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October 20, 2008 | The Nation

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October 20, 2008

Cover: Cover design by Gene Case & Stephen Kling/Avenging Angels

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Victor Navasky on Paul Newman, Calvin Trillin on Sarah Palin, Robert Daniels on Russian politics

Letters


Mouths Water. Earth Smiles.

Orient, N.Y.

Editorials

Thinking of casting a symbolic vote for Nader or some other third-party progressive? Think again.

Seven years after the US invasion, Afghanistan is still chained to the fundamentalist warlords and the Taliban. Women and children suffer the most.

If only the federal government could be
mobilized to solve the nation's healthcare crisis as quickly as it did
for Wall Street.

There's only one explanation for the pundits who declared Sarah Palin finessed Thursday's debate: A nation of losers sorely needed a redemption narrative.

Remember The Rules, that mean-girl guide to being the object of male desire? That's Sarah Palin. Not that it will do the GOP much good.

He was funny, he was thoughtful, he was committed and, in the end, he was a friend, period.

As America's second Gilded Age fissions around us, we can sense the zeitgeist shift. Are we staring into the abyss of 1929 or heading for a new New Deal?

Nothing brings left and right together like a Big Government intervention on behalf of Big Money.

D.D. Guttenplan on British politics, Nancy Kranich on Banned Books Week

Congress must take control of the failed financial system until a new president can legislate a more permanent and equitable solution.

The Nation bids farewell to one of its greatest friends--actor and activist Paul Newman.

Columns

TruthDig

McCain's not a perfect replica, but Oliver Stone's Bush bio-pic reminds us they're two spoiled screw-ups who divided and conquered the country for their high-rolling pals.

Polititians routinely manipulate Americans' fixation with sports. But Sarah Palin plays an extreme--and disingenuous--version of the game.

Howl

The Dow falls below 10,000. As deflation destroys wealth and unemployment rises, America braces for tough times ahead.

Howl

As the next Congress creates a new regulatory structure for our crippled financial system, job one is breaking Wall Street's grip on capital and credit.

The song of a political visionary--with apologies to Alan Jay Lerner.

That McCain and Palin actually have a shot at the White House gives one pause contemplating the future of this country.

Articles

This can be a transformative election. Will economic meltdown, race or regional loyalty be the trump card?

Are you worried about the election? Do you write haiku? People for the American Way and The Nation invite your entries the McPalin Haiku Hysteria competition.

Rebel. Liar. Attack dog. Bigot. Stefan Forbes's Boogie Man assesses the enduring damage Lee Atwater did to our political process.

As financial markets reel from the US financial crisis and tainted Chinese dairy products are sold around the world, we're learning hard lessons on the limits of globalization.

With a surge of angry e-mail that sent Congressional servers into meltdown, taxpayers stormed their way into the bailout debate.

China is booming, but slouches toward the moral authority needed to inspire a modern, open and prosperous state. Does Confucius hold the key?

GOP loyalists have taken over the Justice Department and retooled the civil rights division as a political weapon.

He may talk tough about Russia, but John McCain's political advisors have advanced Putin's imperial ambitions.

Books & the Arts

Theater

With his new play Kicking a Dead Horse, Sam Shepard is still stranded in a prairie of tough-guy cliché.

Book

Cell biologist Kenneth Miller discusses the dangers of politicized science.

Book

Five authors provide differing views of the post-glasnost era and of the failed promise of democratic reform in Russia.

Book

Laurence Tribe's new book asks us to consider the "invisible" web of ideas that have grown around the text of the Constitution. But who's to say what it contains?

3rd Party Article

Larisa Mann | Capitalism reinvented? Not yet.

Free Association: The Pirate's Dilemma Gets Dissected

Larisa Mann

September 29, 2008

UK music journalist Matt Mason's book, href="http://thepiratesdilemma.com/about-the-book">The Pirate's Dilemma:
How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism
(2008, Free Press),
argues that a culture of rule-breakers can change the shape of our
economy. Mason describes how great developments, like Web 2.0, came from
people breaking the rules (and laws) in order to create something new.
The dilemma: Should those who wrote the rules punish rule-breakers or
learn from them and imitate them? Mason suggests learning and
imitating... most of the time.

The book overflows with fascinating and hilarious stories of exuberant
creativity, including how a nun who ran a foster care home may be the
inventor of disco and how graffiti artist href="http://www.eckounltd.com/">Marc Ecko made himself into a
clothing mogul. The book's middle chapters outline media pirates' many
contributions, and describe how rule-breakers became rule-makers. In the
gaming industry, for example, businesses hire game hackers to add
features. This is in contrast to the tendency for music and film
industries to sue its creative consumers.

Although Mason criticizes the music and film industry's harsh and
archaic RIAA and MPAA actions he doesn't show how the much larger, older
music industry could be transformed and the imitate smaller, leaner
video game outfits.

In The Pirate's Dilemma, people who disobey rules make things
that are sometimes good and often profitable, even though rule-breaking
makes them "pirates." But there's little attention to rule-breaking's
darker side. While Mason praises the Indian government's decision to
ignore patents and make affordable pharmaceutical drugs, we don't hear
about how some of these companies also href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/booster_shots/2008/09/fda-issues-
warn.html">distributed diluted or contaminated medicines. Mason
doesn't explain what circumstances make it acceptable for rules to be
broken.

While he commands an impressive knowledge of youth and pop culture, his
cheerleading tone can be grating at times. Along with skimming over the
downsides of rule-breaking and overstating piracy's significance, the
repeated description of haircuts that "changed the world" rings hollow
for those of us who think about revolution in terms of overturning
hierarchies of power.

Although pirates are credited with increasing equality, democracy and
freedom of speech, Mason doesn't explain what's to stop piracy from
being co-opted into yet another marketing scheme. In another critical
oversight, his prescription for how to build a pirate-style economy
fails to explain where the money will come from in the first place.
Without a change in the current distribution of money and power, how
will the economy change and allow a new generation of creative thinkers
to get their start?

Overall, the book does not sufficiently explore how reinvented
capitalism will lead to a better society. In a paean to the "punk
capitalist" American Apparel, Mason writes that the company's higher
wages are part of the company's punk rock attitude. But what about
holding wet T-shirt href="http://clamormagazine.org/issues/38/aa/straub.php">contests
and the owner having href="http://www.tmz.com/2008/05/30/american-apparel-employee-my-boss-is
-a-jerk-off/">sexual relations with his young female employees?
Unions have fought for higher wages for many years; I'm not sure how
that makes them "punk rock." And wet T-shirt contests or the boss
fooling around with the staff doesn't seem so punk rock to me.

Mason holds up American Apparel
and Bono's Red Campaign as
examples of a new kind of business, but are they really changing the
rules of the game?

My uneasiness with some of Mason's arguments is deepened by the book's
bizarre interpretation of a RAND Corporation href="http://tinyurl.com/3n7z6g">study forecasting the future of
employment. Mason suggests that the future dominance of temporary or
freelance employment is a sign that people are choosing freedom and
flexibility over steady full-time work.

But where is the evidence that workers are choosing these jobs?
Aren't corporations pushing these jobs, so they don't have to provide
health care, retirement plans or steady employment? How likely is it
that most workers in this new economy would be freelance entrepreneurs
who can afford their own (or their family's) health care?

Throughout the book, Mason's definition of success keeps shifting until
it's hard to know what's really important to the argument. When P. Diddy
makes a bad video on YouTube, and someone named Lisa Nova makes an
entertaining response, her success is being "the queen of YouTube for
the next five minutes." But is Diddy sharing his profits because of
this? Can Lisa Nova now afford to go to college or start a business?

The last chapter passionately argues that the pirates who use this new
technology are a force corporations must reckon with. Part promise and
part threat, Mason believes that the pirates' challenge to business as
usual will simultaneously be both more productive and force capitalism
to become more humane.

Unfortunately, we don't see how humanity or fairness is central to these
challenges. It's long been true that a few individuals from the
oppressed side of the tracks can occasionally succeed with a combination
of luck, skill, brains and help. But if those folks just end up on top
in the same old exploitative system, how are we better off?

Although I would like to believe otherwise, Mason's profit argument is
more convincing than the equality argument. Without more of a focus on
real equality and power sharing, incorporating pirates into capitalism
just perpetuates exploitation and increases profits at the top.

It would be nice to think that Mason's href="http://thepiratesdilemma.com/speaking-consulting">popularity
in the new business lecture circuit is a sign that things are changing,
but without more serious proof that deeper social change is integral to
his arguments, it's still business as usual.

Larisa Mann writes about technology, media and law for
WireTap, studies Jurisprudence and Social Policy at U.C. Berkeley
and djs under the name Ripley. She is a resident DJ at href="http://www.suryadub.com">Surya Dub, San Francisco, and
collaborates with the Riddim Method blog-DJ-academic crew, Havocsound
sound system, and various other cross-fertilizing organisms in the Bay
Area and worldwide.

The precursor for young people's new media may be found in three decades of community radio.

Crossword

From the February 28, 1948, issue.


ACROSS

1 Change the action, if you want to get into an argument. (11)

9 See 6 down