Thursday, July 29, 2010

Piracy of the New StarCraft II

I just read a review by Matt Peckham mentioning the lack of free "pirated" versions of the long-anticipated game, StarCraft II, which he sums up as: "PC gaming 1, pirates 0".  In his view, "PC gaming" is pitted against players who want to play, but are resistant to being forced to pay $60 or more, in advance, to a secretive corporation, which is part of an even more secretive, corporate, profit-maximizing conglomerate.

Matt's framing of the issue is typical in the business world: profits and abstractions like "gaming" are what matter, not people like gamers.  The largely unspoken assumption in business is that people buy the better product and the maker of that will profit from producing improvements which people want.

In graduate business schools, students are drilled for years on macro economics scenarios and problems which embed the idea that "What is good for GDP is good for the economy, and what is good for the economy is good for people."  True, some economic activities are good, but focusing on this is a faith-based approach which lacks "first: do no harm" prohibitions against predatory behaviors.  In science and medicine, we seek empirical results for our processes, and falsifying tests for our theories.  You may wonder: "What does this have to do with potholes in Patagonia?"  Glad you asked!  Let's look at an illustrative example of how business and economics assesses a something science and medicine would regard as bad: roads that have fallen into disrepair.

When potholes lead an area's economy to spend more for vehicle repairs, replacement car purchases, loans for those replacements, and hospital visits from related accidents, all economic indicators go up, but especially the "velocity of the money supply".  Savings levels drop and people become more fearful and insecure, but legions of regional consultants, MBA's, and their professors would enthusiastically applaud the improvement in economic  metrics as a boon for the region, with actual people being largely abstracted to a vague existence in a parallel universe governed by trickle-down physics.  In accord with graduate texts on business accounting and finance the economy, unlike real people, is incapable of perceiving suffering or insecurity.  Of course, Microsoft Excel is not meant to measure irrational emotions and feelings like fear, suffering, or pain, nor is the marketing industry's manipulation and deceit meant to inform people, so when one points out that the tools and theories are problematic when applied to the real world, fellow professors, colleagues, and students question one's sanity.  To paraphrase an MBA candidate version of Kick-Ass: 'Trillions of dollars in profits fuel illegal wars around the globe, people  make vast fortunes by causing others to suffer, elite level academia studying business is completely and deliberately blind to it all...and you ask if I'm crazy?'

A couple of nights ago, our family watched  the TOS episode "Patterns of Force", where Spock briefly relates how admired Hitler was when  he produced an economic miracle during the depths of the global Great Depression.  In broad strokes, Adolph put half the unemployed in the military, the other half into military supply industries, and simultaneously pitted everyone against minorities, especially ethnic and religious ones.  He instituted tyrannical control based on threats and fear, and state management and enforcement over anything to do with resources and markets. This is an example of state managed, "really existing markets" which are invisible to fancy graduate schools, and as you read these words, real markets remain unknown to  authors whose thick texts fill backpacks and minds of students around the world.

In the hypothetical "free markets" of Adam Smith, there are not only no secrets, but everyone has 100% perfect information on everything.  In such a free market, I know the downstream birth defects which will occur 10 years from now if I buy and use a cadmium battery today - and I act perfectly rationally upon that perfect knowledge.  Naturally, Smith realized the same thing as nearly everyone else who studies it: this will never happen, and governments interested in justice must protect citizens and society from evils whose roots so often are revealed to be "the love of money".  This may seem even more obvious in micro economics we deal with every day.

Thus, it seems strange that FORCING people to pay in order to experience the culture of their own society is widely considered the right and proper position for good citizens such as Mr. Peckham.  Shouldn't good creativity and hard work be openly and freely rewarded and shared for everyone's benefit?  In the case of StarCraft II, no one from the top executive to the lowest beta tester would lose a cent from free distribution of the game.  Although executives (and leech speculators who contributed nothing) will certainly receive less profit than they might under an enforced monopoly against fair use, is breaking such monopolies really "theft" akin to piracy? 

If my income depends on undemocratic, secretive, tyrannical restriction of what others may do with non-material ideas, art, video, or data that would otherwise be freely available to everyone, and this restriction is accompanied by threats and real aggression (e.g.: legal, violent, extortion, blackmail) calling enforcement of such restrictions a win for "PC gaming" shows a type of profound bias noted mainly in fundamentalist religion.  Refusing to support such tyrannical control by playing a game hardly seems to qualify as stealing or piracy.

Corporate intellectual property laws have made playing certain popular games, producing certain art, singing certain songs, or even learning certain kinds of math illegal.  For those raised with post-WWII beliefs in "the land of the free and the home of the brave", such laws are puzzling: how could such despotism appear here in the U.S. at all, much less become enshrined into law and touted as a victory for "good citizens"?

Those who play, produce, sing or learn without the approval of organizational tyrannies are called (with a straight face) "pirates", unless they pay, sign secrecy contracts or swear loyalty oaths, etc.  To some of the more conservative observers who really believe in free markets, democracy and justice, this perversion of common sense foisted off as a moral good appears astonishing.

Corporate-State capitalism's propaganda runs deep, it seems.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Saber Tooth Peacock Hypothesis

Didn't the T-Rex give us any lessons?  Once thought to be primarily a hunter, it is now considered mostly a scavenger.  Now comes a new analysis of the Sabre-Tooth Tiger suggesting the primary use of beefy forelimbs developed to assist in restraining struggling prey.

It strikes me that it would be much more likely for the saber-tooth to use it's powerful forelegs and fangs for, respectively and primarily, fighting and threat displays isn't it? 

After investing all those calories in growing gigantic teeth, why spend even more hauling big forelimbs at high acceleration in hunting chases when scaring off smaller predators who actually conducted the kill would be so much more efficient?  The primary source of calories for similar big cats in Africa today is via this method after smaller cats like hyenas "bring home the bacon". 

If truly effective for hunting, large teeth such as those of the sabre-tooth and powerful forelimbs would seem best suited only for quick ambushes or very short chases, and sexual differentiation in "upper" body structure could be an important clue in unraveling their competitive advantage which, like the fangs, would seem on first glance more of more evolutionary value in real or symbolic threats against competing males for mating rights and displays for females.

Science and Magic 001

Science is classically defined as both a method for investigation and a body of knowledge or "facts" revealed by a certain method of inquiry.  Perhaps more fundamentally, both of these can be considered a collection of stories with unique characteristics which distinguish science from other narratives.  After having seen the sun come up every morning in the east and travel across the sky, we've all heard the story that this is a sleight of hand on a cosmic scale with a gigantic Earth slowly turning our point of view.  The story goes: after a colossal burst of energy a zillion years ago, gigantic collection of rocks accumulated, tiny bits of life arose and mistook themselves for the center of everything, until Copernicus claimed the Earth moved and rotated, and over the next few hundred years, that story became the most popular.

In the western, European tradition we like to mock "flat-Earthers" who believe(d) that the Earth was flat, but this would overlook the profound, revolutionary benefits of the view to the people who adopted it.  To understand why, we have to look at what makes for good evidence, good explanations, or a good story: the context.

Aspen Music Festival: Music with a View Concert

Distinguished theory and performance teacher provides expert knowledge during " Music with a View "at the Aspen Art Museum