The world is going to shit

I didn’t mention this in my previous post, since that one is all about getting myself in order, but fuck on a fuckstick, we are losing everything. There have been groups, actual foundations, working for decades to get the world to this point, and now their plans are coming to fruition, and no one is prepared to deal with it. There’s always this focus on finding the perfect solution, so much that no solution can be agreed upon, and in the meantime they’ve been taking everything. And they’re going to keep taking everything, and I don’t know what to do. I wish we could work together on this. I wish we could find a path that isn’t “sit around and complain.”

Heartsick

I am so upset about what happened in Ferguson–what happened every 28 hours in this country in 2012. And I am so upset about police response to the community when all the people want is accountability. It makes me sick that local police think it’s okay to shoot tear gas and “non-lethal” rounds at nonviolent protesters to make them disperse. There is so much going on here, I don’t even know where we should begin to try to fix it. Ferguson needs elected officials and police officers who represent the community. Ferguson residents need to be treated like people, not inmates. “Law enforcement” needs to stop setting and backing up with force arbitrary rules that only incite anger. All the cops need to spend time doing community service and undergoing training on how to treat people. And I just don’t see how the proper response to this is to send in troops, unless those troops are going to arrest all the police.

I’m not surprised that horrible prejudice exists. You’d have to be blind not to know that. But it makes me heartsick nonetheless.

The Braves at Cumberland

The Atlanta Braves have announced a move to the Cumberland area just north of I-285 and west of I-75. They’ll have Cobb Galleria, Cumberland Mall, and me as their new neighbors.

Yes, that’s right; I live practically up the road from the Braves’ proposed stadium site. Not only that, but the site is right smack in the middle of my commute.

The Braves released a sketch of their proposed development. Here I’ve overlaid that sketch onto a map of the area.

Sketch of the proposed Braves development placed in a Google Maps contextIt looks like from the direction of Cobb Parkway, they will extend Windy Ridge straight into the stadium to serve as the main entrance, and they will have a secondary entrance at Windy Ridge and Circle 75 (the top right of the sketch).

Here’s the area in a slightly larger context:

Sketch of the proposed Braves development placed in a Google Maps contextAnd a little further out:

A pulled-back map view of the proposed Braves stadium siteHere’s a Google Map I made showing the proposed area and some of its neighbors. I’m hoping to add potential traffic routes to it when I have time.

Looking at all this, it appears to me that the area of Windy Ridge Parkway between the proposed extension at what seems to be the main gate and the North Gate at Circle 75 may very well be shut down for stadium-exclusive use, and regular traffic will have to take Circle 75 to get around. I’m not sure if this would be a permanent traffic flow change or only happen on game days, and of course this is just speculation.

Interesting reading:

The ways we mourn

Boston skyline

Boston, summer 2004

Some of us lay our souls completely bare to everyone around us.

Some of us find comfort in helping–sharing information, searching for resources, offering a shoulder, donating.

Some of us stare mutely and refresh, refresh, refresh.

Some of us look for a reason, any sort of logic behind it all.

Some of us seek someone or something to blame.

Some of us lose hope.

Some of us find strength.

Some of us cry, alone, and push forward because it’s all we can do.

There are so many ways. But in the end, we all mourn.

Another fun Japanese pun

I love puns, as you may know. This morning I spotted one on Twitter:

What did the Japanese person say about British food? 馬そう。 –@tokyorich

Reading phonetically, うまそう or “uma sou“, it would seem like the Japanese person is simply saying that British food looks delicious. The joke is in the kanji.

そう/sou means “looks like”. うま/uma can mean delicious. But the kanji 馬 means horse.

You may have heard about horse meat found in beef products in Britain; here’s an article excerpt from CNN:

First UK tests reveal scope of horse meat contamination

Over the past week, unauthorized horse meat has been discovered in a variety of products labeled as beef that were sold in supermarkets in countries including Britain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland.

… The meat industry was first thrust into the spotlight last month when Irish investigators found horse and pig DNA in hamburger products.

So as you can see, the joke is hilarious.

A pun like this was actually used in Yakitate!! Japan, when Azuma and Kawachi meet the manager of Pantasia’s southern branch for the first time and he demands they bake bread a horse will like. When the horse is satisfied, it cries out 「うま!」, uma! However, instead of the proper kanji for delicious, 美味, 馬 is shown.

Digital publishing idea from 2008

I was going through my old project ideas folder and came across this gem from November of 2008:

A means to publish works for reading on screens and handhelds–different resolutions that are all legible without zooming and possibly without scrolling.  Each “page” is now a “screen”.

No need for a separate device for reading.

Should be able to create with existing tools.  Perhaps pdfs that are then imported into a locked system of some sort.  Or something even more interactive.

Will work for newspapers and magazines.  No need for print versions!

Users would purchase the browsing software and then purchase each “issue” they wanted to read, or subscribe.  Their accounts would always be available to them online, with every issue they had access to.  They can also download each issue to any device on which they’ve registered the software.

The future of content, Part 4

I’ve talked about redesigning the web into a collection of interconnected pieces of content, and I’ve discussed monetizing such a paradigm. Now I’d like to go further into the value this reconstruction would bring to content creators, sharers, and users.

The way the web works right now, content creators and sharers typically must either have their own website or use third-party services in order to build an audience and make money. Under this paradigm, the websites (or their content streams) are the main point of interest, and the onus is on the site owners and managers to “keep the content fresh”. In the case of businesses, this includes finding and hiring/contracting creators and negotiating licensing agreements with third-party content providers. The now-now-now pace puts pressure on creators to write something, anything, in order to keep people coming back to the site. This has resulted in a glut of content that is posted for the sake of having new content posted. SEO marketing has exacerbated the issue with content posted for the sake of higher search engine rankings. People are wasting more and more time reading navel-gazing content that adds little value to the human community.

With a web that is truly content-driven, the focus would shift from trying to keep thousands of disparate sites and streams “fresh” to trying to produce and share content that is meaningful, impactful, and important. With IP issues handled through robust tagging, content would be available for anyone to share. Licensing would be streamlined, and creators would be directly paid for their work. Media houses could more confidently keep creators on staff; sharing would provide an obvious metric of a creator’s value. Creators could focus on more long-form pieces, knowing that their existing work would continue to be shared and monetized. There would be less pressure to post something, anything, every day.

The web has suffered from the adoption of the “always on” mindset. If there is nothing new to report, there is no need to invent something to report. Someone, somewhere, is always producing content; it’s a big world. Rather than polluting millions of streams with junk, media companies, news organizations, marketers, and individuals should shift their focus to finding and sharing value. Simply aggregating RSS feeds or repurposing content the way we’ve been doing it so far is not enough; it does not meet the needs of the user and it does not ensure that content creators are paid for their work. We need to rebuild the system from the ground up.

The future of content, Part 3

Over the past two days I’ve described a new model for web architecture, one whose primary unit is an individual piece of content stored in a universal repository, rather than a product (page, feed, API, etc.) hosted on a web server. (Read Part 1; read Part 2.) Today I’ll discuss how such a system might be monetized.

Currently, content is shared in many disparate ways. The Associated Press has its own proprietary format for allowing other news sites to automatically repost its content; it also allows its lower-tier affiliates to manually repost (i.e., by copying and pasting into their own content management system), so long as the copyright notice remains intact. Sites pay to be affiliates. Bloggers, of course, have done the manual copy-and-paste thing for years; nowadays a pasted excerpt with a link to the original is considered standard, and this of course brings little money to the original creator. Video sites, too, have their own different ways of allowing users to share. Embedded video advertising allows the content creator to make some money on shares…assuming someone hasn’t simply saved the video and reposted it. Data is far more difficult to share or monetize. Some sites offer an API, but few laypeople know what to do with such a thing. The typical social media way of sharing data is by posting a still image of a graph or infographic–not contextualized or accessible at all.

In a system where every piece of content is tagged by creator, wherein sharing of any type of media is simple, IP could be more easily secured and monetized. Content tags could include copyright types and licensing permission levels. A piece of content might, for example, be set to freely share so long as it is always accompanied by the creator’s advertising. Ads could be sponsorship watermarks, preroll video, display banners or text that appear within the content unit, or something else entirely. The content creator would determine what advertising would be available for each piece of content, and the content sharers would each individually decide what advertising they are willing to have appear, or if they’d rather purchase an ad-free license. Resharers who took the content from someone else’s share would not avoid the advertising choice, because while they would have found the content at another sharer’s site or stream, the content itself would still be the original piece, hosted at the original repository, with all the original tags intact–including authorship and advertising.

Content could also be set to automatically enter the public domain at the proper time, under the laws governing its creator, or perhaps earlier if the creator so wishes.

The first step in making all of this work is to have all content properly tagged and a system wherein content tags are quickly updated and indexed across the internet. The second step would be in making sharing the “right” way so easy that very few would attempt to save someone else’s content and repost it as their own. As I mentioned in Part 2, I’m imagining browsers and sites that offer a plethora of in-browser editing and sharing options, far easier (and less expensive!) than using desktop applications. Making sharing and remixing easy and browser-based would also cut down on software piracy. Powerful creation suites would still be purchased by the media producers who need them to make their content, but the average person would no longer require a copy of Final Cut Pro to hack together a fan video based on that content.

The kind of tagging I’m talking about goes somewhat beyond the semantic web. Tags would be hard-coded into content, not easily removed (or avoided by a simple copy and paste). A piece of content’s entire history would be stored as part of the unit. Technologically, I’m not sure what this would involve, or what problems might arise. It occurs to me that over time a piece of content would become quite large through the logging of all its shares. But making that log indivisible from the content would solve many issues of intellectual property rights on the internet today. Simply asking various organizations who host disparate pieces of content to tag that content properly and then hoping they comply will not lead to a streamlined solution, especially given the problem of “standards” (as spoofed by xkcd).

With a system like this, the web rebuilt from the bottom up, there would be no need for individual content creators to reinvent the wheels of websites, APIs, DRM, advertising. They could instead focus on producing good content and the contextualizing it into websites and streams. Meanwhile, the hardcore techies would be the ones working on the underlying system, the content repository itself, the way streams are created, how tagging and logging occurs, tracking sharing, etc. Media companies–anyone–could contribute to this process if they wanted, but the point is they wouldn’t have to.

The future of content, Part 2

(This is the second in a series of posts about the future of content creation and sharing online. Part 1 contains my original discussion, while Part 3 considers monetization.)

Yesterday I imagined a web architecture that depends on individual pieces of highly tagged content, rather than streams of content. Today I’d like to expand on that.

Right now when a creator posts something to the web, they must take all their cues from the environment in which they are posting. YouTube has a certain category and tag structure. Different blogging software handles post tagging differently. News organizations and other media companies have their own specialized CMSes, either built by third parties, built in-house, or built by third parties and then customized. This ultimately leads to content that is typically only shareable through linking, copy-and-paste, or embedding via a content provider or CMS’s proprietary solution.

None of this is standardized. Different organizations adhere to different editorial guidelines, and these likely either include different rules for content tagging or neglect to discuss content tagging at all. And of course, content posted by individuals is going to be tagged or not tagged depending on the person’s time and interest in semantic content.

The upshot is, there is no way, other than through a search engine, to find all content (not just content from one specific creator) that relates to a certain keyword or phrase. And since content is tagged inconsistently across creators, and spammers flood the web with useless content, search engines are a problematic solution to content discovery.

In my idealized web, creators would adhere to a certain set of standards when posting content. The content posting interface would automatically give each section of content its own unique identifier, and the creator would be able to adjust these for accuracy–for example, marking an article as an article, marking the title as the title, and making sure each paragraph was denoted as a paragraph. If this sounds like HTML5, well, that’s intentional. I believe that in the interest of an accessible, contextualized web of information, we need all content posting interfaces to conform to web standards (and we need web standards to continue to evolve to meet the needs of content).

Further, I think such systems should tag each unit of content such that the context and sharing and linking history of that unit of content can be logged. This would provide extraordinarily rich information for data analysts, a field that is already growing and would explode upon adoption of this model.

In my vision, content would not be dependent on an individual or an organization to host it on a website at a particular IP address. Instead, there would be independent but interconnected content repositories around the world where all content would reside. “Permalinks” would go straight to the content itself.

Browsers would become content interpreters, bringing up individual pieces of content in a human-comprehensible way. Users could have their own browser settings for the display of different kinds of content. Theming would be big. And a user’s browser history could allow that browser to suggest content, if the user opted in.

But websites would still exist; content interpretation would not be the sole domain of browsers. Rather than places where content is stored and then presented, websites would be contextualized areas of related content, curated by people or by processes or both. Perhaps a site owner would always be able to post and remix their own content, but would need to acquire a license to post or remix someone else’s. Perhaps different remix sites would pop up, sites with in-browser video and image editing, that would allow users to become creators. All remixes would become bona fide content, stored in the repository; anyone could simply view the remix from their browser, but community sites could also share streams of related remixes.

With properly-tagged content that is not tied to millions of different websites, content streams would be easy for anyone to produce. Perhaps browsers would facilitate this; perhaps websites would do so; perhaps both. The web would shift from being about finding the right outlets for content to finding the right content interpreter to pull in the content the user wants, regardless of source.

Such a system would have “social media” aspects, in that a user could set their browser or favorite content interpretation website to find certain kinds of content that are shared or linked by their friends, colleagues, and people of interest to them. This information, of course, would be stored with each piece of content in the repository, accessible to everyone. But users would also be able to opt out of such a system, should they wish to be able to share and remix but not have their name attached. The rest of the trail would still be there, linking from the remix to the original pieces, such that the content could be judged on its worth regardless of whether the creator was “anonymous user” or a celebrity or a politician or a mommy blogger.

Under this sort of system, content creators could be as nit-picky about the presentation of their content as they wanted. They could be completely hands-off, submitting content to the repository without even creating a website or stream to promote or contextualize it. Or they could dig in deep and build websites with curated areas of related content. Media companies that produce a lot of content could provide content interpretation pages and content streams that take the onus of wading through long options lists away from the user and instead present a few options the creator thinks users might want to customize. The point is, users would be able to customize as much as they wanted if they dug into the nitty-gritty themselves, but content creators would still be able to frame their content and present it to casual users in a contextualized way. They could also use this framework, along with licensing agreements, to provide content from other creators.

Comments would be attached to content items, but also tagged with the environment in which they were made–so if they were made on a company’s website, that information would be known, but anyone could also see the comment on the original piece of content. Content streams made solely of comments would be a possibility (something like Branch).

This system would be extremely complex, especially given the logging involved, but it would also cut down on a lot of duplication and IP theft. If sharing is made simple, just a few clicks, and all content lives in the same place, there’s no reason for someone to save someone else’s picture, edit out the watermark, and post it elsewhere. Since all content would be tagged by author, there would actually be no reason for watermarks to exist. The content creator gets credit for the original creation, and the person who shares gets credit for the share. This would theoretically lead to users following certain sharers, and perhaps media companies could watch this sort of thing and hire people who tend to share content that gets people talking.

Obviously such a paradigm shift would mean a completely different approach to content creation, content sharing, commenting, and advertising…a whole new web. I haven’t even gotten into what advertising might be like in such a system. It would certainly be heavily dependent on tagging. I’ll think more about the advertising side and perhaps address it in a Part 3.

The future of content

(This is the first in a series of posts about the future of content creation and sharing online. Part 2 expands on the ideas in this post, while Part 3 considers monetization.)

I recently read Stop Publishing Web Pages, in which author Anil Dash calls for content creators to stop thinking in terms of static pages and instead publish customizable content streams.

Start publishing streams. Start moving your content management system towards a future where it outputs content to simple APIs, which are consumed by stream-based apps that are either HTML5 in the browser and/or native clients on mobile devices. Insert your advertising into those streams using the same formats and considerations that you use for your own content. Trust your readers to know how to scroll down and skim across a simple stream, since that’s what they’re already doing all day on the web. Give them the chance to customize those streams to include (or exclude!) just the content they want.

At first I had the impression that this would mean something like RSS, where content would be organized by publish date, but customizable, so a user could pick which categories/tags they wanted. This sounded like a great way to address how people currently approach content.

Upon further contemplation, though, I don’t think it would go far enough. Sorting by date and grouping by category seem like good options for stream organization, but why limit ourselves? What if I want to pull in content by rating, for example?

What if, alongside a few curated content streams, users visiting a content creator had access to all possible content tags–so that power users could not only simply customize existing streams, but create their own? As they start to choose tags, the other options would narrow dynamically based on the content that matches the tags and what tags are in place on that content. I’d want to be able to apply sub-tags when customizing a stream, so, for example, I could build a recipe stream that included all available beef entree recipes, but only sandwiches for the available chicken entree recipes. The goal would be to give users as much or as little power as they want, while maintaining ownership of the content.

Think of all the fun ways users could then curate and remix the content. Personal newspaper sites like paper.li have already given us a glimpse of the possibilities, but with properly tagged content, the customization could be even better, especially if the content curation system they’re using is flexible. Users could pick the images they want, create image galleries, pull in video, and put everything wherever they wanted it, at whatever size they wanted, using whatever fonts and colors they wanted. And what if each paragraph, or perhaps even sentence, in an article had a unique identifier? A user could select the text they want to be the highlight/summary for the piece, without having to copy and paste (and without the possibility of inadvertently misrepresenting the content).

And what if the owner of the content could tell what text was used to share the content? With properly tagged content within a share-tracking architecture, each sharing instance would serve as a contextualized trackback to the content owner. Over time, they’d have aggregate sharing data that would provide valuable audience information: who shared the content, what text they used, what pictures they used, what data they used, what video they used. Depending on how the sharing architecture is built, perhaps the content owner could even receive the comments and ratings that are put on the content at point-of-share, helping them determine where to look for feedback. They could see who shared the content directly and who reshared it from someone else’s share. Whose shares are getting the most reshares? How do those content sharers share the content? What is the context; what other content are they sharing in that space? This could inform how the content owner chooses to share the content on their own apps and pages.

For websites would still exist, of course. They would just be far more semantic and dynamic. Rather than being static page templates, they’d be context-providing splash pages, pulled together by content curators. Anything could be pulled into these pages and placed anywhere; curators could customize the look and feel and write “connector text” to add context (such as a custom image caption referring back to an article). This connector text would then become a separate tagged unit associated with the content it is connecting, available for use elsewhere. The pages themselves would serve as promotional pieces for content streams users could subscribe to; the act of visiting such a page could send the user the stream information. And content shared alongside other content would then be linked to that content. Whenever a content creator presented two pieces of their own content together, that would tag those pieces of content as being explicitly linked. Content would also be tagged as linked whenever sharers presented it together, regardless of creator. Perhaps explicit links would be interpreted by the sharing architecture as stronger than other links; perhaps link strength could be dynamically determined by number of presentations, whether the content had the same creator, and the trust rating of the sharers involved. Regardless, users could then browse through shares based on link strength if they chose.

Author and copyright information would be built into this sharing system. Ideally, authors would be logged into their own account on a content management system such that their author information (name, organization, website, etc.) would be automatically appended to any content they create or curate. There would probably need to be a way for users to edit the author, to allow for cases where someone posts something for someone else, but this would only be available at initial content creation, to avoid IP theft. This author information would then automatically become available for a “credits” section in whatever site, blog, app, or other managed content area that content is pulled into. Copyright would be protected in that author information is always appended and the content itself isn’t being changed as it’s shared, just contextualized differently. Every piece of content would link back to its original author.

I’m imagining all of this applying to everything–not just text-based articles and still images, but spreadsheets, interactive graphs, video. Users would have in-browser editing capabilities to grab video clips if they didn’t want to present the entire video. They’d have the ability to take a single row out of a table to make a graph. Heck, they’d have the ability to crop an image. But no matter how they chopped up and reassembled the content, it would always retain its original author and copyright information and link back to the whole original. Remixes and edits would append the information of the sharer who did the remix/edit.

Essentially, rather than pages or even streams, I’m seeing disparate pieces of content, linked to other content by tags and shares. All content would be infinitely customizable but still ultimately intact. This would serve the way people now consume content and leave possibilities open for many different means of content consumption in the future. Meanwhile, it would provide valuable data to content creators while maintaining their content ownership.

I would love to work on building such a system. Anybody else out there game?

Since writing I’ve found some related sites and thoughts:

The American Airlines t-shirt debate

Many are upset that a woman called O. was publicly berated and detained by American Airlines staff for wearing a t-shirt the staff members found offensive, causing her to miss a connecting flight and end up late to pick her daughter up. While I can kind of see where they’re coming from, I am not really all that angry about it.

Call me a prude, but I don’t want to see the f-word on somebody’s shirt while I’m using a mode of transportation frequented by people, adults and children, from all over the world. I don’t particularly want to see the other things listed as examples in the article, either:

I have been on flights with men wearing tatoos [sic] that demean women, and t-shirts that advocate violence against women, that demean women, that treat Obama with racist derision… What someone wears on their body is their business. Whether or not you would wear that t-shirt is not the point. It is not for American Airlines to decide what is politically okay or not.

Actually, as American Airlines is a private company selling a service, they can pretty much do whatever they want, so long as they don’t violate FAA regulations. People are free to not use AA if they disagree with their policies…one of which, as noted here, is that passengers can be ejected at any time for the following reason:

Are clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers

Now, I can’t guarantee that list item wasn’t added in the aftermath of this particular incident, but even if it was, so what? It’s the company’s prerogative. And it’s your prerogative to decide whether or not you think that’s wrong, and whether or not to use the company’s service.

I don’t think the employees handled the issue well. They could have pulled the lady aside and quietly asked her to turn the t-shirt inside out or cover it with the shawl, as suggested in the article. It certainly wasn’t necessary to cause her to miss her flight–assuming she cooperated with their request.

And there’s the rub. We only have her side. We don’t know that she was simply victimized here, or if she became argumentative. We don’t know if the captain mentioned AA’s policy to her during that conversation, or said anything else. (The article also draws some conclusions about the event that don’t seem to be represented in O.’s writeup.) This sort of ambiguity is why I hesitate to make snap judgments about things like this…especially when they don’t really matter so much. No one was hurt or killed here.

My main takeaway is this: if her shirt had said, “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d have sex with a senator!” it wouldn’t have bothered me. If that language had bothered AA, I would be troubled. I think the inclusion of the profanity was what made it offensive, not the political message. It’s possible I’m wrong, but due to the inclusion of profanity, it’s impossible to actually know.

Gintama and the denial of one’s own atrocities

I recently started watching Gintama on Crunchyroll. It’s a very funny show about a guy named Gintoki who lives by his own odd code of honor while performing odd jobs to get by. He seems lazy and unreliable, but he’s always true to himself and his friends. The show is filled with references to other anime like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Prince of Tennis, and probably many more I don’t recognize. Overall I have really been enjoying it.

However, as the story continues further into the overarching premise, I’m more and more aware of the obvious allegory. While at first I simply thought of it as an interesting intellectual exercise, it’s become more troubling to me in light of recent events.

In a nutshell, the plot of Gintama is this: in the Edo period, when Japan was known as the nation of samurai and Tokyo was still called Edo, aliens came to Earth and subjugated the people. The opening narration mentions that the aliens forced Japan to “open their country” and also that they cowed the government through a show of superior force (they fired a huge beam weapon and at least partially destroyed a castle). Subsequently a “no sword” law was enforced, and all the former samurai were forced to find other ways to support themselves, often unsuccessfully. Now the aliens live among the people of Edo, blatantly oppressing them, hiding behind diplomatic immunity.

The parallels with Japanese history are pretty obvious, if you omit certain inconvenient facts. The “opening” of the country recalls Commodore Perry’s black ships, which frightened Japan into agreeing to trade freely with other nations for the first time. The show of force and sword ban bring to mind Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the subsequent signing of the US-mandated constitution forbidding Japan to engage in warlike activities, including the formation of an army. And the aliens’ oppression of the Edo people calls to mind the Occupation.

What there aren’t parallels for, at least not yet, are the atrocities Japan itself committed in its history. The closest thing are the wars the Edo people fought for over ten years trying to cast the aliens out…but in the context of Gintama, this war is honorable, as the warriors are the victims, not the aggressors. The Anti-Foreigner group that Gin’s war buddy Katsura runs, which depending on your perspective can be called a terrorist group or a group of freedom fighters, seems like something more out of modern Middle Eastern history than Japan’s.

Through all of this, Edo is painted as the victim. And yet the similarities to Japan’s history are too striking to be coincidence.

At first, I thought there wasn’t really much harm in this. It’s an anime. It’s for fun. It’s an interesting story. I’m still not sure the author is trying to make a political statement with his premise. But I do wonder if this premise doesn’t indicate something about Japanese culture, about people’s perceptions about their country and history.

The mayor of Nagoya recently stated that he’s not sure that the rape of Nanjing actually happened. From the Japan Times:

Speaking Monday to a group of Chinese Communist Party members from Nanjing, Kawamura said he was skeptical about whether the Imperial Japanese Army actually raped and slaughtered thousands of Nanjing residents during the war.

[…]

“I don’t have any intentions of retracting my comments or apologizing,” Kawamura told reporters Wednesday.

[…]

Disputes over the Nanjing Massacre are a constant source of friction in Sino-Japanese relations, and Kawamura’s comments are merely another example of the skewed perceptions held by Japan’s politicans.

This made me wonder if the premise of Gintama doesn’t imply a sort of culture of denial, a general feeling that Japan is a blameless victim.

This sort of thing doesn’t just happen in Japan. Recently, a Japanese translator I follow on Twitter posted a picture from the American History museum in Washington, DC. It was a board on which visitors could stick up Post-It notes with their thoughts about the US’s use of internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Among the varied opinions, I spotted this one and others like it:

Well…they did attack PEARL HARBOR.

In this case, rather than deny the atrocities happened, people are trying to justify them, but it comes down to the same thing: people seeing what “they” did as horribly wrong, but what “we” did as right and proper. Anything can be acceptable if you assume righteousness is on your side: war, rape, torture, profiteering, prejudice, ignorance, silence.

Everyone wants to believe they are doing the right thing. It can hurt to take a step back and evaluate whether or not that’s really true.

Do we have anything to gain from entertainment that perpetuates our feeling of self-righteousness? Wouldn’t it be better to improve ourselves?

Edit March 22: Tofugu has an interesting post about Japanese textbooks that goes along well with this topic.

ACTA and TPP: The new(?) threat

Shortly after the SOPA blackout, I became aware of ACTA–the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. This is a treaty, negotiated in secret among various nations, whose ostensible purpose is to protect copyright. I then started hearing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, purported to be even worse.

Despite the fact that many people are only now hearing about ACTA and TPP, these treaties have been around for awhile.

In a move that completely flouts the open style of government he claims to support, President Obama signed ACTA back in October, without getting public or legislative approval. Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, and Singapore also signed at that time. Many countries in the EU signed the agreement in Tokyo two days ago, but EU countries can still fight the ratification procedure. Here in the US, it’s currently unclear if what Obama did is constitutional, or whether the treaty must be approved by Congress.

Meanwhile, there’s the TPP, whose purpose, among myriad other things, seems to be to cover all the digital copyright stuff that was negotiated out of ACTA. Here is more information on the TPP from TechDirt, which has been following its evolution as best as you can follow the evolution of something being developed in near-absolute secrecy. Here’s a slightly dated rundown by the EFF. Most terrifying, given that like ACTA this treaty is being negotiated by people who are not our elected representatives, is this:

All signatory countries will be required to conform their domestic laws and policies to the provisions of the Agreement.

So basically these people, with no transparency, no input from citizens or democratically-elected officials, are rewriting global laws?

Just whose purposes are being served here?

E.D. Kain at Forbes has a discussion of how ACTA has evolved and how TPP continues to be developed in secret. Here’s a line that struck home with me–it’s an obvious allusion to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.

If lawmakers start baking restrictive IP laws into larger bills – maybe stitching them into defense funding bills, for instance – it may become increasingly difficult to see what’s happening.

The NDAA included a rider authorizing the indefinite detainment of US citizens by the military without trial. Attaching this egregious infringement of Constitutional rights as a rider on the military budget essentially held all military personnel and employees hostage; unsigned, it would have left them without any money as the new year started. The choice ended up being “unpaid soldiers” or “loss of liberty, with a note saying we promise never to actually do this”. The latter was chosen. (The author of this piece would say I’m being too generous to the president. Maybe I am. Time will tell.)

Obviously, riders are one effective way to get something passed that wouldn’t normally pass, and as Kain points out, this will surely be a tactic used in future intellectual property fights. But ACTA and the TPP bypass legislation completely, and they are shrouded in secrecy. We barely even know what’s going on before it’s happening to us.

If you’re interested in taking action on these issues, here are a few links that might help.

One thing that seems evident is that these treaties, developed in secret and intended to alter intellectual property law across the globe, are being backed by major copyright holders. Big corporations. The entertainment industry, to be blunt. I’ve already written on what I think they should be doing rather than trying to change the law to protect their dying business practices, but perhaps I was being too charitable. That they have wormed their way this far into not only our government, but governments around the world, is unconscionable.

I’ve heard that some are planning a complete media boycott for the month of March, to hit the proponents of this sort of legislation where it really hurts. Honestly, I’m not sure a month-long mass boycott is as plausible as a day-long internet blackout, but it certainly seems like the right strategy against executives who seem to only understand money.

Could you go a whole month without buying entertainment from big companies? No cable, no Netflix, no movie dates, no iTunes…heck, maybe a month off might prove which services you actually need and which ones you don’t even miss. And you could take the opportunity to discover some independent creators, people who just make good stuff and make it easy for people to buy it.

It could work. You could save some money. You could directly benefit actual content creators instead of middlemen. And you might help get big entertainment companies out of our government.

What do you think?

Foresight

The Associated Press has looked into the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants. Good.

Quake risk to reactors greater than thought

Okay, not so good.

The nation’s nuclear regulator believes a quarter of America’s reactors may need modifications to make them safer.

Fabulous!

I’m not particularly surprised, though. Humans are not forward-thinking. We have trouble with the big picture; it’s easier to live day to day. I’ve seen this repeatedly in my own life, in my reluctance to take chances even when they aren’t that big a risk and will almost certainly improve my situation. We’re creatures of habit. We get comfortable and we don’t want to break out of that zone. Or we do, but we feel trapped because we’re afraid. We’re more afraid of the change than of the danger of not changing.

Someday our complacency may well spell our doom.

Sometimes we fix things. Here’s a cool article from National Geographic (with wonderful NatGeo writing style) about the removal of some superfluous dams that endanger an ecosystem:

Largest U.S. Dam Removal to Restore Salmon Runs

In Washington State‘s Olympic Peninsula, members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe still tell stories of a time when the Elwha River was so full of salmon that a person could cross from one bank to the other by walking atop the thrashing bodies of fish struggling to move upstream.

No one has attempted such a feat since two dams were built, near the mouth of the river, in the early 20th century, blocking salmon runs.

But on September 15, officials in Olympic National Park will begin the long process of dismantling the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River.

The article points out that the dams weren’t built in a forward-thinking way, and it was the residents’ “fear of change” that kept them in place for four decades after it was first proposed they be removed. I’m glad it’s finally being done…but this is a far more forgiving situation than, say, nuclear power plant problems. With disasters like Fukushima, I hardly think we have 40 years to correct our mistakes.

Up until recently I was a staunch supporter of nuclear power. Even in the days and weeks after Fukushima I was an apologist. But as time passed and more and more problems surfaced, my enthusiasm faded. I still believe that nuclear power is, in theory, a good option for cleaner energy. But I’m not so sure I trust humanity to be the custodians of that power just yet. Given our tendency to let things go, to maintain the status quo, to only improve when we’re forced to, I’m not sure nuclear power is worth the risk. Knowing how humanity is likely to take care of–or not take care of, to be perfectly honest–its nuclear power plants, supporting the continuance of nuclear power is essentially rubber-stamping future deaths due to accidents like Fukushima.

I guess the question is, how many deaths, and what kinds of death, are most acceptable? It’s not like coal doesn’t kill, after all. Perhaps coal is easier to swallow because those deaths are more…containable? (I still wonder whether or not we actually comprehend all the dangers of radiation.)

How do you make these decisions, when you know that pretty much no matter what, someone’s going to die as a result of your choice?