It’s a problem that many of them, Kerpen and Motley here, see perpetual crisis over anything; piracy, pending debt collapse, or Benghazi, as preferable to coming up with ways to make government work better or do less. There are plenty of reforms consistent with conservative principles that could modernize the copyright system and go a long way toward reaching the young and tech-savvy. At CPAC, it seems like nobody wants to talk about them.
Last night’s epic talking filibuster by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, joined by senators Republican and Democrat (well, one Democrat), brought the GOP caucus, however briefly, around to a civil libertarian position scarcely imaginable for those of us who remember the George W. Bush years. Lindsey Graham and John McCain are still fighting the good fight, however.
Where did drones come from? Did they vault from the pages of science fiction straight into our hypothetical cafe experience? The answer is stranger than you think.
P.W. Singer (not to be confused with Peter Singer) gives a terrific history of robot warfare at the beginning of his book Wired for War, which is partially condensed in an essay at The New Atlantis. Drones began, as many great inventions have, with Nikola Tesla, who “first mastered wireless communication in 1893,” driving a motorboat outside Madison Square Garden. He was laughed out of the military for proposing the efficacy of his boat and remote controlled torpedoes.
World War I brought technology to warfare in a particularly unwieldy fashion–the strategy was 19th-century, the weapons were 20th-century. Prototypes floated around like supply-running “electric dogs” and the Kettering “Bug,” a gyroscope- and barometer-guided plane that crashed into things. The Germans guarded their coastlines with FL-7′s, boats loaded up with explosives and controlled by wire until Tesla’s wireless radio control entered the fields of war in 1916.
For the most part, World War I was a time of odd experiments in unmanned warfare, with few projects getting enough traction or funding to be implemented. World War II, on the other hand, was a veritable technological bonanza.
The Germans created the first cruise missile, ballistic missile, and jet fighter, as well as the first drone. The German drone, the FX-1400 or “Fritz” was, as Singer describes it: “a 2,300 pound bomb with four small wings, tail controls, and a rocket motor” that the Germans would drop from planes and guide by radio to its target.
The Americans were behind the curve, but experimented with “Operation Aphrodite” in 1944. Aphrodite was a plan to send bomber planes loaded with over a ton of Torpex–an explosive 50% stronger than TNT–and have the pilot bail once the explosives were armed so that a nearby ship could use video cameras mounted on the drone to guide it into heavily protected Nazi targets. On August 12, 1944 when a navy equivalent was sent out in pursuit of an experimental Nazi supercannon, the Torpex exploded before the plane even crossed the channel, killing the crew and scuttling the program in fear of the pilot’s powerful father.
The pilot of that ship was Joseph Kennedy, Jr., JFK’s older brother. Joe Kennedy the father was a millionaire, movie mogul, and most importantly, powerful political figure and former ambassador to Great Britain who was set on electing his eldest son Joe Junior president. After the younger Joe was killed, John F. Kennedy took up the family burden.
After World War II, drones took a backseat in the American military. The Firefly drone flew 3,435 missions over Vietnam and South Asia, but 16% crashed with no field tests or data collection. The Army launched the Aquila program in 1979, but burdened it with so many demands that the original battlefield spy became a typical bureaucratic boondoggle, with the original order of $560 million for nearly 800 drones turning into more than $1 billion for prototypes. Most of the experimental ground drones of this period were operated by fiber optic wire, ignoring Tesla once again and proving vulnerable to scissors.
Desert Storm made military air tech sexy, post-Cold War cuts made it a rising budgetary priority, and John Warner added a legislative mandate to a defense authorization bill in early 2001 that one-third of all attack aircraft should be unmanned by 2010. The drone explosion since the war on terror brought us to the present day, with unmanned aircraft flying missions across the world and becoming a key part of President Obama’s anti-terrorism strategy.
A final interesting note: the Global Hawk Drone pictured above is manufactured by Northrop Grumman, which bought out one of the most prominent drone manufacturers of World War II after the war. This manufacturer had a factory near Hollywood where an Army photographer doing a feature on women in industry discovered a shapely young lady working on the drones, and sent the photos he took of her to a modeling agency. The woman would soon become better known as Marilyn Monroe.
As reported yesterday by Mother Jones, Eric Holder confirmed to Sen. Paul that he does believe that there are circumstances under which drone assassinations on American soil could be constitutional:
The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.
Paul responded in a statement:
“The U.S. Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening – it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans”
Check back for updates here.
[I've removed the filibuster clock that was once here, because it kept running after it ended. The total length was just shy of 13 hours.]
The “Copyright Alert System,” aka “six strikes,” kicked off today with the cooperation of five major Internet service providers. The goal of the new campaign is to curb copyright infringement by going after consumers rather than pirates.
While the CAS seems like something that would raise the hackles of privacy and civil liberty groups, the plan isn’t to arrest, sue, or fine people downloading illegal movies, games, or music. Instead, the group managing the program – the Center for Copyright Information – says its objective is to “educate” such downloaders that they are infringing on protected intellectual copyrights.
“Implementation marks the culmination of many months of work on this groundbreaking and collaborative effort to curb online piracy and promote the lawful use of digital music, movies and TV shows,” executive director for the Center for Copyright Information Jill Lesser wrote in a blog post today. “The CAS marks a new way to reach consumers who may be engaging in peer-to-peer (P2P) piracy.”
Unlike other graduated anti-piracy enforcement measures such as three-strikes laws in France or the UK, this one isn’t going to be enforced by a government regulator.
In a blog post, Verizon VP Tom Dailey tries to assuage privacy concerns:
First and foremost, Verizon is committed to protecting our customers’ privacy and we will not be sharing anyone’s identity with the content owners as part of our Program. Second, Verizon’s role in the Program is to forward to our customers information gathered by the content owners about possible peer-to-peer copyright infringement taking place on the customer’s Internet connection so they can take steps to address the possible infringing activity on their account. Finally, the goal of our Copyright Alert Program is to build education and awareness around the important issue of copyright infringement, and to help our customers find lawful ways to find and enjoy digital content.
In layman’s terms, what this means is that the first time you get caught by an ISP–or rather, the first time a copyright holder informs your ISP that their may be something going on–they’ll let you know what you’re doing is illegal. If you keep doing it, they’ll take increasingly more aggressive steps, right up to suspending, but not terminating, your service. According to documents obtained last year by TorrentFreak, it could also include blocking certain websites.
Mostly what this is is a codification of existing practices, and file-sharers can still be subpoenaed by the rights-holders. Some ISPs already throttle file-sharers’ bandwidth, so that’s not really new, though to my knowledge the threat of suspending service is new. The MIT Technology Review calls the system “toothless,” and says the “whole thing bends over backwards to reassure people that Big Brother is not watching.”
(2) Sonny Bunch reviews Jerry Brito’s Copyright Unbalanced in the Weekly Standard, admonishing libertarian and conservative critics for ignoring the “moral dimension” of copyright based on, of all things, the labor theory of value:
If you haven’t been following Steven Hyden’s seven-part series over at Grantland about the “Winners’ History of Rock and Roll”, you’re missing out. He’s one of the most insightful music writers going, and an unabashed rockist. In the final installment Hyden takes on the Black Keys, contrasting their populist garage rock with more self-consciously obscure fare:
I also like lots of bands that never had a chance to find a big audience — the ones that were too strange or too ugly or too far ahead of their time to connect with most people. We need the fringe-y stuff, or rock music will get stale and boring.
But the problem right now is that we have a surplus of rock records like Shields and a deficit of records like El Camino. And I mean that in an ecological sense — even if you hate El Camino or mainstream rock in general, the dearth of this sort of music has made the entire system worse for all involved. In order for a band like Grizzly Bear to have any hope of getting on the radio, there needs to be a band like the Black Keys to convince the powers that be that listeners actually still care about rock bands. If a major label — particularly a label that can get you on the radio — is going to take a chance on a Grizzly Bear, there needs to be a Black Keys to make that investment seem feasible.
What rock music needs right now is more gateway bands. … Indie bands haven’t done enough to compete. The status quo in indie rock these days is to make records aimed directly at upper-middle-class college graduates living in big cities. Only a small handful of indie bands attempt to reach listeners who aren’t already on the team; even the really good records reside firmly in a familiar wheelhouse of tastefully arty and historically proven “college rock” aesthetics and attitudes that mean nothing to the outside world.
The 2013 Academy Awards are now on the books, and the only question left is: which of these movies are actually worth paying money to see? TAC has answers:
Winner of Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay:
- Noah Millman feels Argo backfired as a campaign ad, and misfired as a film.
- Scott McConnell on the other hand, explains what Argo got right on Iran
Winner of Best Actor and Production Design:
- Millman was “carried along by the universally excellent performances,” and dives into the tension, dramatic and historical, of the film.
Winner of Best Foreign Language Film:
- Eve Tushnet found Amour a “totally compelling, emotionally devastating movie,” and felt it was misunderstood as pro-euthanasia shilling because it was “a portrait, not an allegory.”
Life of Pi
Winner of Best Director, Cinematography, Original Score, Visual Effects:
- Rod Dreher found Life of Pi to be “mostly wonderful, and certainly one of the most visually stunning films any of us had ever seen.” He discusses the “provocative religious message in the movie” in a spoiler-filled consideration (you have been warned) and finds “as a Christian I don’t share the film’s pantheistic worldview, but I found it philosophically engaging all the same.”
- (Update): Noah Millman adds to the list with a consideration of Life of Pi‘s multiple stories, and what stories mean to us in art and faith.
Zero Dark Thirty
Winner of Best Sound Editing
- Noah Millman gives Zero Dark Thirty a deep, thorough consideration and concludes “Don’t go to this movie to learn whether torture was necessary or not to get bin Laden. Go to this movie to understand why we – not just the Bush Administration or the CIA, but much of America – embraced torture.”
- Noah Millman finds The Sessions “a sweet little film … a heartwarming story, and one would have to be a churl not to cheer Mark on, particularly since he is so self-deprecatingly charming throughout,” but “I suppose I’ll have to be a churl,” giving a through-going consideration of all the film’s many merits along with its shortcomings.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Eve Tushnet “can tell you it is worth it. The things you’ve probably heard already are true: This is a lush, heart-wrenching fable about a little girl and her daddy, in a rural Louisiana enclave barely clinging to the high side of environmental apocalypse,” then gives the movie a thorough consideration.
- Millman “still can’t make up my mind what to think about Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, which I saw last night. Not that I’m not sure it was a great film – I know what I think of it. I’m just not sure what I think about it,” ultimately concluding “Something has finally been mastered, but whether it is Dodd or Quell, or the language of self-mastery itself, I couldn’t say.”
Winner of Best Original Song, and Sound Editing:
- We didn’t review “Skyfall” per se, but Stephen Tippins, Jr. gave James Bond himself a through review in a recent issue, finding the double-oh agent to be more than a glamorous womanizer, rather “defending the West against itself.”
Winner of Best Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay:
- Rod Dreher didn’t review Django, exactly, but rather explains why neither he nor The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates plan to see it at all, despite Rod expecting he would enjoy it.
All the king’s horses and all their critics can’t agree whether Humpty Dumpty is broken, though they agree he’s taken a fall. Hilary Mantel, two-time winner of the Man Booker prize and a great chevalier of the British literary court, has stirred herself up a controversy with cutting remarks on Princess Kate and her bride price, the tabloid media and their readers.
On Feb 4th, Mantel gave a sophisticated, literary speech for the London Review of Books‘ Winter Lecture series entitled “Undressing Anne Boleyn” on the use the royal family has made of its women for breeding heirs, paying special attention to Henry VIII’s wives, and Katherine, whom she described as “becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung. In those days she was a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore.”
Yesterday the Daily Mail, a repository of patriotic second-hand junk news, having found the speech out (presumably none of its people had attended the speech in person) published a withering rebuke to the old lady. It was difficult to read the article when the text was constantly interrupted by hi-res photographs of Kate in various poses wearing the same baby-bump-revealing dress, but you gathered that the nation had leapt to the defense of its future queen against the insolent assault of a catty old woman.
The major broadsheets have stuck up for Mantel, the Guardian, the Independent, the Telegraph, though the Times was ambivalent. They point out that her speech is sympathetic to Kate’s plight–Mantel asks the nation “to back off and not be brutes.” It condemns the obsession with royalty that expects the royals to be picture-ready and charity-friendly, and is made uncomfortable with a display of real personality. Their defense distinguishes between Mantel’s criticism of the popular image of Kate, and her criticism of Kate herself. But you either have to be a verbal acrobat to avoid seeing that Mantel doesn’t care for Kate or the institution of the royal family, or you just have something to lose by out-and-out admitting that you don’t like them either.
For herself Mantel never quite says it outright. Her speech reads very much like a novel, leaping lightly from observation to observation, refraining from strong conclusions, with all the beautiful, attenuated wisdom of a mind devoted to nuance. The literary kingdom is in a permanent Cold War with the popular patriotic tradition.