Bookshelf: The Pirate’s Dilemma

The Pirates Dilemma
The logo is free to remix

I recently finished reading The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Hackers, Punk Capitalists, Graffiti Millionaires and Other Youth Movements are Remixing Our Culture and Changing Our World by Matt Mason.

I posted a link to Amazon to buy the book but it’s free to download (you choose the price) from the Official website.

I’ll start by saying that this is a great well-researched book for anyone who is (a) a pirate (b) a creator (c) a media exec or (d) wanting to look at the history and origins of piracy in context.

Mason starts off from the odd perspective of introducing us to the punk revolution. The entire first chapter is devoted to punk capitalism. Whilst I think this has it’s place in the history of piracy, I didn’t think it was necessary to devote a whole chapter. I did at one point wonder if I was about to settle into a book which was using piracy as a subterfuge for writing about the history of the music industry, but by chapter 2 we dive right into the heart of the matter, with pirate radio and patent trolling. Nice to see the Principality of Sealand get a mention too. So we can thank Mason for the brief history of punk and forgive him for confusingly making it the premise of the subject of the book.

The other niggle I have is the use of the apostrophe in the title. Surely it’s not a pirate’s dilemma at all, but a pirates dilemma – since the dilemma is with the media industry?

There is a lot of references to history and the use of copyright, which made informative and educational reading. I had heard before of how early America basically stole works from Europe but I was not informed of the whole story, or of the origins of the contemptuous nickname ‘yankee’! In summary, America was historically a nation of pirates, Hollywood in particular founded on piracy – They were the original Pirate Bay of the 19th century. Don’t take my word for it – read the book!

The book pretty much covers all the topics around copyright and piracy, and answers many questions that the less informed may have. Mason frames the act of piracy in terms of culture and history very well – making a compelling argument for not only why we should allow piracy, but support it. The subjects range from graffiti art and other counter-culture movements to the foundation of hip hop and the invention of the iPod.

Mason sticks to his music reporter roots throughout and provides insight into his own background in pirate radio and the discovery of Grime. However, despite my issue with the way the book started, he actually does a good job of making the connections of the roots of music with the remix culture, cultural revolution and of course, what is now termed piracy.

It’s not all a one-sided argument either. Of course, given Masons background he could be considered biased toward piracy but he actually offers up both the good with the bad – drug dealing and happy slapping are just a couple of examples. With regards to happy slapping, Mason considers this a kind of ‘last resort’ for a younger generation. A generation desperate to get away from a media and marketing culture that ‘pounces’ on any grass roots youth culture movement before it has a chance to become established. Mason references parkour as a strong example of this. Though I don’t think something like happy slapping can be so easily excused, it has given me a new perspective and I’m finding myself agreeing with this view.

The Pirate’s Dilemma is not a roadmap to a better future, in fact the logic would seem to indicate we are in a constant war between creative freedom on one side and powerful corporate interests on the other. However perhaps if enough of the right people were to read it – politicians, media execs, content creators, then perhaps there is hope for a more open future society.

Already Spain is showing itself to be a much more progressive country in this respect. Could this truth spread to the rest of the Western world some day? I hope so.

Bookshelf: The Economic Naturalist: Why Economics Explains Almost Everything

I just finished reading The Economic Naturalist: Why Economics Explains Almost Everything. I read it in part because I’m interested in big picture ideas and why things are the way they are, and partly because it’s coming from the same approach and school of thought as another book I read last year – Freakonomics
.

Not that Freakonomics and The Economic Naturalist are teaching exactly the same subject or entirely in agreement, the ‘school of thought’ I refer to is to examine cultural, historical and environmental mindsets and events and try to determine the reasoning behind such things.

I’ll start by saying it’s a good book and it did cause me to learn a few things, but I didn’t find it as good a read as Freakonomics. For a start I found the first few chapters to be shallow in terms of depth of understanding and plainly ignored or forgot factors such as ‘herd instinct’, scotomas or other practical and cultural factors. One such example given is the reason for all cabs in New York being painted yellow (reasoning being visibility for hailing) however, this just doesn’t explain why all cabs in London are black (or even carry full body cover advertisements)!

Of course the reason for sticking plainly to economic explanations can be understood because as the author, Robert Frank explains, these are adapted economic student essays. In fact early on Frank issues a disclaimer as such in that the answers provided are “hypotheses suitable for further refinement and testing”. So I shouldn’t be too harsh on the answers which seem to miss vital points of consideration.

As I said I did learn some things, including the meaning and application of opportunity cost, rational choice theory and pricing hurdles. The book does get much better after the first few chapters and there are some explanations that have caused me to see things in a different light. Good answers are found for the differences between worker salaries and contractors, why tobacco CEO’s (and probably Bank CEOs too) are willing to endure public humiliation and why workers usually vote for safety regulations but ignore them given the choice. The book also helps you to frame things in a different light, did you know for example, that women who wear high heals are competing in an arms race?

The Economic Naturalist is a worthwhile read and it will help you to think, however I think the reader should bear in mind the answers given are not always the end of the story.

Bookshelf: Beam Me Up, Jesus

Beam me up, JesusI picked up this book, by Jim Gerard (who is apparently a comedian) expecting a witty, well-researched, ‘Louis Theroux’ look into end-times rapture pop culture – the cousin of Christian theology that we don’t mention in polite company, but I must have been thinking of another book and mistook it for this one.

To be fair to Gerard, he does offer a disclaimer right at the start and this should be taken as a pitch for the humour and intellect level to be expected – “If you’re a secular humanist who believes in reason rather than magic fixers, this book will provide that warm feeling of smug superiority.”

The book does start off well, the first few chapters and the Readers Digest version of the Book of Revelation really did make me genuinely laugh. As I delved further into the book however, the book became less of a research-based humourous guide or retelling and instead more of a compilation of tired and stretched out anecdotes and bad jokes.

It’s painfully clear that Gerard has made up the bulk of his research with Wikipedia and Google. Nothing wrong with that I guess, but it’s obvious that material gleaned from search engines dried up pretty quick – which left Gerard to pad the rest of the book with drivel.

By about half way through the book, it seemed as though Gerard had outsourced the writing to an angst-ridden 14 year old. I hate not finishing a book, so I began to skip chapters until I got to the end – I found I skipped most of the last half.

The real tragedy about this book however, is that there is so much real funny material to go on, why make it up? Why couldn’t Gerard interview some real people who believe this doctrine and utilise subtlety to drive the point? I felt this Amazon.com reviewer put it very well:

“And yes, this book could be humorous, but in my own view, most of the humor would derive naturally from the peculiarity of the doctrines and beliefs that comprise Rapture Christianity. Instead, however, author Jim Gerard has apparently done only a small amount of research and then has embellished his meager findings with a whole lot of kooky commentary and absurdist tangents. It’s a kind of Dave Barry-esque treatment, and for me it just did not work. In some places it’s actually difficult to differentiate between what is truly strange or funny about the Rapture community and what is merely “schtick” added by Gerard to beef up his chapters and evoke readers’ guffaws.”

To sum up, you should really only read this book if you are:

  • An angst-ridden atheist 14 year old
  • You hate Christians in general and revel in any opportunity to reaffirm your bias and loathing, regardless of accuracy
  • You don’t understand the humour of Louis Theroux, Ricky Gervais, Sacha Baron Cohen… actually just about any British comedian as well as Michael Moore, Stephen Colbert, possibly even Jon Stewart or books like The Men Who Stare at Goats and think they are not real comedians.

And for those people, I’m going to offer up the Amazon link anyway. Buy Beam Me Up, Jesus: A Heathen’s Guide to the Rapture now at amazon.co.uk.

Bookshelf: The End of America

I picked up this book in the Borders sell off, it wasn’t one I was desperate to read, but it piqued my interest. End of America, the: Letters of Warning to a Young Patriot, by Naomi Wolf was first published in 2007 and is already starting to feel a little dated – reading it just 3 years later after a new President and the rhetoric of The War Against Terror (TWAT) is losing it’s appeal. The warnings contained however, are not dated, and will continue to be relevant to both Americans and future societies who aspire to a democratic ideal.

The End of AmericaReading this book brought back memories for me of the last decade and my general disgust with the theme that the world had changed and would never be the same again – that we were entering into a perpetual war. I was against action being taken against Afghanistan, though initially I had always been pro-war when it came to Iraq. Mainly because I believed our leaders when they said we were in danger. I was not naive enough to believe the lie that Saddam was behind the 9/11 terrorist attack – but I felt he was a dictator that deserved to be removed anyway.

It was the 45 minute claim by Tony Blair that first made me question my assumptions – particularly when this 45 minute claim turned out to be completely false. That started me down the path of questioning the government and media as a whole – so much so that from being a ‘just war’ type of person I became vehemently and extremely anti-war. I never did join a protest but I read and took part in blogs and forum discussion anonymously. It certainly shaped a lot of my decisions and mentality towards life and the church since then too – not all negatively – In fact I’d say it’s had a lot more positive effects in raising my intelligence and a reasoning beyond the surface level.

All these feeling were evoked again reading this book, because Wolf has taken much time and effort to document the decline of American freedom and democracy under President George W Bush. The book follows the outline of 10 steps in a slide towards facism. It’s refreshing to hear someone define the word and apply it correctly, not just punting it around in a throw-away manner.

Wolf is careful not to go too far, in declaring that America has already entered into a fascist state, but from her descriptions and real world references it certainly sounds that way. She also maintains the premise that America’s political spectrum is rather like a pendulum, swinging towards democracy and freedom at some points in history, and back towards fascism at other times (Witch trials, McCarthy-ism etc…).

This doesn’t quite wash with me, perhaps because it seems like an excuse, or simply something that is inevitable and not something that should be prevented. But Wolf maintains the importance of the checks and balances put in by the founding fathers, and that is good enough for me.

Speaking of the founding fathers, I am glad that Wolf made a lot of effort to link current times to the times that they made the constitution – there purposes for making the constitution and the importance of the checks and balances that were all but destroyed under Bush. I think the founding fathers would have called for an insurrection by now if they could see the state of America today – it’s plainly not their vision of what the ideal democracy should be.

This is well worth a read, if you have the time or are interested in American history and politics.

Buy End of America, the: Letters of Warning to a Young Patriot Now at Amazon.

Bookshelf: The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats I was a little curious when I saw the title of the movie come out and when I spotted this book on sale I decided to pick it up and satisfy my curiosity.

As it is, I’ve now read the novel before the movie, in fact I’ve only watched half the movie so far. For what it’s worth I don’t think the movie does this book justice at all! In fact the movie is less an adaption of the novel and more of a poor tribute to it.

There’s just so much detail left out and from what I’ve watched so far, it’s really treated entirely as a comedy with little care or attention paid towards the serious, more saddening side. Of course I’ve only seen half so all that may change towards the end of the film, but where I left it just seemed to be getting nowhere near the darker side of the novel.

As for the book, the book is fascinating, immersing, funny and tragic all at the same time. The author carefully leads us through interviews and historical events, offering background and explanation to the occasional bizarre moments that leaked into mainstream press and public consciousness. It also shows a darker, sinister side to the lighter, much joked about moments such as the leaking of torture using Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

Linking all of these events and bizarre military strategies is something that sounds like the plot of a badly concieved B-movie. The First Earth Battalion, brain-child of and army man gone native hippy taking inspiration from the peace movement of the 70’s. The author, Jon Ronson carefully lays out how something that started out as a thought experiment in creating a US army of peaceful warrior monks – bringing love and peace to the conflict zones – became so twisted and corrupted, ending with something a bit like Saw franchise meets X-Files.

Of course, it’s hard to touch on so much material and cover-ups without eventually succumbing to a conspiratorial tone, and towards the end of the book, as the author runs out of leads, there is a slight leaning towards speculation. It doesn’t detract from the novel in any way and after everything else that’s been presented, it doesn’t feel that far reaching. However, it does leave an small opening for sceptics to question the research and sources.

Nevertheless, I felt enlightened after reading the book, since there are so many references to real and tangible historical events, it really makes sense of it all from an inside perspective. It certainly makes you more media aware when looking out for those occasional blunders that make it into the spotlight.

The Men Who Stare at Goats totally belongs on your must-read list, click on the link to buy it now at Amazon.co.uk!

Bookshelf: The Morello Letters

The Morello LettersI recently finished reading The Morello Letters from Monster Publishing.

Jon Snow, who is featured in the book as one of the recipients of RM Morello’s letters is quoted on the cover as saying “The funniest collection of spoof letters I have ever read!” The concept, though not original is always good for a laugh. A typical oddball character writing letters to famous and/or powerful people in order to provoke a response.

Unlike Jon Snow however, I’ve seen it done better, in the form of From Bush to Bush: The Lazlo Toth Letters. If you want to see some hilariously written letters then this is the one to read.

Lazlo Toth Letters: From Bush to BushThe thing is I didn’t find Morello’s letters particularly funny, they were rambling and slightly tedious. However Morello does score above Toth in one area, and that is in the responses.

It could be something to do with the American penchant for litigation, but many of the responses to Lazlo Toth’s letters were formal, sincere and stoic, apparently missing much of the humour, the subtle digs and the opportunity to show they are game for a laugh.

In contrast to Toth’s letters, what I did find surprisingly funny in The Morello Letters was the charm and English wit in some of the replies from departments of major retail chains and the higher echelons of society – if anything this is where this book gets it’s humour.

So if you want genuine tongue-in-cheek comedy and humour at the expense of some VIPs then you should read The Lazlo Toth Letters. If however you want an insight into the classic English wit and witticism that pervades the British culture and spirit, then opt for The Morello Letters.