Free Culture

Lawrence Lessig’s latest book “Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity” isn’t only free, it is a subversive exercise to see how far we can go in terms of intellectual property protection.
Go to his website http://www.free-culture.cc to download a free electronic version of his book or, my favorite, download a “remix”. In theRemixes section, the book is available in multiple formats, translation and, yes, even in MP3 audio book format. On top of that, if you want to own a hard copy of the book, you can buy it from Amazon or your nearest bookstore.

This means that Lessig is losing a portion of his book revenue because people would freely get his book in other formats (PDF, mp3, txt, etc) which is well and fine with him. What’s important is not the revenue from the sale of the book (though that might be a lot) but proving a point that as people share ideas freely, the basic ideas can be built upon by other people and improved.

What better way to prove this than to quote a real-life example of what happened not long after the book has been launched. A few people got together and decided to record the book into an audio book. They organized themselves through the internet and the unpaid volunteers divided the chapters of the book among themselves and went wild with their notebook or computer microphones. The result of that was an audio recording of the book that took less 24 hours to complete! To make matters even more interesting, another group, wanting the the audio book to sound more “professional” decided to do another recording! And all this, without the need of a written consent from the author.

(Of course, if the producers of the amateur audio books were to sell their “performance”, they would be prohibited due to restrictions of the license that Lessig has applied to his work).

If you have come to my site often, you would have noticed a Creative Commons logo on my page. Click on it and read the licence. The license covering my work in this blog is a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0 license. This means that I, as the creator of the content within this site, allow you, the reader, to use and create derivatives of my content freely as long as you do not try to make money out of it.

In the old days, works are preserved as scrolls, books, records, tapes, etc. This physical method stores informations as atoms, whether it is the atoms that make the molecules in inks or atoms that align themselves to a magnetic orientation in tape. These atoms can be scrambled (by rearranging, thus destroying them) and information will be lost forever. In this digital age, however, information are stored as bits. Information as bits are what digital discs (though not the form but the information contained within the form) and the Internet are all about. Therefore, information cannot be easily destroyed because they are easily stored, replicated, copied and manipulated.

Lessig believes that as corporations clamp down on copyright, works that are not commercially viable will not be made available anymore. The cost of imprinting information physically is costly and atoms are scarce- try to get a copy of a rare book and you’ll get the picture. Therefore, a large part of unprofitable body of knowledge is lost forever. With a Creative Commons, people like me hope that our work will not be locked into rigid intellectual property protection and will be available freely.

Fahrenheit 9/11

After months of feeling frustrated at Dubya and Boneless Blair’s half truth and whole lies on why Iraq has to be invaded, this film finally restored my faith in the system of the United States of America, the garden where dissenting voices get a chance to bloom among stalks of mainstream viewpoints.

Right wing critics have labeled Michael Moore as the contemporary Leni Riefenstahl. And frankly, Moore’s an easier target than the content of the film itself, which could not be spun away that easily.

The basic premise of the film is that the Bush Administration has been duping the American public and the rest of the world to wage an unjust and unnecessary war in Iraq. The genius of this film is that it uses actual news clips of Bush, Rumsfield, Wolfowitz, Powell, Rice, Ashcroft and other cabinet members to discredit themselves. And that, my friend, is an ingenious stroke that brings to light the Bush Administration’s hypocrisy and its changing stand when it comes to the Iraq war

Bush’s (Last) Stand: “Well, Saddam has WMD and worse, has tied to Al-Qaeda, and there is an imminent threat to the homeland…well, maybe not WMD but he has shown that he has the means and the motive to use WMD…of course we didn’t say that they were involved in the 9/11 attacks with Al-Qaeda, we just said that they had a relationship with one or more of the principals of Al-Qaeda….Don’t misunderestimate what I have to say! Shut up and be a patriot! Danger, danger!!!”*

* This is not a quote from Bush. He didn’t really say those things- not in one sentence, of course…but he really did say:- “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” on 5th August 2004. It’s there as a transcript in whitehouse.gov.

The Passion of the Christ

I may not be a theology student or Bible quoting expert but I do find Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ to be a good movie that is going to return lost sheep to the flock.

He (Mel Gibson, not God) wanted to make this as authentic and at the same time as entertaining as possible. But there are a few things that stood out as possibly inaccurate. Although Aramaic was one of the languages that was widely spoken then, the Gospels were written in Greek and there were evidence that Jesus spoke Greek (refer to this thread in an American Scientific Affiliation forum), in addition to 2 more languages that were used then- Latin and Hebrew. Another stretch is the implication that Mary Magdelene and the adulteress being stoned were one and the same person. Apart from these two examples, the movie is quite close to the Gospels. Of course, there is this one episode of flashback that involved Jesus inventing the dinette table, but then you have to give the film makers some artistic license…

Is it anti-Semitic?

My personal view is that there are no anti-Semitic messages that had been added by the filmmakers that were not already there in the Gospels. And even so, the Gospels are not anti-Semitic when taken into context. While the New Testament made reference to Jews who wanted to kill Jesus, in context, Jesus and His followers were Jewish too. It’s like saying that Chiang Kai Shek is anti-Chinese because he wants to kill Mao Zedong. Doesn’t make sense. I guess what irked some Jews is that the Bible claimed that 2000 years ago, some Jews, or specifically, the Pharisees, plotted to kill a person who claimed to be the Messiah.

Of course, it doesn’t help that a Pastor put up a sign in his Denver Lovingway United Pentecostal Church reading: “Jews killed the Lord Jesus”, taken wholly out of context from 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15. This really shows how dumb some purported Christians are because the message of Christ is one of love and understanding.

The reason why Christ died is more important than who killed Christ.

The 11th Malaysian General Elections

In a year that is devoid of any real issues, Malaysian will be going to the polls on the 21st of March 2004. Who then, to vote?

First off, the incumbents are looking very strong this time around. The opposition has to ditch their black book of old scores because the old Man has retired and the new man is doing an acceptable job so far. In Malaysian politics where forgiveness is divine, expect to see issues of the last administration falling flat with the voters (“Haiyaa, now PM also change already what, why bring up somemore?”). Scaling on a solid performance record (though I must say that without the cronyism and corruption we could have achieved so much more in a shorter period of time), there is no denying that this election will be a renewed endorsement for the incumbents. Only thing that I would like to see is old guards lose their seats to make way for new blood.

I’ll be rooting for my favorite social democratic (or democratic socialist) party whose absence and silence during the past 5 years makes one wonder if they had really suffered some rocket malfunctions as a result of NASA cuts. Worse still, are they on a path of orbit that will result in a spectacular fireworks-type disintegration during this election season? Questions that remain to be answered in a season that is devoid of any real social issues to be exploited.

Of course, if you speak to my friend, the Pakcik of my office- we should all vote fairly and free Anwar. To his credit, Anwar is a passionate politician who can summon up the spirits and command respect. He is strong and charismatic. He’s pro-business (another way of saying that he has his own personal business interests). So what if he’s a poof? I’ve no issues with his (allegedly proven) homosexuality but being naked in bed and getting jiggy with zealous mullahs is just plain immoral. My suggestion, cut the taliban ties and move to real issues instead of being another Aung Sun Suu Kyi.

Lastly, how can one not love our own made-in-Malaysia brand of Islamic extremists, whose declared goal is to change our constitutionally inshrined secular (okay, maybe moderately Islamic- but secular enough) Constitution so that they can set up an Islamic state. Their idea is to strip the country of all vices and to impose a code of morality that everyone should follow. Only problem is that their lifestyle might ensure them a place in heaven but what about the unbelievers? Besides, what fun would life be if some of us cannot chomp down on our favorite pork knuckles while guzzling down a pint or two?

I can’t wait to attend the campaign ceramahs!

The Oscars 2004

Being an avid fan of movies, I found this year’s Academy Awards to be rather interesting.

This is the first time that a Fantasy movie like The Lord of The Rings- The Return of the King has broken the glass ceiling (from technical achievements like Sound Editing, Special Effects) to clinch not only the Best Director but also Best Movie. Kudos to the happy Hobbits, elegant Elves, dastardly-looking dwarfs, wonderful wizards and humble humans who live in New Zealand, I mean, Middle Earth. Huge credits go to Peter Jackson, a George Lucas-ian nobody then, who have spent a better part of a decade to bring the highly regarded (but stupendously boring) tome to life.

However, I am a little (just a little) bit disappointed that Bill Murray didn’t win for Best Actor considering that he is so good in Lost In Translation. But I guess that winning Best Screenplay is not too bad of an achievement for Sofia Coppola- whose aloofness on stage is either caused by a terminal case of bashfulness or she is still reeling from her horrible part in Godfather III.

Bush and Blair Backtracking But Insist That War Was Justified Nonetheless…

After months of chest thumping declaration that weapons will be found, the two giants finally admitted that faulty intelligence was to blame while still insisting that it is still a right thing to invade Iraq.

Body: The Iraq hunt for WMD turned up a smoking gun that has more smoke than gun. George Tenet in his address yesterday stated that the CIA has never stated Iraq was an “imminent threat”. And for those who agree with Bush’s and Blair’s hind-sighted justification for war even though no there were no WMDs in Iraq, I’ve heard justifications like:-

1. “We can’t really blame them. It was faulty intelligence” – Wrong! Hans Blix’s reports stated evidence to the contrary of what the intelligence community was saying. Knowing today that the CIA and MI6 did not have on the ground operatives, why weren’t Bix’s finding taken into consideration during the march to war?

2. “It’s okay because it is an international effort and the majority of the world agrees with the action”– Mr. Bush, kindly be aware that the whole world does not only mean countries in the Coalition of the Willing. Everytime Bush states something to this effect, bear in mind that the Coalition represents only 10% of the world population. Besides, even if the whole world did agree, isn’t the act of lynching somehow out of synch with modern civilization?

3. “Saddam has to go. He is evil and if we allow him to be in power, he’ll be another Hitler”– Don’t you think that the Europeans- who had suffered under Hitler during World War II- would have been more sensitive to the rise of any megalomaniac and evil dictator? Besides, Hitler has a massive army and an ideology that inflamed the population to commit atrocities. Saddam did not even have the means to defend himself and he is a has-been who has no ideology even among the Arab states and the Muslim world.

4. “I don’t like Saddam’s face and no matter what, I’m glad he’s gone even though our reasons of going to war was false and unjustifable”– Then, my friend, there is no way to convince you of the magnitude of their wrong doing. One day will come when Bush and Blair use the same pretext to invade another country of their choice. Pray very hard then that it is not our country.