[This article is based on a speech I gave at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, December 5, 2011.]
You know that anti-piracy video you sometimes see at the beginning of movies? It explains how you wouldn’t steal a handbag, so neither should you steal a song or movie by an illegal download. Well, it turns out that the guy who wrote the music for that short clip, Melchoir Rietveldt, says that his music is being used illegally. It had been licensed to play at one film festival, not replayed a million times in DVDs distributed all over the world. He is demanding millions in a settlement fee from BREIN, the anti-piracy organization that produced the thing.
Interesting isn’t it? When you have hypocrisy that blatant, criminality this rampant, practices called piracy this pervasive – it reminds you of the interwar Prohibition years – you have to ask yourself if there is something fundamentally wrong with the law and the principles that underlie the law. Yes, people should keep to their contracts. But that’s not what we are talking about here; this case is being treated not as a contract violation but a copyright violation, which is something different. We are dealing with a more fundamental issue. Is it really stealing to reproduce an idea, an image, or an idea? Is it really contrary to morality to copy an idea?
The verdict here is crucially important because ever more of the state’s active intervention against liberty and real property is taking place in the name of intellectual property enforcement. The legislation SOPA could effectively end Internet freedom in the name of enforcing property rights.
If people who believe in liberty do not get this correct – and it no longer possible to stand on the sidelines – we will find ourselves siding with the state, the courts, the thugs, and even the international enforcement arm of the military industrial complex, all in the name of property rights. And that is a very dangerous thing at this point in history, since IP enforcement has become one of the greatest threats to liberty that we face today.
For several decades, immigration has been the main source of economic growth in Alabama. Same with foreign investment and the people it brings in. Major swaths of the state would be sunk without both.
Immigration has brought not only economic growth but a much-needed cultural shift in the state. We now have ever more museums, schools, houses of worship of many varieties, and our theaters, movie houses, and orchestras are actually enjoying support. Alabama now has highly skilled hands that can do a variety of tasks that were impossible to get done before, from complex engineering to intricate tile work in public spaces. Of course the agriculture issue is gigantic: nearly all the workers were undocumented and now they are gone. Then there’s the food issue: without immigration, Alabama would be mostly burgers and chicken fingers. All of these industries, to one extent or another, rely on workers with sketchy documentation.
So what do the politicians do? This year, they whipped up an crazy xenophobic frenzy and passed a massive crackdown that led to a cruel mass exodus from the state. And they did this in the middle of a recession. Absolutely ghastly. And now the inevitable has happened: there is no one to fill these jobs. Industries are under serious strain. Businesses are going bust. Unemployment, which is already higher than the national average, is going up. There are no workers to do what the immigrants did because the necessary skills and work ethic just isn’t present in the native population (as any Alabama resident could have told you).
The latest solution: put the prisoners to work to fill the missing jobs.
If you seek power over others, how much of an advantage does raw intelligence gain you?
If you look at the makeup of the U.S. Congress — which now has a 9% percent approval rating — or if you watch the Republican debates, you are not immediately inclined to label either the smart set. In fact, you have to be a dim bulb to repeatedly say many of the things that seem necessary for electability. On the other hand, a certain amount of cleverness is obviously necessary to outwit the media and your opponents.
Which is it? Two films that explore the relationship between power and brains are “Being There” (1979) and “Limitless” (2011). The films came out thirty years apart but deal with the same issues. “Being There” suggests that being dumb as a chicken is a huge advantage for those who seek political success. “Limitless” suggests that politics is the inevitable trajectory of a person who is far more intelligent than everyone else. Which is more realistic?
I’ll state my own view up front: politics is a gigantic waste of brains. If a person really has a gift for high-level thought, almost any profession would be a greater better to society and probably more self-fulfilling in the long run. Whereas it was probably once true that the political life attracted some of the best and brightest, it no longer seems true at all today.
“Being There” is both hilarious and serious, worth sitting down with at least once every few elections seasons. Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine star in this adaptation of a novel by Jerzy Kosinski about an illiterate and simple-minded man named Chance who happened to be in the right place at the right time. His utterances are few and most concern what he has done his entire life, which has been to tend one garden on one estate and otherwise watch television. [Keep reading…]