News Archive: February 2011
2/23/11 - Wisconsin's Insurrection Began in the Fourth Grade [link to this story]
I've tried for years to explain the seemingly inordinate amount of state pride I exude, and if you know a Wisconsinite you've probably come up against this at least once. Typically it's brushed off as a superiority complex among inferior states (we're "flyover country" and "the Rust Belt" to those on the coasts).
Now you know it's more than that.
To learn the basics behind why Wisconsinites have occupied the state Capitol Building in Madison and return in the tens of thousands every day, visit the local media outlets who are helping to hold down the fort (the mainstream media has hopelessly painted this controversy into a frame of ignorance), or follow the Twitter feeds.
Last Friday, when Republicans in the State Assembly attempted to ram through Governor Scott Walker's "Budget Repair Bill" before the minority could even take to the chamber, the backlash was impressive. State Representative Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) intervened and, in a passionate plea for common decency, excoriated the majority.
"If you want to jam through a bill, you've got to sit through the messy process that is democracy," he shouted. "When we sit there in fourth grade and we learn about Wisconsin government, and we learn about U.S. government, we learn how amazing it was that they came together. But we also learn that it was bloody, that people had to fight for it, and they wanted to make it hard to do big things. You're supposed to be a deliberative body. You're supposed to have discussions. And you're supposed to be transparent. Because the public matters."
What's that about the fourth grade? State history curriculum standards for all fourth-graders require an intensive exploration over the course of the year of national and state history - with a heavy emphasis on Wisconsin's role in the milieu.
Among many other things, students develop the ability to "[c]ompare and contrast changes in contemporary life with life in the past by looking at social, economic, political, and cultural roles played by individuals and groups," and "[i]dentify the historical background and meaning of important political values such as freedom, democracy, and justice."
Whereas in most of the rest of the nation, when a class in "government" arrives sometime in high school (if you're lucky), Wisconsinites understand what it means to be a participatory citizen by the time they're ten years old.
When Governor Walker first pushed through a $117 million corporate tax-break package last month (and declared an intent to eliminate corporate taxation entirely), the civic antennae of the citizenry twitched. When he announced, upon the introduction of his "Budget Repair Bill," that he'd mobilize the National Guard to deal with any worker-induced "unrest," they were alarmed. Finally, when the Governor made clear his intent to eliminate workplace rights - starting first with those of public-sector unions - they were shocked.
So they acted. This comes as no surprise to a Wisconsinite. After all, we're the home of "Fighting Bob" LaFollette and the Progressive movement, our state animal is the Badger (rugged as hell and vicious when provoked), and our state motto is "Forward." We're wired at an early age to cherish our civil rights and stand against injustice. To those who have risen up against Governor Walker's Tea Party political agenda, the issue is as simple as that.
This controversy will not play itself out without further complexity; attempting to force frames on the debate blurs the fundamental issue at stake and does a disservice to those actually living on the Capitol Square. And your state may be next.
2/16/11 - Your Tax Dollars At Work [link to this story]
Last July, they first went after nine who wore the title "pirate" on their sleeves, and trafficked primarily in music and movies.
Then, they took down 82 more for selling counterfeit goods on the Monday after Thanksgiving ("Cyber Monday"). The net was expanded to include those vending "sports equipment, shoes, handbags, athletic apparel and sunglasses as well as illegal copies of copyrighted DVD boxed sets, music and software."
On Valentine's Day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "muscle" division, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), seized 18 more web site domains for marketing fake luxury gifts.
The latest raid targeted sites that catered toward specific brands, such as Breitling, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Nike, Omega, Patek Philipe, Prada, Rolex, Tiffany & Co. and Timberland.
"Even on Valentine's day, American business is under assault from counterfeiters and pirates," said ICE Director John Morton. "These counterfeits represent a triple threat by delivering shoddy, and sometimes dangerous, goods into commerce, by funding organized criminal activities and by denying Americans good-paying jobs."
Meanwhile, at their own headquarters a dozen blocks north and a half-dozen east of ICE's in D.C., the Government Accountability office expresses a completely contradictory opinion: it is impossible to quantify the effect of counterfeit goods and (especially) intellectual property piracy on the national economy. (Of the two, the "theft" of intellectual property is popularly politically considered the greater threat.)
Which brings up a fair question: in a time of jobless economic stagnation, the imposition of severe federal and state austerity measures, and engagement in warfare galore, why is the government spending so much time and effort cracking down on those who traffic in "Adides" and torrents of digital media content?
One must only look to the first-ever digital global trade agreement, whose primary sponsor is the United States. Although it has not yet been ratified, it would seem that the U.S. is getting a head start on its implementation.
In all present practicality, this simply means it'll become slightly more difficult to get your digital media or counterfeit gift fix on and around U.S. consumer holidays. In the longer term, just like the World Trade Organization, it'll have a cumulatively harmful effect on issues ranging from economic innovation to freedom of expression.
2/11/11 - Evolution Control Committee Drops All Rights Reserved [link to this story]
The Evolution Control Committee, a true pioneer of remix culture (most widely recognized as formative instigators of the mashup music genre), is alive and well as evidenced by its newest release, All Rights Reserved. It's the ECC's second album for Negativland's Seeland Records, and the first new album in seven years.
With a quarter-century of aural experimentation in the hopper - starting long before the advent of digital audio files and production tools - the craftsmanship of this music is sublime. This is why Girl Talk plays campus clubs and small theaters, while the Evolution Control Committee enjoys an artist residency at Warsaw's Centre for Contemporary Art: the ECC is old enough to be Girl Talk's parents.
Having first come to popular attention for nearly getting sued by CBS a dozen years ago over alleged copyright infringement (for sampling the news), All Rights Reserved carries on the creative dismissal of copyright law. It comes packaged (both plastically and aurally) with a clever "Listener License Agreement" which ostensibly prohibits playing the album.
Once you get past that, the ECC's Trademark G and Assistant Frillypants throw down 16 tracks of crafty sonic artistry (plus a licensing reminder).
Examples of genius include "Pertaining to the Beat," which threads a radio station jingle from 1980 with choice bits from the infamous J&H Productions Tape, and "Stairway to Britney," born from the ECC's live "Wheel of Mashup" performances and sure to give some lawyer buried in the bowel of a major record label minor fits.
All Rights Reserved includes a second disc full of goodies, including a 320 kbps MP3 version of the album (for sharing!); commentary tracks for each cut, a substantial cache of outtakes and "unused" tracks, and - for those who want to manipulate the ECC's fodder directly - "remixable multi-tracks" for a half-dozen featured songs, some of which include program-specific files (for Sony's Acid and Ableton Live).
2/9/11 - New York Next to "Outlaw" Pirate Radio [link to this story]
The New York state legislature is considering a bill to make unlicensed broadcasting a class D felony, punishable with possible (undefined) imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. The bill would call foul on any broadcaster without an FCC license and/or accused of causing interference to another radio station.
Those state laws have been on the books for at least five years - and the result? Nothing.
The impetus for this legislation is purely political. Licensed broadcasters have ignored the changing demography of New York; also, the state has a $10 billion budget hole to fill. This maneuver won't put a dent in the number of stations on the air nor fill New York's coffers.
Most pirate broadcasters today serve audiences that are wholly absent from the milieu of licensed radio, and the current regulatory system simply can't make new stations possible in places like the City. This is, of course, where most unlicensed broadcasters are concentrated.
Neither individual states nor the FCC have the wherewithal to silence the vibrancy of modern microradio. That the New York State Broadcasters Association is pulling strings on lawmakers in Albany about the issue only serves to highlight the disconnect between the public and the public interest as represented by contemporary radio regulation.
2/4/11 - Egypt: Old Media Sustains Change [link to this story]
Latest under the cyber-microscope is Egypt, where a corrupt, decades-old authoritarian regime actually tried to turn off the Internet as protesters began to organize in force over the past couple of weeks.
On the ground, however, the power still firmly rests in meatspace: those occupying Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo have effectively created a temporary autonomous zone around which the protest has coalesced.
As the U.S. mainstream media puzzles for "leaders" to emerge, word on Al Jazeera straight from those in the square is that "leaders" aren't the point of the instant struggle.
How are Egypt's democratic revolutionaries maintaining (and growing) this wave of dissent? They've organized food distribution, medical care, and a clever system of self-security.
The protesters also recently launched a newspaper and pirate radio station.
Twitter, Facebook and the like are great for getting the word out to the world at large, but in fast-moving protest situations, tactical, non-digital media often contribute to the difference between safety and detention, or life and death.
Those of us not in Egypt have an unprecedentedly dynamic and intimate look inside a country in a revolutionary condition, and that's thanks lots to new media. But the outcome of this revolution won't be realized on social networks alone - it's happening right now on broadsheets and over the airwaves, in direct support of those whose bodies are on the line.
The rate of sociopolitical change is accelerated by new digital media tools, but the change itself is still a fully analog phenomenon. I hope that, someday, we'll learn the story behind this side of Egypt's media resistance.
2/2/11 - Prometheus Radio Project Founder Moving On [link to this story]
Last week, the founder and Director of Electromagnetism of the Prometheus Radio Project, Pete Tridish, announced his departure from the organization.
Beginning from a background in unlicensed broadcasting based around the Philadelphia station Radio Mutiny, Pete was instrumental in not only organizing microbroadcasters in the lead-up to the FCC's debate over LPFM more than 10 years ago, but he also worked tirelessly to convince Congress to pass the Local Community Radio Act late last year, which will expand the number of LPFM stations on the nation's dial.
Apparently, his departure has been in the works for several months, but the announcement was held off so as to not detract from the LCRA advocacy campaign.
In the announcement, Pete writes, "I have always been baffled by the strange customs and traditions of the non profit sector. Everyone in DC knows I never quite fit with the DC mindset. And I never gave raising money the focus it needed in order to grow the organization and the movement.
"I did my best, but fortunately community radio has grown enough that it can field stronger new leaders in my place. I'll best serve everyone by moving towards my bailiwick as a trickster and mischief maker, and away from my weakness as a non profit administrator."
He's not going to be far from radio, though: in addition to remaining a consultant-on-call for Prometheus as the last nuts and bolts of the LPFM service are determined, he's heading to Honduras this month to help construct new community radio stations in an effort to assist indigenous peoples amplify their resistance to corporate mining interests that have decimated their environment.
You can keep up with Pete's happenings at his own web site.
The staff of Prometheus has been beefed up over the last year or so. Pete says the Prometheus team will remain "absolutely ferocious in their struggle for community media," and I have no doubts about that.
LPFM broadcasters and advocates alike owe Pete a huge amount of gratitude and respect for being so tenacious and making the unlikely a reality with cleverness and aplomb.