Apple Apostasy

A month ago the media was filled with stories about the New Jersey teenager who hacked the iPhone to work on cell carriers other than AT&T. Not one of the dozen or so articles I read then addressed the most obvious questions: Won’t this hack invalidate the iPhone’s warranty? Isn’t this hack vulnerable to an Apple counter-hack? Doesn’t it violate the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions? Last week, after Apple issued a software update that turned hacked iPhones into $400 paperweights, the media was filled with headlines such as this from the New York Times: Altered iPhones Freeze Up

Duh. Without reading the iPhone’s Terms of Use I know that Apple’s contract specifically prohibits the carrier-switch hack and disclaims liability for user installation of non-approved software on the iPhone. I know because such provisions are boilerplate in retail tech products licenses and contracts and Apple is as PC–programatically correct–as any tech company. Exhibit 1 is iTunes, which is easy and intuitive and countenances almost no user modification of how it chooses to organize your music on your hard drive. Which makes statements like this from an editor of Gizmodo just silly: “[Disabling a phone] instead of just relocking it . . . is going way too far; I’d call it uncharacteristically evil.” Irritating, annoying, consumer-unfriendly, reason not to buy another Apple product, maybe, but since when does naked pursuit of economic self-interest upset techies? Maybe this is a corollary of last week’s a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested: “a consumer advocate is a techie whose hacked iPhone has been bricked.”

Janus-Faced

Just the headline of Adam Cohen’s op-ed piece in today’s New York Times–Larry Craig’s Great Adventure: Suddenly, He’s a Civil Libertarian–put me in mind of an old joke: “A liberal is a conservative who has been arrested.” Indeed Cohen offers up this punch line as he calls Craig to task for his belated embrace of civil rights after a senate career in which he supported judicial nominees eager to dial them back. What Cohen doesn’t mention is the other part of the joke: “And a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.”

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Evil

Last year a former US Army intelligence Officer donated an album of photographs to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The album had belonged to Karl Hocker, adjutant to the commander of Auschwitz, and records the daily life of camp SS officers. They depict men and women engaged in singalongs, naps in lounge chairs, drinks around a picnic table, light-hearted frolics in the countryside, rustic respites from the routine daily murder of thousands. A New York Times article relates how this album came into the hands of the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the accompanying slide show captures its horrific banality.

Video Op-Ed

Last week The New York Times carried Paul Bremer’s revisionist take on his disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army in May 2003. Numerous histories of the invasion document how Bremer’s decision blind-sided the U.S. field commanders and contributed to the ensuing disintegration of social order. Filmmaker Charles Ferguson, creator of Iraq war documentary No End in Sight, put together a video letter to the editor rebutting Bremer’s claims. Take a look.

Trending Up or Down?

“Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home . . . The way forward…makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together.” President Bush in 9/13 televised address, quoted in President Sees ‘Enduring’ Role for U.S. in Iraq, The Wall Street Journal, 14-Sep-07

“The White House told Congress Friday that Iraqi leaders gained little new ground on key military and political goals . . .” White House: Iraq Lags on Benchmarks, AP News, 14-Sep-07

Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, “[a] high-profile Sunni Arab sheik who collaborated with the American military in the fight against jihadist militants in westernIraq was killed in a bomb attack on Thursday near his desert compound.” Sunni Sheik Who Back U.S. in Iraq is Killed, The New York Times, 14-Sep-07

Random Articles

As the blog train begins powering up for the fall, a few news articles have caught my wandering attention:

  • 100,000 Gone Since 2001 (Bob Herbert, The New York Times 14-Aug-07) 100,000 people have been murdered in the U.S. since 9/11. “No heightening of consciousness has accompanied this slaughter, which had nothing to do with terrorism. The news media and most politicians have hardly bothered to notice. At the same time that we’re diligently confiscating water and toothpaste from air travelers, we’re handing over guns and bullets by the trainload to yahoos bent on blowing others into eternity in armed robberies, drug-dealing, gang violence, domestic assaults and other criminal acts.”
  • A New York Times article about former Surgeon General Dr. Richard H. Carmona, recounting how the Bush administration muzzled Carmona and politicized the post, quotes Carmona as saying “I increasingly witnessed a government that was more and more using theology and ideology to drive its policies and its people — stem cells, abortion, Plan B, the war and many more . . . Our go-it-alone so-called cowboy diplomacy has in fact isolated us from the world more than ever in our history.” The story is consistent with this administration’s promotion of cronyism, political loyalty, and ideological purity over competence, expertise, and fact-based analysis.
  • A Grass Roots Effort to Grow Old at Home discusses the movement to foster aging in place (a term which always makes me think of “ripening”) by delivering social, medical, and support services to elders in their homes. I read the article to be certain it credits Beacon Hill Village for its leadership role in this movement; it does. The executive director of Beacon Hill Village is a good friend and I’m pleased to see this non-profit acknowledged for its pioneering efforts.
  • Last, Who Owns the Concept if No One Signs the Papers? discusses an issue that students raise frequently: how can I prevent others from copying my great idea? The quick-and-dirty answer is this: you cannot protect ideas. You can protect the particular manifestation or expression of an idea through a patent, copyright, or trade secret, whichever might apply. The article focuses on the dispute between Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, founders of ConnectU, and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. The Winklevoss twins engaged Zuckergerg’s services as a coder to work on ConnectU, their Harvard University-based social network site. They claim Zuckerberg copied their sites program code and business plan to start Facebook and want Facebook’s assets turned over to them. The Winklevoss twins never paid Zuckerberg for his services, promising him to pay him later if they made money, and apparently never asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Jason Pontin, the article’s author, states “I suspect that Facebook would not exist had it not been for ConnectU” but nevertheless concludes that ConnectU does not have a case against Zuckerberg.

Cause for Hopelessness

I noticed the headline, Poor Kids Living in a War Zone, and clicked on the link. I thought it might be about the Taliban’s terror killings in Afghanistan. I was wrong. Bob Herbert’s column in yesterday’s New York Times discussed the 34 children killed in Chicago’s black and Latino neighborhoods since last September, 34 murders that occurred far below national media radar. The story of Seung-Hoi Cho’s murder of 32 people at Virgina Tech saturated the news; a Google search for <“Virgina Tech” shooting> just produced over 1.7 million hits. Until Bob Herbert’s column the story of these murdered Chicago school children had escaped my notice. Why? These murders occurred over ten months, not a few hours, but that alone does not explain our “passivity and a lack of public outrage” over the Chicago deaths. As Herbert says “most people know (and take for granted) that boys and girls growing up in America’s inner cities often have to deal with conditions that can fairly be compared to combat.” It’s disturbing that this statistic reinforces my own sense of hopelessness at changing the outcome. Herbert cites the litany of causes: too many handguns, sub-standard education, lack of positive after-school activities, lack of summer job programs, and abdication of parental–and particularly paternal–responsibility. I would put more emphasis on parental responsibility, yet while providing a tidy answer one cannot put sole blame on parents and community leaders. How do you learn social norms of responsibility in a vacuum? Irresponsibility breeds irresponsibility. I’m surprised that Herbert fails to cite the lack of economic opportunities. Creating jobs is related to improving the quality of education, but there is certainly a direct relationship between the two.

Democrat$ vs. Republican’ts

The New York Times reports today that Democratic presidential candidates raised $80 million in the quarter ended 6/30, while Republicans raised less than $50 million. It’s just three months in a long campaign but to someone accustomed to a large Republican advantage in fundraising for national campaigns in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s this is eye-opening. While the Democratic National Committee raised almost $389 million and the Republican National Committee raised about $385 million for the 2004 presidential election, “[i]n every previous election cycle since 1976, the year the [Federal Election Commission] first began issuing reports, the GOP has decisively trumped the Democrats. In 1999-2000, for example, the RNC raised $377 million, $116.4 million more than the $260.6 million collected by the DNC.” Thomas B. Edsall and Derek Willis, Fundraising Records Broken by Both Major Political Parties, The Washington Post, 3-Dec-04. Barack Obama led all candidates by raising $32.8 million in the quarter, followed by Hillary Clinton with $27 million. None of the other Democrats raised figures in the double-digits; John Edwards’s $8.9 million led the rest of the pack. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney led the Republicans with $17.3 million and $13.7 million, respectively. It will be interesting to see whether the Democrats can maintain this advantage.

Benefits of Police Training

As reported in The New York Times a study conducted by psychologists at the University of Chicago, the University of Colorado (Boulder), and the Denver Police Department reports that police officers have a greater ability than civilians to set aside racial bias when deciding whether to fire on potentially armed suspects. Participants pushed a button to either shoot or hold fire in response to rapidly viewing 50 threatening video images of men, half of them black and half of them white, each shown once carrying a weapon and again carrying something non-threatening. Response times showed the effects of racial stereotyping: “[b]oth officers and civilians took 10 to 20 milliseconds longer to make a decision when they saw either an unarmed black man, or an armed white man, compared to the other images. This tiny twitch of time reflects the cultural expectation that it is black men who are more likely to have a gun, experts say, and some studies suggest that blacks as well as whites are susceptible to it.” When pushing the “shoot” button the police officers, however, disregarded race, firing at about 13% of both unarmed black men and unarmed white men. Civilians shot at about 35% of unarmed black men and 29% of unarmed white men. The researchers ran the trial again and reached the same results, concluding that police are “less trigger-happy” than the public at large. The test did not take into account all of the factors that go into a police officer pulling the trigger, such as the effect of a hostile crowd or the influence of other police officers, but one doubts that untrained civilians would resist those forces better than police officers.

These findings bear on the recent posts about the Second Amendment (here, here, and here). Police officers shot the wrong person 13% of the time in laboratory conditions. Pro-gun forces presented the Virginia Tech shootings as an illustration why more citizens should carry weapons. The study suggests that, given the opportunity to shoot, armed civilians would injure or kill two to three times as many unarmed persons as do the police. In a situation requiring an armed civilian to make a split-second decision to fire, an unarmed black man faces better than a 1-in-3 chance of being shot. Unarmed white men fare only somewhat-less-fatal odds.

The 59th Street (Toll)Bridge Song

In the spring of 1967 Jimi Hendrix released Are You Experienced?, his first album, and The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. My friend Rick bought Sgt. Pepper as soon as it was available and, incredibly excited by what he heard, called and played it for me over the telephone. I first heard “With a Little Help From My Friends”, “She’s Leaving Home,” and “A Day in the Life” on a spring afternoon while standing in my kitchen with a bakelite phone receiver pressed to my right ear. My first listening of Are You Experienced? came courtesy of another friend, who played it one Friday evening at full volume in his darkened bedroom. My hair stood on end at the opening chords of “Purple Haze.” I had never before heard music like that.

We experience music more immediately, more personally than any other form of popular culture. Movies and television required (until video-capable iPods and $1.99 episodes of Lost and The Office) that we sit and watch a screen. In my lifetime music has always been portable, first through car radios (my high-school car, a 1965 Plymouth Fury, had only AM radio which means I heard Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” about 1,000 times in 1970 alone), then through the Sony Walkman and its progeny, which led to today’s ubiquitous MP3 players. Technology has allowed us to accompany our lives with a personal soundtrack. We all have music that is ours. 1967 was also the year of The Graduate,plastics,” and the birth of Dustin Hoffman’s career. I recall Dick Cavett asking Hoffman whether sudden fame had changed his life. Hoffman replied “It’s not like Mrs. Robinson plays when I go to the bathroom in the morning.” These days we can all have Mrs. Robinson–the Simon and Garfunkel original or the Lemonhead’s version–playing when we go to the bathroom in the morning.*

I’m thinking about this because of recent exposure to the inevitable boomer-retrospective articles and radio shows about the Summer of Love and the juxtaposition of two articles: Jason Fry’s “The Perils of Online Song Lyrics” in the 5/21 Wall Street Journal (subtitled “Yahoo’s New Lyrics Service Is Promising,But Why Can’t I Copy and Paste the Words?”) and Mark Helprin’s “A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?,” an op-ed piece in the 5/20 New York Times. Helprin argues that copyright law should protect creative works to the same extent that law generally protects rights in personal and real property. Congress can, Helprin asserts, circumvent (my word, not his) the Constitutional provision authorizing Congress to extend a monopoly to authors “for limited times,” by vitiating the meaning of “for limited times:” “Congress is free to extend at will the term of copyright. It last did so in 1998, and should do so again, as far as it can throw.” Helprin is a far-more skilled and practiced polemicist than me, but to my simple mind this expression of his argument falls off the rails before it leaves the station. In its entirety Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Congress’s power to enact copyright law must serve the purpose of promoting the progress of useful arts. This argument (in Eldred v Ashcroft) failed to convince the Supreme Court to overturn the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the term to the life of the author plus 70 years, but the Eldred decision does not support the position that Congress can extend the term of copyright at will. Larry Lessig is articulating a more complete and scholarly refutation of Helprin’s argument.

The article about the Yahoo lyrics site explores the confluence of our appropriation of popular music for personal expression and the “propertization” of copyright. As Fry states “[s]ong lyrics are one of those things the Internet might have been made for . . .” Most of use have searched for song lyrics. The Archive of Misheard Lyrics at www.kissthisguy.com is a favorite site. Song lyrics are part of our aural wallpaper, a cultural touchstone, a form of shorthand, titles for the chapters of our lives (I’m in one titled “well . . . how did I get here?“), the raw material for wedding vows, and memory triggers. We hear a phrase in conversation that reminds us of a lyric that transports us to the time in our life associated with that song. (If reading that made you think of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, good.) Song lyrics are all that but, at the request of copyright holders, you can’t copy and paste lyrics from Yahoo!’s lyric site. According to Nicholas Firth, Chairman and CEO of BMG Music, Inc., a copied lyric is a lost sale–an idiotic comment that ignores the reality in which most of us live. If the choice is between paying a licensing fee to copy a lyric into a blog post and going without I’ll go without. Most people would say the same, even people old enough to remember Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” who did not grow up with file-sharing. I won’t pay the copyright holder a trespassing fee to walk in my own memories.

* It must have been kismet that caused iTunes shuffle to play the S&G version of Mrs. Robinson as I was writing this paragraph.

PS: A student sent me the link to this video a few days ago. Titled “A Fair(y) Use Tale” it summarizes principles of copyright law using clips from Disney animations. Cute, obsessive, and worth a look, if just to wonder: how long did it take to put this together?