Category Archives: History

Can pirates lead a pricing revolution?

Who else? The number of multi-media “pirates” seem to be growing in number so fast that within the next five years a vast majority of media consumers will have joined their “revolution”. Is this really what it means to be a pirate? Yes, although I doubt the title matters, actually, other than to describe the phenomenon of the public resisting price-fixing and over-charging by giant media companies.

The big problem was that everyone, except the media companies themselves, seemed to know that manufacturing and distributing music and video was far below the graft-full $15 to $50 that the moguls want to charge. But for some reason the guys making all the money weren’t about to let the market function rationally (similar to petroleum companies?) since they knew that they had crafted “exclusive distribution rights” to the source material — a giant stick called digital rights and copyright law that they could beat consumers over the head with. Imagine a king saying to the peasants “what do you mean I don’t deserve to own all this land by virtue of birth?” Well, the essential problem is that the labels, even with their giant lobby groups and lawyers, are essentially working against human nature. Remember when American politicians used to say that the USSR could never survive because it was an artificial construct that could never overcome human nature? Yeah, well, when everyone in the world thinks your model is ready to be torn apart, I guess the king had better start thinking about letting the castle walls down before the crowds become unruly — find a way to form their own system of self-rule.

From that perspective I give you news that Warner Brothers has decided to sell DVDs for $1.50:

Warner Home Video has begun trial sales in China of a movie DVD priced at just Rmb12 ($1.50), a move likely to anger consumers in developed markets such as Europe and the US, who typically pay $20-$30 for a recently released film on DVD.[…] “This is a first step to see if the consumer can accept this product at this price,” Ms Hu said, adding that it was too early to judge the results of the experiment.

The article blames “loose enforcement of intellectual property laws” in China, but that’s just another way of saying that the life of pirates has become more popular than a life of the indentured servant. My guess is that the surveys say 10 out of 10 people do not want to have to pay an excessive use-tax without representation for everything they do and enjoy, whether that money goes to a king or a company.

Suicide before death

Did Clausewitz really say that?

I saw an author quoted him this morning in reference to blowback from US intervention, given the fact that directed foreign regime change is often said to have disasterous consequences. It’s an interesting comment with regard to international security and conflict, but it brings Masada and the Roman empire to mind more than Clausewitz.

Anyway, here’s a thrilling read by Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., USA (Ret) titled Clausewitz: Eastern and Western Approaches to War.

…the American Vietnam-era military did not “know itself.” Within its ranks a vacuum existed on Western approaches to war. The American military has never been noted for its attention to the theories and philosophies of war. If there ever was an American philosopher of war, it was Antoine Henri, Baron de Jomini, who was particularly influential in the Civil War. His concentration on fixed rules and geometric and algebraic formulas became so pervasive that in 1869 then Commanding General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman warned the graduating class at the United States Military Academy against the “insidious and most dangerous mistake” that one could “sit in ease and comfort in his office chair and … with figures and algebraic symbols, master the great game of war.”

Seems to be working in Iraq though, no?

Summers goes on to conclude, with regard to the Vietnam War…

It was not so much that American commanders read the wrong book on the art and science of war as it was that, in too many cases, they had read no such book at all.

Of contract negotiation, cryptography, and camels…

Saudi Aramco has a fascinating review of the history and significance of poetry in the Horn of Africa:

Somalia did not possess a written language until 1973, when the Latin alphabet was put to Somali phonetics; until then, people who wanted songs and words in their heads had to either memorize someone else’s or compose their own. […] The verses are learned by ear, for a Somali proverb says that “he who looks at paper never becomes a memorizer,” and the skills of listening and repeating are gradually applied to the creation of poetry. Part of the training thereafter is informal.

“I can remember the evening bonfires around which the children would gather,” says Dr. Ahmed Artan Hanghee, dean of the Institute of Arts under the Somali Academy of Science and Arts. “The storytellers would come and start recounting the past history of the clan. Then the poets would take over and entertain. The rules of poetry have never been written; they are just absorbed and understood.”

Real poetry is so common that it can fly completely below the radar of our daily lives. It is subtle yet significant and we sometimes only notice its role and complex structure after it is gone. I’ll spare you my ramblings on poetry as a form of language ecology for now, though. The article continues:

But that doesn’t make them easy. Classical poetry, considered the domain of the nomads and the purest form of the language, is lengthy in presentation and strict in style. There are stringent rules of meter and of alliteration, compounded by metrical counts that vary with the length of syllables. Thus the length of its vowel determines whether a syllable counts as either one or two moras, or units. Classical poetry must have 20 to 22 moras per line, as well as a pause after the 12th unit and two words per line that share the same initial letter. In Somali, the first two lines of the poem on page 33 are:

Inta Khayli dhuugyaha cas iyo, dheeh wiyil ah qaatay.

E dhallaanka Aadnigu u baxo, sidatan lay dhawray.

A second style of poetry, called anigarar, has 17 to 18 moras per line, and four other genres employ successively decreasing numbers of units, down to five per line. Woman poets compete in a separate genre of their own called buranbur, with similarly precise rules.

The words are metaphorical, rarely direct, Hanghee says. Most poetry contains the symbol of the camel, which can embody the notions of beauty, woman, provider of life, food, fragile temperament or freedom, or the ideal of nationhood.

“Somali poets talk in the abstract,” says Hanghee. “You’ll find one describing the beauty of a camel, but what he really means is Somali liberty and independence. Or the subject of the poem might be a horse, but he’s really describing the woman he loves. The waves of the Indian Ocean become the waves of decolonization and the freeing of Africa.”

This might seem like a stretch, but I don’t see a lot of dissimilarity to negotiating terms of engagement with giant companies.

We all hunch around the conference bridge using words that are rarely direct. We banter about or offer competing visions of security that can only be described metaphorically. And perhaps like working with nomadic herdsmen in the Horn of Africa, it is a perpetual challenge to bring security experts to agree on single sheet of paper that they feel does not restrict their future desire(s) while still honors their pride and heritage. You’ll find one describing the beauty of a control, but what s/he really means is consumer liberty and independence…

Stanislav Evgrafovich Petrov Day

I agree with Cosmic Variance that there should be an international Stanislav Evgrafovich Petrov Day to celebrate human reasoning. Those with the most compassion and experience (call it intelligence, if you must) seem the least likely to jump to false conclusions, and therefore are worthy of recognition for the hugely beneficial role they play in modern society. The Wikipedia explains:

Stanislav Evgrafovich Petrov (Russian: СтаниÑ?лав Евграфович Петров) (born c. 1939) is a retired Russian Army colonel who, on September 26, 1983, averted a potential nuclear war by refusing to believe that the United States had launched missiles against the USSR, despite the indications given by his computerized early warning systems. The Soviet computer reports were later shown to have been in error, and Petrov is credited with preventing World War III and the devastation of much of the Earth by nuclear weapons. Because of military secrecy and international policy, Petrov’s actions were kept secret until 1998.

It only stands to reason that if President Bush were really interested in the study of history, a compassionate person, or a seasoned leader, he probably never would have invaded Iraq based on flimsy and falsified evidence.