The Movie Game

Talking at the moviesPeople don’t like movies as much as they like games. At least, that’s what I learned today at a matinee of Lincoln filled with old people. Most of them just go to see how many actors they can name. The people sitting next to me only got two names right: Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones. That’s not quite correct, though: it wasn’t that they only got two names right; they only got two names at all.

For example, every time Joseph Gordon-Levitt was on screen as Lincoln’s eldest, one would say things like, “Isn’t that the guy from…” And then he would trail off, allowing the other to say, “Yeah, he’s the guy…” I wanted to scream, “He’s the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun you idiots, now shut up!” But I feared this would cause them to ask me questions for the rest of the picture.

But for these people and so many more like them, let me clarify. Lincoln was played by the guy from My Left Foot. Mary Lincoln was played by the Flying Nun. Secretary of State Seward was played by the creepy pedophile in Dolores Claiborne, but he’s been in almost every movie you people have seen in the last 20 years. Sol Star from Deadwood and the prison guard from Minority Report played two of Republican operatives. And yes, Mark Twain (Or Deep Throat, take your pick!) played the leader of the conservative Republicans and U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard played Thaddeus Stevens.

Now if I happen to go see Lincoln again, will you all shut the fuck up?!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Copyright Reform

CopyrightBehold: the principled conservatives! Behold how they stand up to powerful interests in the name of free markets and free minds! Behold how they fold like a cheap card table the moment those powerful interests open their mouths!

The House Republican Study Committee released a report on Friday calling for reform of our nation’s intellectual property laws. It presented four very good policy prescriptions. First, statutory damages reform. This would stop the ridiculous practice of granting awards before judgement is made—of up to $150,000 per “infringement.” According to Statutory Damages in Copyright Law: A Remedy in Need of Reform (PDF), the courts have interpreted “willful” infringers in a most liberal way (i.e. in a way that helps corporations and screws everyone else).

Second, the House Republican Study Committee suggested that we expand fair use. Third, they say we should punish false copyright claims. This would curtail the tactic of large companies destroying smaller companies with illegitimate copyright lawsuits. And fourth, they suggest that we limit copyright times.

Anyone who regularly reads me will know that I think these are all very good ideas. I don’t think they are nearly enough, but they are movement in the right direction. So let’s hear it for the House Republican Study Committee!

Or not.

The report had been out less than one day when it was pulled. Paul S. Teller, the House Republican Study Committee director, sent out a memo claiming that the report went out without “adequate review.” What’s more, “Copyright reform would have far-reaching impacts, so it is incredibly important that it be approached with all facts and viewpoints in hand.” What do you think those viewpoints might be? Perhaps the viewpoints of corporate copyright holders who cut big checks to House Republicans? (I’m not suggesting that this isn’t also a huge problem with the Democrats.)

This isn’t a bill. This is just a brief. It’s just information. But the corporate overloads can’t even allow us to talk about such things. Because if we don’t talk about it; we can’t do anything about it. And we really must do something about it, or we will be extending copyright further every few years to stop Micky Mouse from falling into that nasty world called Public Domain. Public baaad! Corporate profits gooood!

Santa Claus, Jesus, and the Great Pumpkin

The Great PumpkinWith the holiday season upon us, I want to discuss Jesus and Santa Claus. And The Great Pumpkin. Jesus is much more like The Great Pumpkin than he is like Santa Claus. The reason is that Santa Claus delivers.

Each Christmas, there is physical evidence of Santa Claus. The cookies and milk disappear. The man shows up in shopping centers—with elves and sometimes reindeer. And most of all: presents arrive in the black of night. But don’t get me wrong: children are skeptical. I remember a couple of things that bugged me. First there was the fact that the whole enterprise seemed too large to get done in one night. And then the presents that Santa’s elves built where often in the same packages they were in at the stores. And we did not have a fireplace. But my mother was an excellent Santa Claus apologist, so it was all good.

Compare this to The Great Pumpkin. Linus waits in that stupid pumpkin patch every year and nothing ever happens. But does this cause Linus to renounce His Pumpkinness for the sham he is? No! Instead he blames himself. There was something wrong with his pumpkin patch or he said the wrong thing that offended The Great Pumpkin. It just couldn’t be that The Great Pumpkin doesn’t exist!

One of the biggest religious developments over the past few millennium is the move from magic to gods, or more to the point: spells to prayer. The reason for this is that magic can be disproved. If you cast a spell meant to ensure a good harvest and the harvest is bad: the spell didn’t work. On the other hand, if you pray to a god for a good harvest and the harvest is bad: it’s not the god’s fault; it clearly didn’t find your request deserving. You will continue to pray hoping to get it right. But that holy man who keeps promising food? You can tell he cares: he’s casting the spell. The problem is that he just isn’t any good. (I will allow that from the spell caster’s perspective, it is exactly the same as the prayer: he’s just not saying the right words or some such.)

And that brings us to Jesus. People pray to him all the time for this or that. They even pray for a good harvest! When there is a good harvest it is clear that prayer works! When there is a bad harvest it is clear that prayer works but also that God works in mysterious ways. This works out really well for Jesus & Co. They get all the credit for good things, none of the blame for bad things, and either way the followers are more convinced than ever in the power of their belief.

Atheists often claim that believing in Jesus is very much like believing in Santa Claus. I think this is a great insult to children who believe in gold ol’ St. Nick. If the cookies started collecting ants and the presents didn’t arrive, how long would 5-year-olds continue to believe in him? In fact, most kids do finally figure out that Santa is just a game. There is too much dissonance in the story—too much that just doesn’t add up.

Surprisingly few theists do the same.

Afterword

The same goes for the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. These are myths who produce the goods! By the way, I think the Tooth Fairy rocks. I mean, a real tooth miner would come in at night and yank the teeth right out of your mouth. But the Tooth Fairy is like a recycler. Very cool!

Also: I found this Christian apologia for why believing in Jesus makes sense when belief in Santa does not, Why do you believe in Jesus but not Santa Claus? In a word, it is pathetic. Most of the arguments aren’t even true in the narrowest of terms. The author states, “The writings concerning Jesus exhibit a historical, cultural, religious, and political context…” This is also true of Santa Claus. Has the man never watched Santa Claus is Coming to Town? But what is most pathetic about the article is that its main argument is, “But Jesus is real and Santa Claus is not!” And that is an argument any 5-year-old could make the other way around. Just because you just know something is true is not evidence for its existence.