DMCA needs revision?

Apparently a few people have gotten together and decided that maybe we should be able to do more than simply consume media. Maybe it would be good if we had some kind of freedom to comment on it, mess with it, or decide where and when we want to consume it. Wouldn't that be cool?

I'm not holding my breath, but there's a bill on the floor to roll back the gestapo-like... I mean restrictive... I mean gestapo-like... implications of the DMCA (like the part that forbids the use of any digital production even in scientific research). The bill is officially titled H.R.1201: Digital Media Consumer's Rights Act of 2005 (DMCRA) (the link goes to a discussion over at Public Knowledge). There's word today over at Gamespot that the newly formed Electronic Consumers Association is jumping on board. From Public Knowledge's analysis:

The DMCRA would ensure that legal, non-infringing uses are not prohibited by the DMCA. Furthermore, the DMCRA encourages scientific research into technology protections. It ensures that activities solely for the purpose of research into technology protection measures are permitted. The bill does not weaken the effectiveness of technology controls; rather it ensures that the controls function solely as intended - to stop illegal activity and infringement. Infringers will still face the same penalties, but the DMCRA enables people who have legally obtained access to digital content to exercise legal uses without fear of criminal punishment.

Since this bill has been kicking around since 2005, I don't think this one's coming anytime soon. And since just about every media mogul in the world (with exception of Google) wants to see this thing buried, chances are this thing's getting squashed like the Yankees in the 21st century. But I'm glad somebody is fighting the 21st century corporate movement to eliminate fair use.


Joe, They Don't Deserve Ya

The Red Sox are down 3-2, with an aged warrior and a dead-armed, quasi-rookie pitching the next two games, and I don't think I've ever been happier as a baseball fan. Well, o.k., there was 2004--that was sweet. But this week has been outstanding.

Its all but official, the Yanks are parting ways with Joe Torre. Torre turned down a one year, 5 million dollar contract (with incentives the deal could have been worth 8 million)--a deal that amounts to an insult. Torre is one of the top managers in the history of the game, offering him a one year deal, placing him in another lame-duck situation, amounts to a slap in the face. I don't think the pay cut (Torre earned 7 miilion in 2007) is an insult, but no manager, let alone a certified hall of famer, would accept a pay cut AND a one year deal.

Why am I so happy? Because I can't wait to see the Empire final crumble. Torre might not have been the best X's and 0's coach- his bullpen decisions were sometimes questionable and his lineup cards could draw criticism. But Torre, like Phil Jackson in Chicago, was a perfect fit for everything that happens off the field. As Steve Phillips on ESPN said this morning-- Torre managed the players, the media, and, most important, George Steinbrenner better than anyone. It is hard to explain to anyone who has not lived in either New York, Boston, or Philadelphia how volitile those media markets can be. Sorry Chicago fans, I've lived in your area for five years now, and its just not the same. Torre has operated in arguably the most difficult arena for over a decade, and has always steadied the ship (a ship that has included Giambi and A-Fraud). His presence keeps everyone calm and focused, and if you think that filling out a line up card is more important than maintaining mental health over 162 games, well, your crazy.

Please don't tell me about the 1.3 billion dollars the Yankees have spent. Let me explain:

  • Jason Giambi: 7 years, 120 million - Need I comment?
  • Carl Pavano: 4 years, 40 million - what does 10 mil a season buy you? 5-6 record with an ERA of 4.77
  • Mike Mussina: 2 years, 23 million - demoted to AAA with an ERA over 5.00 this season
  • Kyle Farnsworth: 3 years, 17 million - "Flamethrower" put up an ERA of 4.80, allowing 87 baserunners in 60 innings
  • Kei Igawa: 5 years, 20 million - 2007 ERA: 6.25
  • Jaret Wright: 3 years, 21 million - Yankees agreed to pay half his contract just to get rid of him
  • Randy Johnson: 3 years, 48 million - Johnson was 41 and already suffering back problems when the Yanks agreed to this deal
  • Javier Vasquez: 4 years, 45 million - Everyone thought this would be a good deal. Oops. They are still paying the majority of this contract
  • Jose Contreras: 2 years, 15 million - Before there was the Dice-K bidding war, there was the not-so-great Cuban defector
  • Jeff Weaver: 2 years, 10 million dollars - details on the salary are sketchy, but the Yanks had to unload him for...
  • Kevin Brown: 7 years, 105 million - The Yanks didn't sign this contract, but they traded for Brown to unload Weaver. Count the yanks for 2 years and about 30 million
  • Octavio Dotel: 1 year, 2 million - comparatively, he doesn't even belong on this list
  • Bobby Abreu: 1 year, 15 million - While Abreu hit .280 and knocked in 100 runs, one has to wonder if he's worth the 15 plus million a season the Yanks are paying him. He no longer plays right field well, isn't a threat on the basepaths, and hit only 16 homeruns this past season

So, what does that leave us? Let's see: that's about 406 million dollars that have either not produced up to expectation or (in most cases) failed to produce at all. And, notice I didn't put A-Rod on this list, I'll leave it up to you to figure if he's earned the approximately 70 million the Yanks have paid him over the last four years; for my money, since the Rangers pay almost a third of his 25 million annual contract, A-Rod comes at a fair bargin. Productive hitter, social headcase. Well, anyway, instead of talking about how Torre failed to win with a 1.3 billion dollar payroll, let's talk about how Brian Cashman and the Tampa Brain trust squandered a third of that total on terrible, terrible pitching. And, with the exceptions of Vasquez and Contreras, most people knew that these pitchers weren't worth the price.

So let a new manager enter New York. Let him deal with facing players who worshipped Joe Torre. Let him explain to Derek Jeter (and if they are still around, Posada and Rivera) that things need to change. Oh goodness, that will be fun. Let him lose a few games in a row. Let him face the media. The media who helped run Joe out of town and who will, next season, remind the annointed at every turn that Torre never missed the playoffs. And let the new manager respond to Tampa. Yes, the new manager will inherit what is looking like one of the best young pitching cores in baseball (Hughes and Chamerlain). But he also inherits a distgruntled locker room, an old bullpen, an intense media, and an always irrate owner.

Plaaay balllll!


Review Writing for Amazon

Today we want to look at a few Amazon.com book reviews for Tapscott and Williams' Wikinomics in order to generate a sense for what distinctive features good reviews contain.

  • Donald Mitchell [April 6th, 2007]
  • Bradley Gessler [January 15, 2007]
  • M McDonald [December 28, 2006]
  • Rolf Dobelli [February 23, 2007]
  • David Brett [ February 9th, 2007]
  • Manny Hernandez [January 20, 2007]
  • Robert D. Steele [January 17, 2007]
  • Laura K. Turner [January 12, 2007]

We're going to read each of the reviews above and try to see if we cannot discern some structural principles for reviews on Amazon. As we read each, I want you to:

  1. Write the purpose of each paragraph in the review, paying particular attention to the first and last paragraph
  2. Note how the reviewers frame their ethos or incoporate personal information into the post
  3. Pay attention to what specific details from the book reviewers tend to cite
  4. Pay particular attention to how the reviewers offer criticism

By the end of class today, we should be able to generate a pretty good primer on review writing.


MLA citation

Using the MLA guidelines provided by Purdue's OWL lab, please construct a MLA works cited list for the following material:

  • The Henry Jenkins reading from the coursepack (book title: Convergence Culture).
  • The Stephen Johnson reading from the coursepack. (article title: "Emerging Technology")
  • This blogpost
  • This webpage


Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near

I've put off reading this book for awhile, since I find it so difficult to talk about. I find Kurzweil's work fascinating and dangerous, stimulating and irresponsible. I know he's coming to come up in my dissertation, opposite and alongside McLuhan and Landow as I discuss the impact of digital technologies on the perception of consciousness, status of knowledge, and appreciation of ethics. Below, you'll find some of Kurzweil's "greatest hits" and notes toward my reading and resistance of his neo-Platonic and Hegelian vision of our future.


I noticed, of course, many parallels among the world's religious traditions, but even the inconsistencies were illuminating. It became clear to me that the basic truths were profound enough to transcend apparent contradictions. (1)

It would be hard to start off any more Modern than that. Just strip the noise away from all these different Christian denominations, synthesize them, and you've discovered a profound truth. Hegel test: check.

I realized that most inventions fail not because the R&D department can't get them to work, but because the timing is wrong. Inventing is a lot like surfing: you have to anticipate and catch the wave at the right moment. (3)

Yay kairos (or is this "stupid kairos," if only people were smarter and could recognize the brilliance of "right" R&D?).

[This book] is predicated on the idea that we have the ability to understand our own intelligence--to access our own source code, if you will--and then revise and expand it. (4)

Did you just shutter a bit? Perhaps a little? I'll explain my fear below, but I want to stress that Kurzweil (and others) demonstrate that the technological ability to manipulate our "code" lies right before us, if it is not, in fact, here already.

Chapter One

Just as a black hole in space dramatically alters the patterns of matter and energy accelerating toward its event horizon, this impending Singularity (sic) in our future is increasingly transforming every institution and aspect of human life, from sexuality to spirituality. (7)

Yup, no argument from me.

This book will argue, however, that within several decades information-based technologies will encompass all human knowledge and proficiency, ultimately including the pattern-recognition powes, problem-solving skills, and emotional and moral intelligence of the human brain itself. (8)

Its that final clause ("emotional and moral intelligence") that is such a dousy. Connecting above, this reeks of a Hegelanism most foul. Although it might sound trite or even wearisome this day and age, we must ask: whose morality will the machine encompass? Will the machine, so culturally and historically determined, provide us with the proper morality? The singular morality (and I know I am mis-using Kurzweil's definition of singular, which I'll detail below; but, as Burke would say, the jingle dog is strong hear...er...here)

The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains. (9)

The material leading up to this quote stresses the ways in which the skin bag (thanks Mr. Clark) limits human cognition. There is a deep Platonic Idealism here--a transcendance beyond the mere material world. It goes nicely with this next quote, which I like to call "Welcome to the Hegelian Food Processor":

The Singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human but that transcends our biological roots. There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality. If you wonder what will remain unequivocally human in such a world, it's simply this: ours is the species that inherently seeks to extend its physical and mental reach beyond current limitations. [...] Although the Singularity has many faces, its most important implication is this: our technology will match and then vastly exceed the refinement and suppleness of what we regard as the best human traits. (9)

Phew. Deep breath. So much for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Is such a search the true goal of Socrates (is this a 21st century call for the Good)? Is this a return to the master narrative of history? These are not facetious questions--they are very real. And, to me, very troubling. Troubling, because I recognize in our technological development a seed of Kurzweil's vision [which echoes Kant's vision for the Enlightenment]. Though I believe it is one that we have to resist.

Whether our civilization infuses the rest of the universe with its creativity and intelligence quickly or slowly depends on its immutability. In any event the "dumb" matter and mechanisms of the universe will be transformed into exquisitely sublime forms of intelligence, which will constitute the sixth epoch in the evolution of patterns of intelligence.

this is the ultimate destiny of the Singularity and of the universe. (21)

I already said it was Hegelian, right?

On the definition of Singularity: "a unique event with, well, singular implications"; "the word was adopted by mathematicians to denote a value that transcends any finite limitation"; "an event capable of rupturing the fabric of human history" (22-23).

it represents the nearly vertical phase of exponential growth that occurs when the rate is so extreme that technology appears to be expanding at infinite speed. [...] But from our currently limited framework, this imminent event appears to be an acute and abrupt break in the continuity of progress. I emphasize the word "currently" because one of the salient implications of the Singularity will be a change in the nature of our ability to understand. We will become vastly smarter as we merge with out technology. (24)

Grounding technology philosophically upon a conceptualization of singularity is, in fact, the direct opposite of founding it upon Otherness. Rather than encouraging the tentativeness and unassurance I associate with Levinas and Derrida (and postmodernism in general), the Singularity encourages confidence and synthesis. Rather than pushing us to accept that there are considerations of consciousness (and thus, ethics, and thus, morality) beyond our capacity to know, the singularity suggests that consciousness, ethics, and morality will be revealed through the machine. Whether true (and this is no small condition!), I am disturbed by the underlying eugenical bend. Disturbed.

As I read the rest of the book, I will be focusing on the character of "smarter" as quoted in the final sentence above. I do believe that digital technologies increase our collective intelligence, allowing us to network our brainpower in ways previously unimaginable. And, like Kurzweil, I hope that these technologies will change the way we come to understand each other--but I particularly hope these technologies will suggest that it is impossible to ever truly understand anOther person (or even to have an absolute understanding of oneself--an I can never think enough to substantiate self-knowledge). In other words, I'm looking to foster a respect for difference through an appreciation of differance as a metaphysical first principle. Although its only a hunch, I have a feeling that the Platonic, Hegelian, and Kantian undertones of the passages cited above are moving Kurzweil in another direction.


Crash Course on Academic Writing

I like to frame academic research by looking at Kenneth Burke's famous passage on the unending conversation of humankind.

I also want to discuss three terms from classical rhetoric: ethos, pathos, and logos.

logos Driven

Unlike your blog writing, which is a mix of argument, exposition, analysis, and entertainment, academic writing is more strictly argumentative and analytical in nature.

You might present a theoretical lens for a discourse community (from our readings, for instance) and then analyze how your community does (or does not) meet those criteria. This will help create a sense of purpose and necessity for your paper (which will help you write your introduction... speaking of which...)

Write your introduction last. For those of you (like me) who need to write temporary introductions, fine. End it with a "training wheels" sentence such as "this paper examines (argues, explains, explores, details, compares, assesses, etc)." I still use these kinds of crutches while writing drafts. But delete and rewrite this introduction when you are done. We'll talk more about academic introductions next week.

MLA Citation

I am asking you to provide evidence for your claims and characterizations. You'll want to point at specific blog posts, but you want your passages to be of a reasonable size. In other words, quote what is necessary-nothing more, nothing less.

Plagiarism is the highest academic crime. Err on the side of caution. If you borrow a term from a blog or reading, make sure it is clear that the term is not your own. For instance:

Stephen Doheny-Farina calls upon the research of Robert Bellah to clearly distinguish discourse communities from lifestyle enclaves. According to Farina, the former involve a measure of "interdependence" between community members; the latter are merely collections of hobbyists and enthusiasts (50).

Make sure you provide a context for your quotes, you need to transition into them. Don't expect a reader will be familiar with the material you are quoting from. Think of Burke's metaphor of the parlor--you are taking your reader for a guided tour.

Although it might seem obvious to you, make sure you offer some kind of content summary after a quote. Don't assume your reader will read the quote in the same way you do--you want to direct their attention / offer them a specific gloss of the passage.

Your paper will be accompanied by an MLA works cited list. MLA works cited lists follow a million obscure formatting rules. It makes no sense for me to try to explain all these rules up front. I will simply direct you to Purdue's OWL lab's materials on MLA formatting. The OWL will provide guidelines for both citing sources in your paper and formatting a works cited list.

Voice and audience

One of the hardest things for first-year students to get a handle on is the proper voice for academic papers. You don't need to be overly stuffy, but your writing should be more formal and less conversational than the writing you do on your blog. Try to avoid sarcasm. Try not to be overly enthusiastic. Your goal is to present a credible and confident (but not arrogant) speaker who is talking with (rather than "to" or even worse "down to") your audience. Don't beg, don't demand. Reason with your audience. Try to anticipate objections and offer counter-arguments.

Its hard to describe who your audience is: but think of it this way. You are writing to a sophomore at another University. They have never taken a course at Purdue. They have never met you. They are educated, and willing to read your paper. They may or may not agree with your arguments, but they are certainly not hostile.