Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mickey and Minnie Vader; It Came from the Liver; We are officially in hiatus-land

This is tough. I’ve sworn off Universal, but the Harry Potter area will open in 2009. I mean, who doesn’t want to take a tour of Hogwarts, and maybe play a round of Quidditch? And speaking of Florida, this is Gay Star Wars Weekend at WDW. Really (sort of). I love the fact that Disney has embraced the gay community (although I think they’re a little crazy embracing the Star Wars community). If there was ever a brand that the wingnuts would want to keep a tight hold of, this would be it, and they’ve lost the battle years ago. Kungaloosh!

I updated the Sailors’ schedule for 2007-8, and just happened to visit the Yale site, only to find out from the tournament staff listing that I am erudite but grouchy, while JV makes ‘em tremble in the halls. CP, who lists in his resume a day job doing suspicious work transplanting purloined stem cells into rutabagas, is the one responsible for this list in which all the women are strong and competent and wise and the poor couple of guys are raving lunatics. To be fair, at least he included himself in the raving lunatic category. When I complained to him about this poor treatment, he pointed to my blog slogan, which is also in my email signature, which means he obviously does not know the difference between grouchy and bilious. He will learn, come the new season. Of course, I will have to think twice about wearing my Grumpy golf cap among the Pups that weekend, grumpy being synonymous with grouchy, as you well know. I’ll stick to my Pirates of the Caribbean Hawaiian shirt. It sends a much clearer (and perhaps more bilious) message.

I realized this morning that it’s been over two months since my last forensic event. That’s a long time. And it will be three-plus more months before the next event. That’s quite a hiatus. I’m not quite sure what we’ll be doing here to fill all the empty hours with coachean-oriented materials. Things will no doubt arise, however. I’m meeting O’C tomorrow to catch up on gossip (although for all I know there is no gossip). If there’s anything juicy, I’ll pass it along, especially if it’s confidential. I’m also meeting my daughter at some point, to pass along to her the pix from WDW. Sorting digital pix always takes longer than you expect, and there were hundreds of them to go through. I even found a couple of hidden Mickeys in them, which is more than I can say when we were actually in the park. One hears tell of hidden Mickeys, but one scours the place and finds maybe two in a week. Not exactly a high hit rate. I did find a few hidden Dick Cheneys, but I don’t think they count. I also hope tomorrow to get up close and personal with the new Frank Gehry building in Chelsea; I obviously have quite a big day planned.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Today is my birthday. I am not sixteen. Dagnabbit!

I’m in the middle of some things. For the record, I’ve got Nostrum started up again following the vacation hiatus, and maybe that’s what’s inspired doing some of my own writing, which is one of the things I’m in the middle of. I mean, if Jules and the Nostrumite can write, why can’t I? Not that I’ve heard from either of them recently. Jules remains in Moldavia, the Mite remains in Cambridge teaching at Tennessee Williams High School and raising his spawn, who’s almost two now. Amazing. Another generation of mites.

Anyhow, I am writing, and somehow have exploded over 50 pages since I’ve started, and I’m not quite sure how it happened. Writing here regularly hasn’t hurt: the muscle is exercised, I guess. The book I’m working on is probably nothing you’d like, but I’m hoping it will be commercial. I will elaborate no further about it; for all I know, I’ll quit it tomorrow in disgust. But that is unlikely. Writing serves a need, and fills the empty hours. If you have something you’re obsessive about, you know how that is.

Last Sunday my Times book review arrived pretty mangled, for no apparent reason, but I was able at least to read the Pinker review (by him, not about him). The VCA is well aware of my high regard for Pinker, who has written at least 2 books that I swear by (The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, both of which are on the Sailors’ reading list). He made an observation in this review that is obvious, but had sort of eluded me. When it comes to science, as a society we somehow assign the subject to children, especially at the learning level. Enculturation requires a child’s understanding of science, and then at some point we switch over to the arts, especially when it comes to our physical institutions, i.e., museums. Science museums and zoos are primarily aimed at children, who we imagine will grow up into the art museums that are primarily aimed at adults. Admittedly it is easier to get kids interested in elementary science, where things happen, as compared to art, where they just look at stuff or, if they create stuff, they recognize pretty quickly isn’t the same as, say, even your lesser Rembrandts. You may indeed need to be a little older to develop an aesthetic sense, or to appreciate your aesthetic sensibility. But this does not mean that your interest in science stops the day you no longer have to study it in school (or worse, before you’re finished studying it in school). But if our museums are any indication, we do seem to believe this is true. How many adults do you know who go to spend a day at the zoo without bringing a kid? Of course, Pinker’s discussion went further, discussing how adults simply don’t keep up much with science, and stop learning about it, and that this is a problem. True. But I would add that most adults don’t keep up with much of anything and stop learning at the first opportunity, and that’s a problem that encompasses all areas of knowledge. So it goes. The day you stop being interested in new stuff is the day you start boring me to tears. The day I stop being interested in new stuff is the day I start boring myself to tears.

So by coincidence this morning I was listening to a Lopate interview with some Italian scientist who has been working in the area of mirror neurons, and the subject of philosophy versus neuroscience arose, as did the subject of language vis-à-vis the Chomsky/Pinker instinct theory, and of course my interest picked up. Again, as a loyal member of the VCA, you know that I consider the consilience of science and philosophy to be the most meaningful direction of the post-contemporary, and that philosophy is nothing other than the search for truth about the mind, as is much of science, and the two are moving closer together until, at some distant future point, epistemology will be entirely a scientific proposition. Be that as it may, you’ll be happy to hear that Pinker has a new book coming out this autumn. Needless to say, it will be high on my personal reading pile.

Oh, yeah. Speaking of books, I did read the Chabon. I give it a mixed review. Love the milieu, the world he has created, the concept. But the story sort of wears out after a while. Honestly, the same was true, I felt, of Kavalier. But mostly I enjoyed it, so I’m glad I made the choice.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sixteen Candles

(I’m not sure which of the Sailors is responsible for today’s bracketology. Peanuts sent it, but Ewok had warned me about it. Whatever. I’m totally lost with it, not watching the show myself, but I do wonder about Richard Alpert [!] and Rousseau…)

Life is a series of milestones, each of them marked by rituals. Insofar as these milestones are universal to humans as humans, they are reflected in virtually all cultures. We are born, we reach adulthood, we mate and reproduce, we die. These are universals for the species, and they are universally ritualized by the species’ cultures. We may make more of some of these than of others, given the nature of that culture, but we mark them all as important events. Curiously enough, being born probably gets the least play, at least for the person being born. There’s no real cross-cultural tradition of birth rites, although lots of us like to commemorate birthdays, both our own and those of various cultural icons. On the other hand, reaching majority, and the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, looms quite large. Initiation rituals, circumcision, the whole maturation song and dance—these are about as universal as you can get, from religion to religion and from culture to culture. Mating rituals are obviously also universal. And we’ve been ritualizing death since at least the Neanderthals.

Not all of our milestones live up to expectations. We might say to the 13-year-old Jewish boy, now you are a man, but then the next day he goes back to middle school. Marriages in many cultures are not the life-affirming end-all be-all they’re supposed to be. And no doubt dying won’t be any great shakes, if I measure it from the point of view of the center of attention at the funeral. Yet despite the failure of various rituals to measure up to what they’re ritualizing, we have, at least in our culture, created even more rituals to celebrate life’s milestones than just the obvious ones shared across all cultures. I would suggest that complex, post-Industrial civilizations like ours might all create these extra rituals as a result of their complex post-industrialism, but I’m not arguing that at the moment. I’m simply saying that, for one reason or another, we’ve created a lot of extra baggage for ourselves on the ritual side, by finding more and more occasions worth ritualizing. And, of course, those occasions fit in with the culture in which we live. We celebrate the occasions that our culture has created, in addition to those native to humanity. We do this with varying degrees of commitment and energy, but we do it. And as I say, not all our milestones live up to expectations, so if we’re adding new milestones as part of our cultural development, we are probably adding new failures in living up to them. Which leads me to the one that I’ve been thinking about after reading a piece in Sunday’s Times, to wit, the occasion of the Sweet Sixteen birthday party at the Ritz.

A little history first, although you already know this. Turning sixteen years old has been around for a while now, as has the expression sweet sixteen (although I was unable to track down a clear etymology in a cursory attempt through Google). In my particular high school dark ages, girls turned sixteen and there might be a little party or something, but that was about it, and when anyone turned any age, there might be a little party or something. In the ensuing millennia, the Sweet Sixteen birthday party has become, for some, a Christian Bat Mitzvah, not insofar as the ritual is concerned (cf. Confirmation), but insofar as the party is concerned. There are rooms rented, meals catered, fancy dresses donned, extravagant gifts bestowed. (Maybe it’s an atheist bar mitzvah? Evidence suggests otherwise, but it’s worth considering.) And as I’ve implied, it’s only for girls. Guys don’t turn any particular milestone age comparable to girls turning sixteen. How has this happened? Why did this event come into being in recent years? What’s going on here?

First off, it’s not the sixteen-year-old girls that made this happen. It’s the parents of the sixteen-year-old girls. If teenagers could simply will themselves into a situation when they’re treated like royalty, they’d be doing it all the time. But this is the only situation where that happens that I can think of, short of the traditional cultural rites of passage. So parents, for some reason, celebrate their daughter’s theoretical majority with an all-out blast comparable to the most serious celebrations, spending as much on the affair as many people spend on weddings, and inviting as many people. They’ve made this into a major event. They’ve created a secular rite of passage that raises the question: a passage from what to what? And by the way, keep in mind that traditionally the bride’s family pays for the wedding, the other big traditional blowout in the female life, which means two big parties for the girls in the family. The feminist implications are clear. And frightening. What we’re seeing is the institutionalization of the princess concept, fostered by the parents. Those little Disney princesses were cute, going to their little banquets with the “real” princesses in their little princess dresses. But what, exactly, is a sixteen-year-old princess if not a virgin offering to society, the opening salvo in an anti-female proclamation to be concluded by the wedding that secures the older virgin to wedlock. You’ll be the princess at your SS party, and later the princess at your wedding. The bad news, that they won’t tell you, is that it’s not real. I’m sorry to say it, but you’re simply not a princess, no matter how much money you spend, and in fact, there may be some detrimental aspects to this belief you’re holding that you are some sort of royalty, given what that really means. You should be treated as special, they say. But you’re not special. It’s okay to think you’re special when you’re a little kid. But when do you grow out of it? More importantly, when are your parents going to grow out of it?

You could compare this to the old “coming out” tradition (read your Wharton or, for that matter, watch GWTW), but that at least really did introduce you to society in that it allowed you to commune with young men for a couple of years with a clear intention of marriage before hitting the ancient age of twenty. So while there are parallels to what I’m saying here, the rationales no longer exist that at least made debuts make some sort of social sense, however class-oriented.

Anyhow, I’m trying not to be merely curmudgeonly here. Since there is no analog to this phenomenon for boys, thinking there is a feminist undercurrent is a natural assumption, especially if the pre-feminist debutant is a historical precedent. If something unessential affects only one sex, it bears study. If that something fosters unrealistic expectations in someone because of their sex, it bears serious study. I would suggest that any belief in fairy tales is not a good thing at the point where one can no longer tell the difference between the fairy tale and reality, or when the fairy tale makes the reality worse. How many marriages are harmed, I wonder, by unrealistic expectations of the princesses who learn that they only married some guy, and not prince charming. The SS party is, theoretically, sending you off officially on the road to finding that prince charming. Today you are a sixteen-year-old princess, but tomorrow you’re the same schlub (female persuasion) that you were two days ago. You’ve accomplished nothing special by surviving sixteen years. People do it every sixteen years, regardless of who they are. Now you’ve done it too. Huzzah?

The Aztecs did things differently. When they had a sixteen-year-old virgin, they killed her as a sacrifice. I’m not suggesting this as an alternative to SS parties, but at least this particular culture had a handle on exactly how many princesses one ethnological group could support. We like to believe that every girl is a princess. And since there’s no comparable rite for boys, then I guess every one of them is…a subject. Isn’t that great?

I worry about girls. What I'm saying here is garbled, and I'm groping more than usual. But some things drive me crazy. I would have hoped to see a more feminist-informed society in my lifetime, but I don’t think I really have seen all that much. Some growth, but nothing exponential. And there’s plenty of institutionalized social norms that go on despite all logic that would seem to undermine them. Sexual identities and mores and roles are so ingrained, it seems so hard to move expectations even the slightest inch. And the fact that change is hard does not justify not changing.

Yeah. I worry about girls.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Rights of Man (and Mouse)

(Inspired by MB's list of records I've never heard of, today's bracketology pits the Beatles vs the Stones.)

I was listening to TWIT this morning, and the point was made that the present school generation may be growing up in an environment where free content is a given, as compared to the generation two klicks previous, where purchased content was the given, or one klick previous, where content was at best capturable. That is, at some point in the dark ages, you watched TV or listened to the radio, and there was content in that ineffable moment, which was paid for by advertising, or else you went out and paid to go to a movie or a concert or to buy a record. There was no sense of your inherent ownership of this material, much less your entitlement to it. Entertainment cost money (to someone); if you wanted entertainment, somebody had to pay for it. With the advent of tape decks (reel-to-reel in the 60s), you could copy a record, but realistically this was a private, repurposing action. There was no meaningful trading of tapes; you just copied your own records, perhaps as a mix, and that was that. This continued through music cassettes and, later, videocassettes. There was even a Supreme Court case that recognized an individual’s right to do whatever that individual wanted to do with secondary-level video content, provided it was for that individual’s private use. That is, the producers act of broadcasting the material incurred the consumers’ right to make a copy of it. We couldn’t sell it, or exhibit it, but we could watch it whenever we wanted. Time-shifting, and fast-forwarding through commercials, was announced as legal. It was the beginning of a great adventure. When mp3s came along, they took the processes of creating tapes of albums or mix tapes and turned them not only into no-brainers but no-timers. Movies quickly followed suit. But no longer was I merely copying for my own purposes; given the easy-to-distribute nature of digital files, I could be copying for anyone. We were going beyond the realm of original ownership and the original producers. It’s the middle of the great adventure. But as I’ve been maintaining, the ease of performing an action is not included in the calculus of its morality. The fact that it is easy to do something doesn’t make it right. If that were the case, performing easy actions would be morally preferable to performing difficult actions. You don’t have to be Kant to find that one a little dicey.

Anyhow, we’ve already talked about that at some length. But I’m really curious about the concept of intellectual property vis-à-vis copyright. I’m trying to get my mind around both sides of the argument. The basic idea is simple. If you create something, you’re entitled to it, and a legal process exists for you to protect that entitlement. But the Constitution would limit that entitlement. The following is listed as a power of the legislature: “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.” In other words, there is a belief that creators (authors and inventors) will make useful social contributions provided we protect their creations for a while. Copyright protection is seen as an incentive to produce, or maybe it’s more the other way around: if your creation is not protected, and therefore subject immediately to theft or cooption, why bother? Either way, the protection is intended to create an environment conducive to creation, with an underlying and stated assumption that this will promote social progress. The limit applied by the Constitution is unstated—“for limited times”—but that limit is there. Which raises the question, why? Why should this right be limited? My ownership of my watch, for instance, is not limited. Even after I die, that watch will go to my heirs and assignees and not to society in general. I have, in perpetuity, ownership rights to certain things, in other words. Why not to my intellectual property, if I do have this right to my physical property?

Putting aside the obvious argument that, perhaps, it is the perpetual right to the physical property that ought to be questioned, we need more purposefully to uncover why this discrepancy exists. Why did the Framers accept that, after some limited time, intellectual property no longer belonged to its creator?

The answer seems to lie in that same concept of social progress (although no doubt there is also an historical explanation to be found in the state of protection of intellectual property at the time, a subject about which I know nothing). If there is value in encouraging new ideas by protecting them for a while, there is also value in allowing those new ideas to encourage yet other ideas in a purely dialectical sense. While it was a century or so later that Mill explained with such clarity how truth could be found in the open comparison of ideas, the concept that ideas generate other ideas could not have been all that hard for the Framers to grasp, given the number of creators in their own midst. Franklin, at the Convention, and Jefferson, in Europe but certainly a member of the fraternity, were notorious tinkerers and inventors, involved with other tinkerers and inventors, living in a new country that seemed ripe for tinkering and inventing. Jefferson (who as Secretary of State was, if I remember correctly, our first patent officer) gave away his plow design for the betterment of farmers, so there was altruism not only in design but in spirit. A new type of country needed new ideas. We were already trafficking in republican democracy. We might as well go for the full gorilla.

So ideas beget ideas, and begotten ideas are seen as beneficial to society. But the begetting of ideas is also beneficial to society, so we set up a system where if you beget an idea, it’s protected for a while, but then it’s allowed to go off and beget other ideas. This makes some sense. There are certainly many specific arguments regarding the copyright of a film or a book that are not covered by this, but at least in the patenting sense, as compared to the copyrighting sense, the concept seems sound enough. Patent is a much shorter protection than copyright, at least in present-day America. You invent something, you have some time to manufacture it and get rich, and then it belongs to society. This applies to drugs, widgets, the look and feel of software (talk about dubious), most things you’d expect and some you don’t. A patent, which is different from a copyright, is also different from a trademark. I don’t feel a need to go into all the distinctions here: look them up for yourself if you don’t know them.

What has happened over the years is that copyright was extended numerous times, to the point where, today, it is beginning to look eternal. We have legislated (and according to our constitution, this is a congressional power) that copyright will last for practically a century after the creator is dead. No doubt the next time the law comes up before Congress, whoever is running Disney and like corporations will push for yet further extensions. According to the laws extant in 1928, his birthday, if we hadn’t extended copyright protection, Mickey Mouse would now be in the public domain. This means two things. Anyone could market and sell Mickey Mouse cartoons created before a certain date, and the concept of Mickey Mouse would belong to anyone, for use in any way. That is, today, if I want to, I can write a book about Snow White, a character hundreds of years old, and I don’t have to pay anyone anything. I can write about Snowy and the Seven Dwarfs, or I can write about Snowy running for governor of California. It doesn’t matter. She’s in the public domain. (Note that I’m not talking about Disney’s version of the tale, but simply the characters and the tale itself.) If Mickey were in the public domain, I could do likewise with him. I could tell any Mickey Mouse tale I want and not have to pay anyone anything. I could make my own Mickey Mouse movies. In my stories I could have him run for governor of California. In other words, I would have free access to previous intellectual creative property. And this free intellectual access is perceived as a good thing. It is creative progress. It is rooted in the Constitution (albeit through logical extension).

Disney’s argument is not merely that their corporation benefits from Mickey et alia and should continue to do so, but that since their corporation actively protects and maintains and develops and creatively progresses those intellectual properties, therefore keeping them original, it ought to have the right to continue to do so. It’s not merely the fact that they own them and should continue to do so (which is, to some extent, a perfectly reasonable argument if you compare it to the watch that I can leave to my heirs—why can’t Disney leave Mickey to his heirs?), but that they are continuing to work on them, and/or that they have corporate meaning beyond their simple existence as the properties originally created. The counterargument is that, if we allow ownership of ideas in perpetuity, we ultimately do stifle creativity. Anyone who knows the history of Disney knows that the corporation’s success (and even survival) was based on the release of Snow White, which is an example of Old Walt doing exactly what his corporation wouldn’t want anyone doing today, which is taking a story and characters in the public domain and working a new angle on them.

The more you go into this subject, the harder it gets. There are no easy answers. I find it hard to understand why both my watch and my writing can’t go to my heirs, and I find it hard to figure where to draw the line at which the legacy ends, since there seems to be an inherent logic that ownership of ideas can’t possibly be forever by the very nature of ideas. And that’s what we really haven’t discussed. An idea is different from a watch. A book or a movie is about halfway between an idea and a watch. Without my explaining the differences, I’m sure you have no difficulty agreeing with me. Therein lies the problem. As bad debaters like to say, there’s no bright line. But the fact that there is no bright line does not mean that we can’t have a hazy line: we draw hazy social lines all the time (compare maturity: you drive younger than you vote, you vote younger than you drink, we’ve got all sorts of unbright lines for measuring your adulthood). In a way, the haze here is the fun part. It gives us something to argue about, and the conflict between the rights of individual ownership and the rights of society couldn’t be more straightforward.

You know, this would make a good LD topic.

Coachean Log, supplemental: trivia clarified

Make that, name 4 human movie stars turned into animatronic figures by Disney excluding any on the Great Movie ride.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

How I spent my spring vacation

Today's bracket from Ewok and BenT. Personally, I'm stuck between Jessica and Nikki, and I can't imagine solving either of them against Hiro...

Anyhow, let’s get past this Disney folderol. This time it’s mostly itinerary, for those who like to compare itinerarical notes.

We started off, as I’ve said, at Animal Kingdom. Our last trip was five years ago, and there have been a few changes in AK, including Expedition Everest, which lived up to the hype. If you've never been, for all intents and purposes AK is a zoo with Disneyfication. The original plan had included real animals broken into geographic areas, plus other areas for extinct animals and for imaginary animals. The real animals include a safari ride, much like the ride at many zoos, including the Bronx, where you go around on some sort of vehicle through the animal domains, except AK’s is at a much superior level than even a good zoo. Disney has done a good job laying this section out, and no matter what time of day you go through, there’s plenty to see, and the animals have plenty of room to roam unmolested on their simulated savannah, although if they added a tiger chasing down a gazelle for each safari bus it would be quite excellent plussing, as they say in Disney circles. In essence, this is the simulation version of the Jungle Ridge simulacrum, if you're looking for a pomo explanation. There used to be a deep narrative about poachers on this trip, but they’ve toned it down a bit, which is probably a good idea, as it really didn’t work all that well. There’s also a couple of real-animal walk-throughs, where you get surprisingly close to whole bunches of beasts, including tigers and gorillas and enormous bats (not unlike your average $ircuit event). Throughout all of this there is intense African or Asian theming, probably the best theming in the resort, going so far as to include animal prints on the walkways. The originally intended imaginary area is today represented solely by the Everest ride, plus, I guess, some shows like the Lion King and Nemo. We chose the Nemo show this time, and frankly the LK show last time was better, but Nemo wasn’t terrible, just not as good. The extinct area, since our last visit, has been punched-up enormously, including this Route 66-ish funky little simulacrum cheap-o park with a nifty little wild mouse spinner and fun theming throughout. There’s also plenty of run-around space here for little kids on a dinosaur-bone trek. In the olden days, Disney used to take a hit for putting people in an entirely passive, reactive position, which may be okay when you’re visiting a park for a day, but where you’re there for a week, a little action on your part, and especially on your kids’ parts, becomes more important, and they are now serving this need throughout the resort with areas like this one. The cornerstone of the extinct area is the Dinosaur ride, which is a repurposed version of Indiana Jones in Disneyland. It’s okay, but I prefer Indy, which is a top-tenner while Dino is just another attraction. We had nice weather throughout the trip, and it was warm enough this day for the Rapids ride, a perfectly enjoyable soaker if the spirit so moves you. As I said, we kept going back to Everest, because it was just that good that you wanted enough opportunities to take it all in. You would probably do likewise.

In keeping with the AK theme, we ate at the AK lodge that night. We were staying at the Caribbean Resort, one of the moderate hotels, which was fine, but one has to admit that the lodge was seriously more impressive. Of course, it’s also seriously more expensive, and how much time does one spending lounging about on a Disney trip? Anyhow, we ate at the Boma buffet, which includes a lot of African foods one has never had before. Good stuff, and I recommend it.

It was on to EPCOT next. Each day at the parks begins with a corny opening ceremony, usually Mickey Mouse or his heirs and assignees coming out to jolly the crowd. So it was here, as we waited to tear over to Test Track, a perennial favorite (and still, I think, officially the fastest ride in the park). Soarin’, which is iMax on steroids, was okay but short. Mission Space was okay but we spent a lot of time waiting for them to fix it (and I will admit that we took the non-spinning wuss option). Figment was much better originally, but what’s there now is still better than the interglacial when there was no Figment at all. The Three Caballero upgrade at Mexico was a nice tweak, leaving the ride more or less as it was with some improvement. The China movie has also been tweaked, with some old and some new footage, and remains the best on the grounds. It was Flowers and Gardens Weeks at the park, so there were a lot of nifty short-term displays and topiaries. Dinner over at Canada’s steakhouse, our first time there, was very nice. And so to bed. EPCOT is always a big hit with us, and we left the other half of it for another day.

Day 3 was MGM. As I said earlier, Tower is much improved, with theming through the drops. It’s now finally a top attraction throughout. And I’ve always loved Aerosmith, Star Tours, Muppets, etc. The only other new thing was, I guess, the motor stunt show, imported from Disney Paris. It was much better than I had expected. In the animation building (now vacated by animators, as we take off our hats and conduct a moment of silence) I got to draw Donald Duck; surprisingly enough, it looks like Donald Duck! All of this capped by Brown Derby dinner (still a standout) with their Fastasmic package worked in (special seating), so a nice capper there.

Day 4 was Universal, about which I’ve already spoken in terms of satisfaction. There were some new items. Shrek is quite good. Jimmy Neutron was impenetrable. The Mummy was something of a disappointment; I expected more, but after Everest, this poor also-ran didn’t have a chance. It’s okay, but don’t spend too much time waiting for it. The closure of Back to the Future was painful, as this was an old top-tenner of mine, now never to be ridden again. Other than that, it was same old same old. Plenty of time left over for a screening of Meet the Robinsons at their multiplex. We did have dinner at Emeril’s, which was quite good, albeit loud. I’d even call it a destination restaurant, feeling free to skip both of the parks when making the journey.

Day 5 (God, this trip was endless) was SeaWorld. Again, I’ve already vaguely commented that this has gone downhill big-time. Someone in charge thinks they ought to be competing with Cirque de Soleil rather than displaying sea life. Big mistake. On the positive side, that night we dined at Victoria and Albert at the Grand Floridian, which remains the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten in. And the most expensive. No trip to WDW is complete without it, however.

Quiet Day 6 was a morning at Blizzard Beach. There’s early opening for resort guests, so we did everything for a couple of hours before it got crowded, then we ate lunch for a couple of hours (or, more to the point, spent a couple of hours wondering how the on-site restaurant could be so poorly run compared to everything else in the resort), followed by miniature golf at SummerWinterland, then Irish dinner at Raglans, then over to the Adventurers’ Club. Kungaloosh! The AC is really the only reason to visit Pleasure Island nowadays, unless you really want to go (simulated) clubbing with the local Orlando hoi and polloi. I must say, you do feel you are elsewhere than WDW when you’re at PI late at night, given the rather blowsy clientele. Day 6 was also Downtown Disney shopping day, where, having worked our way up through the previous days’ browsings, we stocked up on all manner of items Disney which I will eventually display in tab rooms throughout the nation. I’m especially proud, as I’ve said, of my Darth Tater pin.

Day 7 was back to EPCOT, this time for the rejuvenated Seas, with the wonderful talking animation technology (Turtle Talk with Crush). It’s cute, and all you do is wonder how it’s done. Also the Seas entry ride, projecting Nemo characters into the tanks, works very nicely. We also did Energy, and all the countries we hadn’t already done; some of those movies do need an update. I mean, people just don't have those sideburns anymore (although the bellbottoms are coming back). We even did the American Adventure, which with grizzled forensicians is always a risk. Oompah dinner at Germany followed by Illuminations. What’s not to like?

Day 8, IOA: we were done by 1:00 pm and ended up seeing Spiderman 3. It's just not a comfortable park that you want to hang out in, and there's not all that much there that you can't get it all done pretty efficiently. Sushi dinner at Kimonos at Swan & Dolphin, followed by a walk on the Boardwalk helped make up for the earlier part of the day’s lack of fulfillment.

Finally, day 9, MK. As we waited for the gates to open, we fell in with some geezer traveling alone who was making his 56th visit. As you might expect, we got into the topic of shirts, and he spent most of the time explaining about the loss of pockets on the polos, and how to get around it. This is why, as a rule, it is fine to talk about Disney to an enthusiast, but you should steer clear of the obsessives at all costs. Anyhow, I’ve already discussed Disney on various ethereal levels over the last couple of days, so here I’ll just update on the What’s New front. Stitch is no better or worse than its predecessor, only different. Loved Philharmagic. Monster Laugh Floor was more of the interactive animation, and it was corny fun. What with the average-sized crowds and fast passes, we saw everything we wanted to see, managed a dinner at Citrico’s, then the light parade and final fireworks. Once again, through all of this, I swear by the Unofficial Guide touring plans, which really do work. Always have, and they did again, with quite different paths from those previously taken. During the whole week we stood on no lines for more than a few minutes. A Disney trip can be made or broken by long waits on hot days.

So anyhow, now we’re back. For the moment, this may be enough Disney for a while, but something tells me there are other issues that will occur to me. I was over at WTF yesterday and noticed that they haven’t had a new posting since the Truman Administration, so maybe they’re all down in Orlando too, waiting on line for Dumbo or something. While I was down there I will admit that I did keep expecting O’C to pop out from behind one door or another sooner or later. Honestly, it would have been perfect if he were Cinderella’s escort on the parade float. As Disney wishes go, that was my Number One. Alas, it was not to be. Sigh…

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Trivia; Princesses from a different perspective; Fair(y) Use; Reassurance

Name 4 movie actors who have been turned into AAs (audioanimatronic figures) at Disney parks. And while you're at it, figure out the brackets of the worst of WDW.


Princesses from a different perspective
Previously we analyzed Disney princesses from the post-contemporary point of view. That is, we concentrated on the antifeminist aspects of the idea, the thought of women being bred for their (presumably non-existent) Prince Charmings, the Disney wedding where your fairy tale dream comes true, the pure when-are-you-going-to-grow-up-ness of the thing. Which is all well and good, but then again, I would imagine that a lot of people get married at WDW simply because they enjoy the resort because it’s fun, and they’re going to honeymoon there anyhow (it is a very popular honeymoon spot) so why not make it a destination event for the actual wedding? Everyone in the world isn’t caught in the lockstep of some sort of pomo mindset, in other words. As I said yesterday, I simply get into the fun aspects of Disney when I’m there, otherwise why would I bother to go? And I would imagine that most other people do likewise. You can make it a pretty miserable experience, I guess, if you’re so inclined, but you can make anything a pretty miserable experience when it comes to that. Enjoying Disney requires that you take it at face value. So be it. But, since we sooner or later we’re all post-contemporary philosophers, sooner or later we all go beyond face value.

One of the major complaints about Disney is the capitalist critique, if you will. (That old Lefty Baudrillard was of this position to some degree.) It is not so much the nature of the dreams being sold on the Disney market, but the commodification of those dreams, i.e., the actual selling. You go on the ride, and as you exit, you are bombarded with souvenirs of that ride, a concept of mementoes simulating the recently experienced simulacra that boggles the po-co brain. On a less theoretical bent, the common anti-business complaints are that rides that are no longer popular are replaced or updated with more popular (read, more financially successful) elements rather than revered as monuments, that classic films from the vault are travestied by made-for-video sequels, that new products are created simply to make money, heaven forbid! Where is the purity of Old Walt?

Yeah, right. The Disney corporation learned the art of selling secondary merchandise almost the moment Mickey pulled on that steamboat whistle. Walt and Roy may have had different approaches to money, but both brothers understood that money was necessary to run their business, and that it was a business, however creative it attempted to be. Walt was not a television pioneer, finding new ways to create for the medium, he was a television pioneer finding new ways to build and support Disneyland. Tell me, if you can, how the Mickey Mouse Club was a pure creative gesture. Old Walt was a master of promotion. He was also, coincidentally, a visionary: they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, his biggest vision was probably his worst: EPCOT. If he had built it the way he originally imagined it, he finally would have killed the corporation, in that the modernist, planned, inorganic city was about to disappear from the drawing boards right when he was proposing it. The original EPCOT is pure modernist urbanism; you don’t see that much anymore… But it never came to that, and what Old Walt did do—creating a seemingly timeless animated film mythology, creating the concept of the theme park—were pretty impressive.

There are a lot of people who harp endlessly on today’s Disney Corp as a mindless moneymaking machine, who accuse the company of having no soul, of letting people down, etc., etc., etc. When the company screws something up, it’s not seen as a mistake, it’s seen as an evil-empire attempt to undermine the original purity of Disney essence. For example, one big harp these days is The Tiki Room Under New Management, which takes an old “classic” attraction (which introduced the original animatronic figures) and attempts to update it. The attraction, to put it simply, was dying on the vine, running to empty houses because it was old and tired. Its oldness didn’t intrinsically make it classic; compare, say, Pirates of the Caribbean, which is almost as old, and still held up. Tiki was always old-fashioned, which is not the same as timeless. I simply can’t envision Walt insisting on keeping an unpopular attraction open just because it had sentimental value to him personally. Present management attempted to modernize the Tiki Room and, well, flopped. But it’s not a horrid travesty, it’s just a bad idea that isn’t as much fun, in context, as the old show was, in its day and its context. The room doesn’t get down like it used to. Too bad. But hardly reason to indict the company as craven devils. Just people who made a mistake, I’d say. They made some others, too. But probably some of these same mistake-makers are the ones who got Expedition Everest awesomely right. You win some, you lose some. The update of Pirates, with Jack Sparrow, works fine, so sometimes you can tweak without harm. Old Walt had his stinkers too, you know. For instance, there’s a big flap these days about the inherent racism of Song of the South, but if it ever is re-released you’ll discover the other reason they should keep it in the vault: it sucks (except for the animation). So there’s plenty of nasty stuff one can say and think about what was mostly the Eisner Disney, but there was some good stuff too. It’s a business, and businesses have their up and downs. Sometimes they even die. Life is like that.

So in Old Walt’s day it was dolls and watches and all sorts of comparable tsotchkes supporting the corporate machine. One of the latest attempts to derive value from preexisting materials is Disney’s princess push. This has been going on for a while now. It appeals to little girls’ desire to dress up—I’m not sure if little boys have that same desire, or how it’s expressed—and works it in with a basic theme that has run through Disney works since Snow White, which is princesses. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, as in, I’d like to be a princess myself, if it meant getting to loll around all day while somebody else cleans the place up. There’s worse things in the world for five-year-olds to daydream about. Disney capitalizes on the daydream by providing outfits, and at the parks, outlets, to wit, character meals. The little girl make-believe princesses get to hobnob with the “real” princesses. It’s sort of cute, actually. We’re riding an early bus to EPCOT one morning, and there’s a little girl in one of the standard princess outfits (you can get Meg, Belle, Cindy, Snowy, Jasmine, or Sleepy, and maybe some others I didn’t recognize) and before we get off at our destination the driver asks her and her family to stay behind. At the bus stop, after the non-princess riffraff debarks, the little princess is met by a welcoming committee with cameras and balloons and general hoo-ha which has to pretty much make a little kid’s day straight out of the gate. Only we non-princess riffraff could see the other little princesses debarking from their magical coaches to comparable attention. Then, I guess, it’s on to Norway (why Norway?) and the “real” princesses in the banquet hall. Throughout the week we saw princess upon princess. Some go whole hog, complete with footwear and hair extensions. Some manage at most to toss on a Cindy tee shirt. Whatever. They like it, it looks like fun, Disney provides a special entertainment, plus plenty of merchandise including costumes, thus at the same time capitalizing/commodifying its creative content. Win-win? Probably. It’s hard to see the harm in that.

I will point out that our group (grizzled forensicians, for the most part) did quickly conclude that Disney was missing a bet by not including Evil Princesses. Not every little girl wants to be Sleeping Beauty. Being Maleficent looks like much more fun, especially a young Maleficent. Or the Wicked Queen of Snow White, only younger. Young Cruella. Young Lady Tremaine? There’s others. A whole marginally goth market worth exploiting. They do have a Pirate Princess concept, but they need to take it to the next level. I would love to go to the parks and see not only little good princesses but a raft of little evil princesses, a collection of Charles Addams mini-Morticias to balance the Force, if you will. They do push Disney Villains, to the point where there’s even perennial rumors of a Villains Park, or at the very least, a Villains attraction (a Bald Mountain roller coaster is what I’ve heard). So if kids love villains, and princesses, why not villain princesses?

To the question posed earlier, do boys like to dress up, the answer is yes, to a degree. Show me a little boy and I’ll show you someone who probably wants to wear pirate clothes. Back in my day it was also cowboy clothes. I was quite the little buckaroo, let me tell you. (You’ll have to imagine that for yourself, there being no photos extant, but I even had a coonskin cap, which may explain the present state of the top of my head: who knows what they put in those coonskins?) The fact that there isn’t a comparable present-day young villain operation for boys to match the young princesses for girls, or a young heroes operation, or whatever, indicates that Disney, which no doubt has done its marketing homework, has probably concluded that it just wouldn’t work as well, so they concentrate their efforts elsewhere. So it goes.

Along these commodification lines, students of merchandising would do well to study the develop of the Fairy franchise, led by Tinker Bell. She has achieved star status in the geegaw category, and is the lead character in a series of fairy books, set, I think, in some very specific fairy universe, filled with new fairy characters. She has a movie forthcoming. Study this to study the extension of a pre-existing brand into a new franchise. Will it work? Too soon to tell. If you can name any Disney fairies five years from now other than Tink, then it did.

So what’s the bottom line then on Disney princesses? Well, if you’re a little kid, it’s cute, although if you’re still at it as an adult, it’s arrested development. Is Disney doing it to make a buck? Of course. So have they earned their buck? That’s the key question, I’d imagine. And from the looks on the faces of the families involved, I’ve have to say yes.


Fair(y) Use
On another note, but not entirely, while we’re on the subject of Disney, and following the the Mark Helprin editorial in Sunday’s Times, the whole side note of copyright is worth looking into on this video. It makes obsession look positively maniacal, but also explains C in a circle in the most devious way possible short of bringing Sonny Bono back from the dead, plus it’s hilarious. Enjoy.


Going to WDW and going to Universal in the same trip raises numerous questions. The attractions at the two Universal parks are fairly good, and some are excellent. There’s plenty of theming and narrative, some pretty much at the level of Disney. So why is Universal unsatisfying, while Disney is totally satisfying?

There’s a good book entitled Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance, which accompanied an excellent exhibit about ten years ago. It’s funny how that word reassurance is so apt to the Disney experience. It applies to all the creative content, from the movies to the television shows with Old Walt to the parks. It is not that the Disney experience is comfortable, because that would imply a lack of drama. Sitting on the couch doing nothing is comfortable. Knowing that you will survive whatever happens is reassuring. Big difference.

At a core level, there is something about the Disney myths, or the way Disney approaches myth or legend, that strikes beyond the simple narrative level. This could be for a variety of reasons. The stories Disney tells are key narratives of existence, especially childhood, incorporating the various aspects of those key narratives: lost parents, growing up, not growing up, learning to be independent, friendship, romance. The milieus are larger than life—the West, the Jungle, the Future, Fantasyland, Old Hollywood—and we bring to each of them plenty of our own baggage, so we complete what the theming starts. In other words, Disney is about key stuff, or it is connected to key stuff. Add to this that some of this narrative material has been processed by us for our entire lifetimes in various formats: for instance, we’ve seen Snow White over and over, and we’ve also seen the dwarfs in all sorts of situations above and beyond the story, we’ve heard the songs in other contexts, we’ve seen that witch transformation maybe a million times in various clips—Disney's Snow White is a part of us. So is most of the other Disney material, depending on your age. But even if you’ve never heard of Walt Disney, you still know the Snow White story, and Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast, and you are already reassured by the concepts. It is all a part of us, even if, specifically, it isn’t.

There’s more to reassurance than the literal narratives, though. At the parks, we are reassured by the landscaping. The forced perspective, of course, which brings everything down to a more manageable, albeit often subconscious, notch. But also the use of all sorts of flora. At the park one is surrounded by flowers and trees and bushes and shrubs and topiaries: a veritable botanical garden. We send flowers to a hospital room because when you don’t feel good, they are a bright, beautiful, aromatic counter to our bad feelings. They make you feel better. They also make you feel better out in the world. We plant gardens around our houses rather than surrounding them with concrete. Cities are less comfortable than farms. So at Disney, not only are we surrounded by stories that reassure us, we are surrounded by flora that reassure us. This is subtle, but check out the flora at Universal and compare. Big difference.

So we have Disney giving us stuff to think about that’s more deeply connected to our psyches than Universal, which traffics in popular movies that come and go. The best film of the lot would probably be E.T., which is informed by the Disney values but, in the end, is just a movie and does not create in us those values, as does the animated features we started watching in the crib. Jaws, The Mummy, Back to the Future (emeritus)—these are not classics, really. They are not the stories we want Wendy to tell us over and over again when we are the Lost Boys. Additionally, Disney gets us at a sensual level of sight and smell, with gardens everywhere. And the third big piece of what makes the difference is aural. Compare the music at Disney to the music at Universal. At Disney, the music is mostly soft and gentle and, yes, reassuring. It wafts through Adventureland or Tomorrowland or wherever we are, appropriate, backgroundish, undemanding, themed, reassuring. There is nothing like music to set the mood, of course. At Universal, on the other hand, you are mostly bombarded by hard music, rock with strong backbeats, often very recent stuff to appeal to the presumably hip teenage crowd they wish to attract with their parks (and there’s no question that Universal, at least in Islands of Adventure, is aiming at a teen crowd as a counterstrategy to Disney’s family appeal). A little boom bucka boom goes a long way, even if you love rock and roll. It makes you want to dance, maybe, but it doesn’t make you want to hug everybody and love your family. The music of reassurance that Disney provides as a soundtrack does do that.

Sight, sound, mind—it’s the Twilight Zone! No, seriously, it’s an all-encompassing environment, well themed to make you happy, to make you enjoy the adventures you are undertaking. And for the most part, it is for the whole family. Sure, a few rides are age-specific, but the most thrilling of the thrill rides that Disney has are nothing like the Hulk or the Dueling Dragons. Compare Dr. Doom’s Dumb Drop vs Twilight Zone: I wouldn’t bother going on the former, but I do the latter for the theming alone. But the real point is, a place that is designed for families will be more reassuring than a place designed for teens. At some point, sitting in the Seuss area of IOA, aimed entirely at the kiddie contingent, Marc pointed out that there was a welcome lack of teenagers. Teenagers are LOUD, bubbalah. It doesn’t bother me—I wouldn’t be doing this job if it did—but it’s a big difference to be surrounded by families comprising all ages and by teenage groups comprising just, well, teenagers.

I still maintain that Spiderman is, in execution, the best simulation in any of the parks. Better than Star Tours, if you’re just talking about the ride as a ride. But if I never rode Spidey again, I wouldn’t mind. If I never rode Star Tours again, I’d miss it. Star Tours, in a word, has heart. Spidey doesn’t. And Old Walt knew all about heart (for instance famously claiming that the lack of heart was the reason Alice did poorly at the box office), and put it into most of what he did. His own, to begin with. And the hearts of his characters, after that. The Disney characters have heart, and we respond to that heart. On top of that, the parks have all our senses covered in every way possible to reassure us that our lives will have a happy ending. Wishes and dreams will come true.

What could be more reassuring than that?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Worldly musings

So, what’s been going on the last couple of weeks? Nothing, as far as I can see. Everyone polishing their knives for CatNats, more than anything else. I’d be going to Texas myself if the Crank weren’t being fraternal. I’ve always said that, aside from the one really long day of rounds on Saturday, CatNats is one of the most fun weekends of the year, and I’m always happy when a Sailor or two qualifies. For that matter, I’m always happy when a Sailor or two qualifies for pretty much anything. I consider their successes a tribute to my coaching skills; their failures, of course, are entirely their own responsibility. But you knew that.

Anyhow, it's time to begin "How I Spent My Spring Vacation." As a general rule, when I go to Disney (a generic term covering any Disney park), I get into the experience pretty solidly, and don’t sit around mediating on the the post-contemporary ramifications of the thing. That’s for later. So, to begin with, some notes on the experience of Disney qua Disney.

1. Go in May. Not that many other people do. It’s not as empty as, say, January, but everything is open and jumping, and there’s enough people to enliven the proceedings without choking the entryways. I’ve also been during Presidents’ Week (very crowded) and mid-Summer (fairly crowded), and believe me, May is my favorite so far. Also, the weather is good, unlike January, when you’re lucky to get even one swimming day in, much less a full Blizzard Beach. September is also quite good, but with new debate seasons starting up, and my need to explain to this year’s novices how their successes are due to me and their failures are all their own, that month is pretty much off the books for the time being (the first time we took Kate, when she was 4, was in September—the place was about as deserted as January). For the record, Christmas week is the most crowded. You’ve got to be nuts to go to Disney when it’s the most crowded. Be my guest, as the song says.

2. Start with AK and end with MK. You’ll never top MK, so work up to it.

3. Expedition Everest is, well… Let me explain. We went on it at about 9:30 the very first morning (it was down at the opening). On exiting, we were compelled to pick up a FastPass to ride it again. After using that FastPass, we were compelled to get another FastPass to ride it yet again (you can do that when the park isn’t overcrowded; you're allowed to get a new FP an hour after the old one is issued—it’s like eating Chinese food, as the old joke would have it). Everest is the best new ride in the last 5 years, no question, period. Not only a great ride, but fabulous theming. Your opening salvo should be first thing in the morning through the full line, just for the total experience.

4. There’s too many good restaurants these days. In the 70s, you’d be lucky to get a decent meal within fifty miles of the place. Now you’ve got a great meal every night, and some nights a really great meal. Food for the trip cost more than rooms and flights combined. Recommendation: pack a few astronaut dinners for in-room dining for one or two night and save a few bucks.

5. Why does an otherwise intelligent person spend more time contemplating pins than on any other non-ride activity? Doesn’t the sight of the pin traders loitering in Downtown Disney, the most disreputable looking batch of humanity since Dante’s Inferno, indicate the Despond into which you are Sloughing (if you don’t mind mixed allusions)? I am especially proud of my shiny new Darth Tater pin. I can't get enough of Darth Tater: it's as simple as that.

6. You should visit the Universal parks. Once. Spiderman is still tops in the dark ride competition, but Disney, as they say, gets it, and Universal doesn’t. More on this in future posts. We spent a lot of time analyzing why this was true (which is why you should always travel to WDW with ex-debaters).

7. They’ve pretty much taken all the fish out of SeaWorld and replaced them with people dressed like fish, in some sort of Cirque du Soleil wannabe attempt. I prefer the real fish. So would Baudrillard.

8. Most improved attraction: Tower of Terror. It used to start great, them mindlessly pump you up and down an elevator shaft a few times while you wondered how long the line was for Rock N Roller Coaster. Now the theming is constant throughout the experience. It’s finally a full attraction and worth the early morning bee-line.

9. The automobile stunt show was much better than I had expected. I hope to have my hearing back by mid-August.

10. The very last ride, the very last night, right before the parade and the fireworks and packing up all the dirty socks, was it’s a small world (lowercase characters and all). A traditionalist would consider this a happy ending. Many people, including half of my traveling party, consider this a torture worthy of the darkest of dark ages. As Nietzsche said, we all have to decide for ourselves whether 2741 children dolls in stereotypical national dress singing that song over and over and over again, in 83 different languages, is proof of the existence of Satan. In any case, it was 8:00 and, lo and behold, there is a clock in there, just like Disneyland, but on a smaller scale. Who knew?

Coming next: Disney Princesses!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ex-cruz-iating coverage of TOC finally ends. See you at WDW!

And they say that Menick doesn't have a sense of humor (click on the picture to see what I mean). Or that I am not a giving person: in honor of the photograph, which will adorn this space for the short hiatus of my WDW trip, I have posted a new treat over on the right especially for Coachean Life's Prince Charming. In a word, May the brackets be with you.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A good lawyer knows the difference between the torts and the trots

I was just reading up on torts; you never know when you might wake up and—shades of Kafka—you’re a lawyer. What bothers me is the ease with which one can acquire copyrighted materials online with no remuneration to the copyright owner, and the question is, is there some point where the ease of access itself alleviates the onus of what would otherwise be theft. As I’ve said recently, this is one of the usual arguments given in support of this activity: it’s so easy, therefore it must be okay to do it. But should we measure whether an action is moral simply because we are easily, or not easily, enabled to do it?

In tort law there is a concept called attractive nuisance, which applies to having property with inherent danger that could appeal to children. If you have a swimming pool at your house, for instance, that is an attractive nuisance. If children sneak into your pool, their safety is your responsibility because you created the attractive nuisance. As the owner of a swimming pool, therefore, you are responsible for keeping children out of it. So, you build a fence around it, and lock the gate. My understanding of attractive nuisances is slim, but I gather that it probably does not apply to situations where the attractees are adults. An adult knows better than to trespass on your property in the first place, whereas a child might consider the pool an invitation. But people downloading “free” music or movies or software mostly cannot claim ignorance of the ownership of these materials. Besides, ignorance of the law is no excuse, as the adage goes. Still, free content is, by some definitions, an attractive nuisance.

Let me say this: 09-f9-11-02-9d-74-e3-5b-d8-41-56-c5-63-56-88-c0. This series of numbers (google them if they’re not familiar to you) has sparked numerous discussions that go beyond the pure theft of creative material. As the creator of material, or as an employee of a content provider (I am or have been both), I believe and act upon the belief that creators of materials are entitled to the fruits of their labors. I wrote a novel, for which I was paid every time someone purchased a copy of that novel. Sounds good to me. I have written other material that I have given away (like what you’re reading now). I abet the free dissemination of Nostrum, which its creators feel should be available for free. The call is made at the level of the creator. You want to get paid for your work, then if someone wants that work they should pay you for it. You want to give it away, then that’s your decision. The marketplace will decide if people are willing to pay for your work or not. I don’t believe that the market place can decide, however, that they don’t like the price, and because they don’t like the price, they are justified in stealing it; I don’t think that’s anywhere in my copy of Adam Smith. But we keep coming back to the added attraction of the material’s availability for free despite the creator’s desires to be remunerated. Simply switch the discussion to musicians, who work hard writing and performing music. If they want to be paid for what they do, either you decide you’re willing to pay the price, and then you can have it, or decide that you’re not willing to pay the price, and then you can’t have it. Traditional market factors act on both sides. But in a world where, if you’re not willing to pay the price, you can still have it, then there’s issues.

There is, I think, a justifiable argument that the accessibility of content, the 09-f9-11-02-9d-74-e3-5b-d8-41-56-c5-63-56-88-c0-ability, if you will, does change the situation. No, I don’t automatically have the right to content simply because I have the access to content, but the access to content could indeed require a new approach to the rights to content. The owners and managers of content must accept that music and movies and software can be downloaded “unofficially” by anyone so inclined, and figure out a way to adjust the market accordingly. They must, if you will, remove the attractive nuisance, and in such a way as to profit from their labors. End-users have no just claim on content just because content exists in a claimable fashion, but the claimable fashion does dictate a need to rethink the content. Spiderman 3 is available on BitTorrent. Is the S3 content manager’s response making it a movie that one must see in the movie theaters? I guess so. But there’s more to it than that. At the point where every movie in the universe is available through the ether, then what? I honestly don’t know.

Still, at some point, the ethical decision to steal or not to steal is made on the personal level. So I don’t steal. But if you don’t define download S3 as theft, and for that matter, if the 09-f9-11-02-9d-74-e3-5b-d8-41-56-c5-63-56-88-c0 community supports you in not defining it as theft (assuming morality is a matter up for vote), then what?

Ah, the moral dilemma.

[Note from the content provider: I’ve changed my mind. Please send all your money to my email address if you wish to confront other moral dilemmas by continuing reading Coachean Life after the upcoming hiatus. Menickian bile will no longer be free for the asking, you spalpeen!]

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Hotel on Baltic Avenue; character names; adios is icumen in

I’m behind the times: O’C reports that they’ve moved the TOC hotel. (Or I guess more to the point, TOC has moved to a different hotel. I can’t imagine a bunch of debaters actually picking up the Ramada and carrying it on their backs somewhere else. A Days Inn, maybe, but not a Ramada.) It probably won’t be missed, although I only stayed there once or twice, preferring other, cheaper hotels in the area. As a rule, tournament hotels are vastly overrated, overpriced, and underheated (i.e., in the showers). But there are exceptions. I’ve had some choice digs at various CatNats (although Detroit’s elevator-deficient high rise left something to be desired), and I’ve always considered surviving the downtown New Haven hotels within walking distance of the Pups a true sign of Mastery of the Universe. The people I truly pity are the visitors at a hotel during a tournament who have nothing to do with forensics. You see these poor old couples on their vacations, with their sturdy walking shoes and their jutting fanny packs, picking their way through the mobs of teenagers in the lobby, wondering what cruel god has chosen them, and this weekend, for its revenge. One must keep in mind that most adults rank teenagers somewhere between coyotes and venus fly traps, and consider adolescence a disease akin to mumps, in that its only virtue is that you can only catch it once, although so far, unlike mumps, no one has created a vaccine to prevent it. (Speaking of coyotes, you might want to try today’s bracketology with someone who shares your religion, otherwise the arguments may destroy your friendship.)

I posted the last Nostrum for a while last night. Introducing Disney Davidson, coincidentally. I always liked the name Disney. For that matter, I also like the names Tarnish and Cartier. And Amnea. And a lot of the others, too. Jules and the Mite had, if nothing else, a way with appellation. The god of character names is, of course, Charles Dickens. The Murdstones. Scrooge. Magwitch. Mr. Fezziwig. The Veneerings. Pecksniff. Jarndyce. Last night, assembling reading material for the trip, I briefly pulled down Pickwick, then thought better of it and pulled down Copperfield, then thought I should stick to my guns and get the Chabon. It all depends on if I hit the bookstore before Thursday. I wouldn’t mind Copperfield again, to tell you the truth. Ham. Little Em’ly. The lone, lorn creetur. Uriah Heep. Hmmmm.

My last official act before hitting the road will be go through all my pending email. There’s a bunch of stuff I keep avoiding, none of it crucial, but some of it potentially fatal. Then, with a clean inbox—the postcontemporary equivalent of a clear conscience—it will be onto the plane and out of here.

I promise to leave you with an appropriate goodbye message tomorrow.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Think horizontally, act vertically

Today is sexually-complicated day in Bracketology Land. You’ll see what I mean when you give it a try.

TOC is winding up. One of the most common reports from first-time attendees is that, when all is said and done, it’s just another debate tournament. Precisely. One does wish that all debate tournaments were so lush, however: no rounds at night, plenty of classrooms, lunch restaurants within walking distance, enough experienced judges that most of them complain that they’ve got nothing to do. Quite a contrast to the usual locked-down high school with piped in debate ziti and one judge less than you really need to run the thing and it ends at three in the morning and then you’ve got a bus ride home in the middle of a blizzard. Actually, TOC Monday is a bit of a stretch on the lush-o-meter. First, there’s the Breakfast of Champions (price not included in the registration fee), which goes on for a couple of hours and there’s a lot of backslapping among people you don’t really know, and speeches over a sound system that only broadcasts every other word, and everybody is packed into the banquet room with just enough space to slurp your grits if you’re really careful and provided no one is left-handed on your side. Then there’s the distribution of the trophies, followed by the announcement of the breaks, which are in the bedrooms of people staying at the tournament hotel. I so love judging in bed; it’s my number two horizontal activity, right after ducking when Tik pronounced teek takes a flying leap at my head from the top of the bureau at three in the morning. When you’re not judging breaks, you’re hanging around waiting for your plane. TOC doesn’t really end, it just fades away, person by person. That’s why there’s such a brouhaha over final-round judges, not because of a desire to pick a great panel (although that desire is there) but because of a need to have any panel. When there’s no hired judges, and everybody has got a plane to catch, you need to isolate early on those whose planes are leaving late. It’s a strange situation.

Since I am not in the position this year to experience TOC firsthand, and have nothing in their place but the endless ravings of O’C, who spends almost all of his time at tournaments trying to figure out people’s records or, in situations like CatNats where it’s all in code, people’s names, I have put the bonus time to good use reading Foucault. Or bad use. Madness and Civilization will not be appearing on my reading list any time soon. It is not relevant to debate (unless, perhaps, you read the unabridged French version, where all the useful stuff is). It is exactly what it says it is, a history of madness. Near the end it does allude to the power of the doctors residing in their general wisdom and perception of having knowledge/power, and if you’re interested in the birth of Freudianism there’s relevant material on one-on-one philosophy, but how this gets applied to LD is beyond me. I mean, if the topic were, Resolved, the insane should be put in leper colonies, then maybe. Or for that matter, the $ircuit should be put in leper colonies, then I’m with you all the way. Still, I do love the idea of the Narrenschiff, the ship of fools, which has been replaced in modern times by the Disney cruise lines, if I’m not mistaken. And no doubt there is other Foucault reading that would address the issues with which I associate him, but life is short, and that new Chabon novel is just waving at me, saying, Come on, I’m yours for the asking. Chabon vs Foucault. Chabon, Foucault. Chab, Fou. No contest. Sorry, Paul-Michel. Fou-eee.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Spring cleaning at the old chezarooni

Well, those of us not going to the TOC can spend the weekend doing a little fine dining. And, curiously enough, all my plans for WDW leave a surprising gap Italiano. Today’s bracketology, therefore, reverting to you doing the work rather than me writing little novelettes, should take care of both issues. This one could be among the toughest to adjudicate so far.

I haven’t gotten a Nostrum out this week, but I do hope to get one more done before going on hiatus. We spent a little time last night sweeping the monitors out of the basement. Apparently our town is having hazmat day over at the local dump, and the hazmat that they will take that we had was monitors (CPUs, on the other hand, need not apply, as they make your average hazmat look as innocent as free range broccoli). In fact, I loaded 3 monitors, plus an old TV. For a while I figured that, in case of emergency I should keep one of the monitors, but despite my notoriously prodigious imagination, I simply could not conjecture (yes, that is a verb) any scenario where, if I needed a monitor, I wouldn’t just pop over to the local Circuit City (crawling over the writhing bodies of all the recently downsized salesfolk) and get one that wasn’t in the neighborhood of a decade old. The dust on some of these monitors had DNA from King Tut. A similar logic informed the decision to toss the old TV. A 19-inch monster from the 80s—that’s coming back real soon. I did keep the IIgs intact and the 29-inch TV, however, plus the various CPUs and laptops that were hazmatically verboten, so you can still send men to the moon with the assembled computing horsepower in the chez dungeon, but mostly Tik pronounced teek uses the machinery down there as obstacles to give the mice a sporting chance. He’s an honorable cat, that Tik. Vicious, but honorable. He does leave tooth marks in most of the Sailors, and he turns old 1F into a sneezing mess (even though she claims she’s not allergic), so he’s doing the job of three cats, one of them being my household pet and the other two being various spawnage from hell. So it goes, if you understand the philosophy of cats.

Best move of the day: I found a gadget to RSS WTF to a Google home page (i.e., igoogle). I never have to look at those pictures of drunk debaters ever again! Although it’s strange to see your own name listed, like they did yesterday. The spalpeens!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Breaking wind news!!!

A new bracket has been added just in time for TOC weekend.

Today's real entry, and those WTFers can take the proverbial hikerooni

Aside from the Mt. Fuji roller coaster, there are some other attractions we won’t be visiting in EPCOT next week.
Country areas: Equatorial Africa (until Morocco came aboard, the only African country interested in sponsoring a pavilion was South Africa during the apartheid years, so that was a non-starter); the Soviet Union, with the "Ivan and the Magic Pike" folktale ride-through (alert readers may recall that there no longer is a Soviet Union, which may have had something to do with Boris Yeltsin’s priorities vis-à-vis WDW during his term in office); Switzerland, with a Matterhorn coaster (presumably they’re too busy defending the pope).
Attractions: Meet the World ride, a history of Japan that looks something like the Carousel of Progress; a puppet-sized Pinocchio area, with ride, in Italy; an Alice ride in England; the rivers of Germany ride; the Canadian log flume (although perhaps this last one never was planned, and is just rumor, unlike all the others, for which there is concept art of one sort or another).

There’s an awful lot of space behind and around the various existing pavilions, so it’s not as if there isn’t room for this stuff (check it out on Google Earth). Of course, blue sky and reality aren’t always the same, especially with a company that has a literal blue sky division like Imagineering. Speaking of lost attractions, one of the saddest things in the World has to be the dust on the floor of the once productive animation building, although I understand that the corporation is planning a new drawn movie in the future, despite having announced that drawing is dead. The right medium for the right project, n’est-ce pas? It’s not as if, since now we have Picasso, we can throw away the Botticellis, if you get my drift. Anyhow, if there’s nothing else on the internet, there’s a babaga-load of Disney sites. Travel, nostalgia, personal, corporate, you name it. But then again, you name practically anything, and there’s probably a babaga-load of sites about it. If it wasn’t for fanboys, we wouldn’t have no boys at all…

And to think, I could be going to TOC tomorrow. It’s nice to have the weekend off for a change, although a couple of the Sailors might feel otherwise. The high point of all my Lexington visits has to be the ribs place that ran out of ribs. And soda. And ice cream. And whatever else Vaughan ordered, as he ordered it. The place seemed to have had a virtual No Vaughans Served Here sign. JV, fortunately being of mild mien and manner, took it all without once giving off the smell of burning martyr. He only punched out two servers, a cook, and the valet parking guy before we were able to get him back to the campus. As I say, a high point if there ever was one.

Coachean Log, supplemental: They're out to get me

OMG. WTF is now on my case. If they're going to refer to my posts, I want parity. I want the same $5K O'C gets per post. You realize, of course, that this means war, as Bugs used to say. All right then, today, a bracket today just for debaters, which seems timely given that tomorrow is Day 362 of the ex-cruz-iating coverage of this year's TOC.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Nothing in life is forever. Except Twinkies.

As a special thank-you to Mike Bietz (he knows why), a bracketology especially for debate coaches. Anyone heading to Kentucky this week ought to appreciate it.

In these last few dwindling days of debateness, we seem to be up to the old eyeballs in topics. Last night we chezzed it up on judicial activism, and I was finally reminded what the problem was back last time we debated this, which had been eluding me, which was that a sizeable portion of the community was arguing for or against judicial review, and not judicial activism. I mean, at least they got the adjective right, but buying tickets for the policeman’s ball is not the same as buying tickets for the policeman’s wife. I’m not sure how things like this happen. Certainly there aren’t coaches out there who don’t know the difference between JA and JR. It’s hard enough to come up with a neutral definition of JA as it is, much less finding a neutral definition of JA for people don’t know what JR is. What is a debate judge to do in that situation, when both sides are so off the mark that you want to throw a couple of desks at them, their coach, their principal and their school board en masse? For that matter, all it takes is an affirmative to totally misdefine a concept for a round to go off the tracks. Ah, the joys of debate. Anyhow, we kicked old JA around for a while last night, and if nothing else established some ground of what law is all about, and majority will and minority rights and the like, but the lack of an objective standard for JA in the real world, as well as in the debate world, is a problem. Given that JA, as we’ve said before, is a pejorative term, dissociated from any particular left or right leaning of its practitioners, it’s hard to defend. In a way, you have to offer another, neutral term as your definition, and then run with the neutral term, sort of the opposite of calling estate taxes a death tax or late-termination procedures partial-birth abortions. If you make something sound undesirable, it will be hard to defend, and if you make something sound neutral, it will be easier to defend, and if you make something sound good, it will be easiest to defend. Needless to say, on the anniversary of Mission Accomplished, the power of words is moot, which is why the subject is so much fun. Still, for debate purposes, clear language that is fair to both sides ought to be the norm, but that would only be true if it weren’t competitive, which means that many debaters will grab any advantage they can, including something as simple as linguistic distaste. If JA has a bad odor, make your opponent defend it. Since the opponent can’t overcome that bad odor, the opponent needs to defuse it immediately and make the round not about something else, but about the underlying—odorless—concept. Good luck with that one.

Termite was among the confabbers last night, and got to formally express his dismay that he won’t be debating the NatNats topic. Or at least I think he formally expressed his dismay: last night he was speaking entirely in Polish, so for all I know he was listing the ingredients on a Twinkie package. Still, I agree with him. As we know, the best topics are always the NatNats topics, exclusive to the annual finalists. In my old Modest Novice days, it would not be inconceivable to simply take any NatNat topic and carry it over for next season’s novices, since it will be, almost by definition, paradigmatic. It will be interesting to see how the new resolution-choosing rules affect the outcomes next year. I remember them as being fairly confusing. Time will tell.

And I’m off to WDW in little over a week. Today’s trivia: Epcot’s Japan attraction was going to have a roller coaster, and Fuji film offered to finance it, but since Kodak was a major Disney sponsor, that was not going to happen. Which is why Figment, the character from the Kodak pavilion, is purple. If he were green, like a normal dragon, he’d be the corporate Fuji color. And I always thought he was purple because he was imaginary… Welcome to the real world. Or the real Disney World (if such a concept is possible).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ecclesiastes 3; Sorry about that, Not Me; VNA update; Sting this!; Funny, you don't look Catholic

Ah, the swallows have returned to Capistrano, and everyone is complaining about the New York State Finals again. Must be Spring.

Lord knows I’ve complained myself (, and I maintain my original position. There is no malice on the part of the organization, but they’ve locked themselves into what seems to be an unbreakable fix. They feel a need for everything to end at the same time, which is understandable on some level, but which limits the number of rounds to too few for the normal processes of preliminary-roundization to transpire. Secondly, they have a judge setup that is counterproductive (bad ratio, no upperclassmen allowed for the novices and JV); when a strong program like Regis aims at States, its aim is true, and therefore they arrive in force with an army of judges (all of whom I will personally vouch for—if you can’t pick up a Regis judge ballot, you don’t belong in LD), which means that, given the number of Regicides debating, you pretty much can guarantee that you won’t get a Regis judge because you’re more likely, in a double-flighted round, to get a Regis opponent. The math is against you; I work hard on this when I tab, usually at MHLs with Bronx HS of Science Fiction as the gorilla, putting the appropriate pairings in the same rooms so that I can find either Bronx or non-Bronx judges in the appropriate numbers if for nothing else to keep the judges from passing out in the lounge from boredom (and I don’t handpick the judges, I do it at random, for fairness). But you can only go so far with that. The better solution is upperclass judging, which frees up your adult judges from being in the novice and jv pools, thus allowing more likelihood of your coaches and ex-debaters judging your varsity (desirable, and attractive for its possibility of increasing the pool of varsity who might participate) while your underclassmen are getting the judging that, at the very least, they’re used to. And five full rounds, of course, allows for everyone to survive a poor adjudication. The VCA knows well that I support parent judging, but there is no question that untrained judges are not the ticket at a state final, and that is an issue that needs attention. Parent <> untrained, but untrained = bad. Unfortunately the NYSFL seems to be adamantly opposed to student judging. Sigh… In any case, as I always say, the people who do well at States have earned their stripes. Unfortunately, at the same time, people who don’t do well at States have legitimate gripes. Short of revamping the organization, which the organization naturally resists, I don’t know what to say. And, let’s face it, I’ve said it all before.

As antidote to this, today’s bracketology is comics. (Note: Family Circus fans need not apply.)

I managed to mis-post the last couple of Nostrums. What one does is copy, paste and update the code in the XML; therefore, it behooves one, in one’s updating, to change the name of the file which is being pointed to as well as all the other information. Fortunately, the problem was pointed out by a loyal member of the Vast Nostrumian Army, and has been corrected. My apologies to other members of the VNA who have been wondering why I kept posting the same episode.

On the Red Light District front, huzzahs are in order. The Wunn and Only came to town with the Roxanne Plan (that’s a ref for Police fans only) for us to get our membership up. We needed to add 4 chapters and get 1 to pay up. As of the eleventh hour yesterday, as they say in the sword-and-sandal flicks, so it shall be written, so it shall be done. Last night, after a little scrambling (the car wouldn’t start, then I couldn’t find the NFL stuff in the chez, etc.), I sent out an update to the troops. All’s well that ends well, including this paragraph, which now has more clichés in it than [insert your own knee-slapping metaphor for a large number of items].

Tonight, a small chez with Robbie to CatNat him up. Turns out that he didn’t JA much last year when it was all the rage, because Sailors don’t get much of a workout in Nov-Dec. So he’s raw meat, to some degree. And then again, with the rewording of the topic, so is everyone else. Always an interesting subject, in any case.