eBooks and Collusion

This week, Apple Inc. went on trial in Federal Court in the Department of Justice’s lawsuit again collusion in the electronic book (eBook) market.

When Apple launched their eBook application with the iPad, part of the deal that they made with the publishers was that in order to be in their bookstore they had to give Apple the lowest price across the web. This would be a fairly typical argument for a leader to demand better pricing; Walmart does this type of tactic frequently with hard lines goods.

What happened next was that the publishers all went to an ‘agency model’ for selling their books, essentially setting the pricing themselves.
Steve Jobs suggested this to the publishers as a way to get around the situation where Amazon.com was undervaluing their books as loss leaders to sell Kindle devices.

The DOJ sued, saying that Apple and the published “colluded” to drive up prices on eBooks. What has come out in testimony thus far is a different story, even from the DOJ’s own witnesses.

Apple wanted the best deal, and the publishers wanted the higher price point. As a result, they moved to this model as it made business sense to support what it costs to produce a book.

When someone buys a book, the cost is not in the paper and cardboard and shipping, but rather the cost is the words of the author, the intellectual property, and marketing. Consumers were expecting ‘extreme markdown’ on books because they weren’t touching something, but getting it on their screen. In the Internet, all information “should be free” according to some. People have to get paid, and be compensated for their work, and the payments for books, whether hardcopy or electronic, is how that happens.

All of the publishers settled when the charges came through from the DOJ, but Apple would not settle, stating they would not even insinuate they had guilt. As it has been rolling out this week, Apple is looking less guilty than when the week began.

Was their collusion? Maybe. So if Apple is looking at the surface innocent, why did the lawsuit continue when the publishers settled? I believe it is politics, and a political maneuver right out of the Obama playbook. There were two scenarios that could go down:

Scenario 1: DOJ drops the suit since publishers have settled. The Obama administration is accused of play favorites with Apple.

Scenario 2: DOJ keeps going, and Apple is ultimately vindicated. DOJ
Given the two options, the less political fall out is in Scenario 2, where Apple comes out observed of any “paper” guilt, and Obama doesn’t risk political capital; important given all the fake controversies that have cropped up in the prior few weeks.

So the publishers have settled, eBook prices have settled into a pricing realm that balances consumer demand with the need to compensate authors and publishers, and this all seems so pointless at this point.

Religious Evolution

There probably isn’t a more sensitive subject in the entire world than that of religion. It has driven acts of kindness, and acts of war, since the beginning of time. It drives love, anger, judgement against others. Usually, however, it is used to drive a wedge between people, justify discrimination and mistreatment of others, and the further segregation of people as a society based on a belief set.

Even amongst some people of the same religion, there is animosity if you believe in slightly different interpretations of that religion. Let’s take Christianity as our example; Catholics, Episcopalians, Protestants, Baptists, Congregationalists, and others have slightly different views of their faith, and they judge and separate themselves from members of other faiths.

The judgement against *other* religions is even more prevalent in recent years in the United States and Europe. It was a problem before, but after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City in September, 2001, it came to a fevered pitch as people began targeting all Muslims. It settled down for a bit it most areas, but with the recent bombing in Boston it has really boiled over.

I have seen comments all over the Internet since the bombing that make me question the judgement of humanity in general. In some instances, people have proposed dropping the deceased body of one of the bombers out of a plane over “whatever country he came from”, and they have proposed that we throw the suspect who is alive into a gulag for the remainder of his life, or until we can… well, I won’t repeat some of the things I’ve seen suggested we do without due process of a court of law.

I’m not defending the suspected bomber; I’m simply saying that as an American citizen, he is entitled to due process under law. I try to make judgements on people’s innocence or guilt based on the court of public opinion, as the media skews towards ratings rather than truth… but I know as well as anyone that innocent people don’t flee from police while throwing bombs out of a car as if they are a Batman villain, nor do they run over their own brother in the attempt to flee.

I hear people claim to be good Christians, but then want to torture someone. No matter what bad a person does, Jesus taught that his followers should be better than those who do wrong. Everyone claims the US was founded on “Christian” principles (which isn’t true, but that’s a completely different topic), but if it true, then we should follow those teachings.

Here is the reality. We are a secular country which believes in justice, liberty, freedom, and taking the higher ground than others. When I hear “they would do this to us…” all I can think is, “yes, they might, but we won’t because we are better than that.” Comic books have higher moral authority than some people in the United States that claim to be on the side of patriotism; Batman always refuses to kill, no matter how heinous someone is.

Unfortunately to the detriment of society, these types of religious persecutions and overtly judgmental thinkings rule over the country. People use their “faith” to justify discrimination against those who don’t believe what they believe. It’s time to realize that these religious beliefs, while full of good potential, damage society more than it helps now.

Thousands of years ago, religion was critical. Those who knew better needed a way to get people to do the right things. Some things, like the restrictions on pork, were probably driven more by common sense and the need to help stupid people not do stupid things… after all, eating a pig in a desert climate probably isn’t the smartest thing to do. When a child acts up, the parents take their toys away. Since there were no toys, they used a vengeful god as a way to keep order.

No modern religion can be exactly right, especially since most were created during a time of much less enlightenment than we have today. When most religions were in their cradles, people thought the Earth was flat, that it revolved around the sun, and they didn’t know why the sun went away and why the moon arrived. The holy books are stories, parables, and myths; they aren’t literal.

As we stand here in 2013, we know more about the world than we ever could have imagined in 1913, so imagine how people in 1913 felt about their knowledge gap between then and a thousand years in the past. Man had learned to fly, but would he realize that in a hundred years people would be traveling across the world in hours, or that we could chat face to face with people in different hemispheres in real time without leaving our homes?

Religions must either adapt or go away. I would make the following as a list of critical initial steps for religions to be permitted to stay in place:

  • No religion is better than another. It is simply your faith.
  • No one is born into a religion. It is faith, not heritage. While you may believe what you parents believe, children and adults alike should be *encouraged* to seek out their own paths and their own faiths.
  • No one knows the “true word of God”, if there is a God. Stop assuming you know better than anyone else what the man in the clouds thinks.
  • Stop making children stupid. The Earth is not 6,000 years old, and that number is missing quite a few zeroes. Stop perpetuating stupidity.
  • Additionally, stop telling children that humans and dinosaurs lived side by side.
  • You can disagree regarding the concept of God, but not the concept of science. Evolution is wildly considered “fact” even though it is a “theory” because of how the science community words things.
  • Climate change is real. Yes, I know… it is confusing because for a long time people kept calling it “Global Warming” and it was causing extreme cold in addition to extreme heat, and your religion didn’t teach you the difference between climate and weather. That’s why people realized it has to be called “climate change” instead.
  • Environmentalists, while mostly nutty to an extreme, are not wrong in many regards. Religion lives “in the environment” as much as you or I do, and I like to… well… breath.

Let’s start with these common sense points first. Once religion has mastered these, we can move forward to more. Or just realize that treating others well shouldn’t have to be written in a book with the threat of eternal damnation. Most of us have around seventy years on this planet, some much less. Embrace your fellow man and do what is right because it is how you would want to be treated, and not because you think you’re going to spend eternity in a gold-lined house in the clouds.

Shades of Grey and American Exceptionalism (…at Not Understanding Them)

50 Shades of Grey. American’s have read this book at an exceptionally high rate. This is despite the fact that it is a poorly written soft-core porn novel inspired by an even more insipid series of books. It does show, however, that American’s know the term of “shades of grey” despite a complete inability to comprehend the portion of the phrase that directs nuance into your thoughts.

As a people, American’s seem to be insistent on choosing sides. There can never be shades of grey, and instead everything must be defined as black and white. In recent decades, this has become even more pronounced. When it isn’t black and white, it is blue and red. Even in elections, there are ‘purple’ states, but no one really describes them that way.

When it comes to elections, everything is about the battle and the battleground states. The winner of those states gets to declare that state “in their side” for the next four years. Ohio is a blue state for the next 4 years, despite the fact that it remains purple, has an extreme-right Republican governor (Kasich), and has a variety of political leanings depending on the segment of the state. Conversely, my home state of Connecticut has a strong blue leaning. I understand that things can be one way, another, or somewhere in the middle.

This is even more evident when it comes to issues like abortion. You are either “pro-life” or “anti-life” if you are on one side, or “pro-choice” or “anti-choice” if you are on the other side. There is no room in the argument for grey. For example, perhaps someone is “pro-choice” in the first and second trimester of the pregnancy, but might be against it if you’ve carried to the third trimester when it is more “life” and less “life-prospective goo”. Sometimes the most pro-life person might be for abortion when it is determined that the child will have an extremely painful and short life and that it would be inhumane to give birth to the child.

This brings me to the most active discussion in our world right now, gun control. I’ll probably say some things here that many won’t agree with, but it is my right to think them. The most troubling thing people will have problems with is the simplest; I am for gun control and against it simultaneously.

Now, you’ll ask me, “but Skyler, how can you can for and against the same thing?” The answer is fairly simple, that I view it more as shades of grey in the issue. I don’t think everyone should have a gun, nor do I think it should be easy to get a gun. However, if you are a sportsman hunter, I don’t see any issue with you having a rifle. I favor closing the gun show loophole, but also believe that people should be able to pick up a hunting rifle the morning they want to go on their hunt.

These variances are actually easier to manage than people may realize, and it comes down to the capabilities of the gun. Rifles should be hunting and sportsman rifles, and high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic firearms should not be available to the general public. Handguns are understandable if you live in a dangerous neighborhood, but they should be limited to 6-bullet capacity types.

The biggest argument is that criminals will obtain guns if they want them, no matter how many controls that are put in place. They’re right. However, if you are limiting production of these weapons to low-capacity firearms, than the ability to shoot up a school becomes much more limited with the firearms available.

If you aren’t in the military, you don’t need weapons designed to take down massive numbers of people. If you aren’t in the national guard, you don’t need semi-automatic weapons to defend the homeland. We’re talking about personal protection and hunting, not building an army.

The Second Amendment of the United States Congress reads as follows:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Everyone wants to pretend the know what the “founding fathers” meant by things within their documents, including the constitution. First, no one can understand this except for what they’ve written. Second, I don’t give a rat’s ass what they think now. As smart as they were, the world was a much different world than it is now. They never conceived of things like iPads, telephones, computers, cotton gins, steam engine trains, or automatic weapons.

Even understanding that we can’t know for certain what they would say today regarding various topics, including gun control, what we do know is one thing simple. The Second Amendment clearly states “a well regulated militia…” and people are not a militia. An army, a national guard, these things are militias. If you think you have a militia, you’re probably in violation of federal law, so you might to stop that now.

I can tell you one thing I am fairly certain the founding fathers of the US would think. They would decry our reactionary way in which we pass laws and regulations. When we are attacked by a small group of terrorists, the immediate reaction is that we all have to take our shoes off in airports and be photographed simulated-naked. That attack also gave us the Patriot Act, something that has depleted more rights than anything else in the history of the country.

When a shooting occurs, the reaction shouldn’t be to immediately ban all guns, and the reaction shouldn’t be to start arming every teacher in the country. We should take a slow, meaningfully discussed conversation on the topic and come to a conclusion as a people that moves us forward as a society. I understand shootings are tragic, but they are also rare. Not as rare as they should be, but they are rare.

In 2010, 90 people died every day in deadly car accidents on average. A lot of them are invariably children. Most are caused by alcohol or speeding. We know lowering the speed limit means less fatalities. We know the faster we go on the interstate, the more likely people are to die. People still speed, and complain when an officer of the peace pulls them over, acting as if it is an inconvenience. We don’t have a move to a temperance movement, and we don’t hear people saying “let’s get those speed limits back down to 55.” You have to ask yourself, should you? If your immediate reaction to tragedy is to pass draconian regulations, then everyone should be as concerned about every accidental death that occurs.

We get so bogged down in the black or white of the arguments, we forget it’s about the betterment of society. We have people falling on the side of 55 MPH or 65 MPH, when we could just settle as 60 MPH. We have people who are so staunchly pro-life they believe there is never an argument for it. People believe that they should arm everyone or no one when a shooting occurs.

I’m not going to lie. When the Newtown, CT shooting occurred, I cried. It is probably one of the most tragic things to ever happen in our country. To have such young children have their lives needlessly cut short is horrendous. Let’s change the world, let’s make it better. Let’s to it in a tempered, even handed way, and think about the shades of grey in the world. Let’s remember it’s about people; our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Let’s talk about it like reasonable people, let’s not insult each other for differing opinions, and let’s bring ourselves together.

My Voice

I have decided that I need to find my voice, and that the voice needs to reflect here. As a result, I will begin posting at least three times per week in long form, and at least one commentary per day on this blog.

The posts I will be providing may not be long, but they will be aligned with my voice, and this blog’s purpose. This blog highlights politics, technology, and observations on life in general.

Walmart Lot

It is very much intriguing to walk through a Walmart parking lot on a lark, just killing time. As you walk down, you notice the run down cars with Romney Ryan bumper stickers, and you have to wonder what is going through the minds of these people when they decide to put these stickers on their cars.

I truly do believe that they think Mitt Romney is looking out for their best welfare, and not the welfare of himself and his friends.

It’s Time for the Phone to End

When the telephone was invented in 1876 (we’ll go by the patent date) it heralded a new wave of communication within the United States and the world. As time went on, the telephone became more and more advanced; it began getting features such as self-switching, touch tone, voice mail, caller id, and more. Then it went entirely wireless and “cellular”. In 2007, the telephone changed again with the release of the Apple iPhone.

Now, communication can be done in a multitude of ways, including both active communication (calling someone) and passive communication (texting, email). We have both, and now is the time for the “phone” portion to come to an end, at least as we know it.

When you text me, it is a commitment to respond back in 160 characters or less, and there is no expectation it will be absolutely immediate. However, when you call me, there is an implied expectation that I will answer the phone. It is an immediacy of communication that is being requested. It is also, in this day of constant communication forms, extremely presumptuous.

When my phone rings, I look at the Caller ID and see who is calling. Some people have special ringtones if it is someone I talk to frequently; those same people will have special texting chimes as well. When you call, you are basically saying that whatever I am currently doing is less important than what it is you want. You don’t know what I am doing right now, but whatever it is must be less important than whatever it is you want.

So does that mean someone should never call? Absolutely not, but it is about the timing of such calls. Send me an email or a text, asking me when a good time to talk would be. Check my calendar, and put an invite on the calendar. (If you are inviting me, please make the calendar entry appropriate to the length of time you need to talk. if it is a fifteen minute conversation, don’t schedule an hour.)

Most things people want are short. Most can be answered in 160 characters or less, and if they can, why not text instead of call? I don’t want to commit to a telephone conversation which will involve huge amounts of niceties during a work week when I have a thousand things going on, and I don’t want to commit to having a discussion about meaningless things like the weather when I have a stack of work to do.

Some would say that our short communications are the downfall of civilized conversation. I would say that it puts it into perspective. I can still talk to you, but when we run out of things to say, I don’t have to make small talk or try to get you off the phone. There is a time and a place for our long phone conversations, and Tuesday at 2:00 PM isn’t it.

I Used To Be Political

There was a time, many years ago, when I considered myself 'political'. Over the years, I have fallen away from my politics, and the need to ingest it all up. Probably the primary reason was the constant indigestion it was causing in recent years. 

In the 90s when I was in high school, I considered myself a moderate left leaning centrist; I was, by pure definition, a Clinton supporter. However, I also looked back at great presidents from the past, and I am including Nixon into this mix who despite his many failings, still pushed a 'progressive' agenda such as implementing the Environmental Protection Agency. As I've aged, I've done was people usually do the opposite of. I have moved further left.

As I look around the world, I see the problems. I analyze them, think about them, and let them stew in my overactive brain. In each and every time that I do this, I come up with the same conclusion each time. The conclusion is that we live in a greedy, self-serving society that would rather cast away the lessers of us than to support them, foster them, and help them grow personally and economically.

Not everyone in the world has the same potential. We tell kids that "you can be anything you want" but they can't. There are barriers in life, be they economic and educational. Some people just aren't as smart as others, some are not as ambitious, and some are just always thinking outside of the box instead of conforming. I put myself into the latter category. I can't seem to fit myself into the proverbial box, no matter how much I try. When I think about the things I do in life, and trying to be "more American", I just can't do it. I can't be as greedy, manipulative, and devious as others. This is simply not a set of traits that I posses.

As I think about that, and the fact that when I was a child growing up in the 80s, I looked up to people like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and admired fictional characters like Dan Fielding from Night Court. Now as I look back on that, I see it as it was. It was pure indoctrination, designed to move us towards those greedy ideals that would eventually push the country into the second largest economic decline in its history.

As we have a group of people with money and power leading us towards one direction, those of us who refuse to buy into this notion try to push the other direction. Unfortunately, and this is the crux of the problem, the people who push in progressive directions are too nice to those who are trying to push us towards selfishness. Instead of having the balls to say "NO!", they instead try to seek consensus, which apparently they believe means to give the other side whatever they want, regardless of your true ideals.

It is time for a progressive rising, and for those people on the left to rise up against the aggressors to common sense and the good will of all mankind. We want fairness, they want it all. We want good health for everyone, they want to limit health to those with the ability to pay.

The irony of the political process, and the reason why we have so many problems, is that the people who purport to believe in the kinds of things like fairness and helping the poor are also the same people fighting for the side of greed. The problem with those people is that they are either greedy as well, and don't believe the things they preach, or they are too stupid and are being manipulated by the powers with the money and media control. After all, if you believe in a virgin birth, talking burning trees, and an elderly man that collected two of every animal on Earth despite not being anywhere near many of the animals that existed, then they are stupid enough to believe antyhing being thrown at you by those with the wherewithal to manipulate them.

It's time for progressives to stand up and count off. Be vocal, be here and now, and fight against those who would rather everything go to the upper 1% rather than the rest of us. The conservatives are right about one thing, and that it is class warfare! Except they mischaracterize it. They claim it is about 'redistribution of wealth', which is correct. The difference in theory is the direction of that redistribution, and the fact that they are pushing our money, the people's money, to the wealthiest Americans.

It's nearly one month into the Republican controlled house. Where are the jobs, John Boehner?