User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: January 2012

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Let's Fight to Stop SOPA

No doubt, Perry Mason would be shocked by the grab act that Hollywood studios are trying to pull with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) as they attempt to put the genie in the bottle and knock their old material off the web so they can force you to pay to watch it.

Over the last week many of you probably heard about a controversy brewing in intellectual property law.  While this dry field usually doesn't serve up much fodder to the popular press, protests by large websites such as Google and Wikipedia have helped bring the issue to the fore.  They say we should tell Congress not to censor the Internet.

So what is all the fuss about?  SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act will have a chilling effect on bloggers as well as companies like Blogger and You Tube that post links to content posted by others.  If SOPA becomes law, copyright holders can have websites shut down and their operators hauled into court if they post links to copyrighted material that was placed online without the copyright holder's consent.

So what is wrong with that.  Shouldn't Hollywood movie studios and recorded music companies have the right to control distribution of content that they own?  They will have you believe that without SOPA they are defenseless from interlopers making money off their property.  Well, they are not defenseless.  they have currently have recourse under the current online piracy law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). 

One key difference between DMCA and SOPA is that under DMCA, copyright holders have the right to write a website and demand that they remove unauthorized copyrighted material.  The holder has to describe the specific material that they have objections to.  More importantly, the website that is being asked to remove the material has the benefit of a "safe harbor" provision, which allows them to remove the material and escape legal liability.  This link from the US Copyright Office provides more information on DMCA.

Under SOPA legal liability attaches as soon as the offending material or links to the offending material are posted.  So basically SOPA gets rid of the safe harbor and the opportunity for websites to comply with the wishes of copyright holders without penalty.

So why is it so difficult for websites to comply with copyright law?  Basically it is not always clear that the material has an enforceable copyright.  For instance, the original "Night of the Living Dead" movie carries a copyright bug, but it is nonetheless in the public domain.  Before the current law came out, which extends copyrights for 100 years, they lasted for a relatively short time unless the holders renewed them.  And back in the old days when the only way you could see a movie was to go to the theater or through broadcast TV, material lost its commercial value quickly after it was no longer being shown.  That's because the public had no way of getting access to it, save by buying a 16 millimeter movie reel at a fairly high cost.  So the holders allowed the copyrights to lapse on things like old horror movies because they had no way of making money off them.

Secondly, even if the material has a good copyright, it is not always clear that it is online without the tacit or explicit permission of the holder.  For instance, musicians commonly make available for free a few songs on their websites to get the public interested in buying other tracks that are only available for a fee.  Another example is pornography, which is probably the most prevalent motion picture material available on the web today.  Adult movie studios routinely post abbreviated versions of their movies online in order to help sell the full-length versions.

So, whether you have a blog and want to link to an interesting You Tube movie or you are just a web surfer who wants to see an old Betty Boop cartoon from the 1930s or the original Diver Dan episode, you have an interest in stopping SOPA.

So write your congressman and tell him not to censor the web.

By the way, here is a link to a Betty Boop cartoon'  Here is the Diver Dan promo

(By the way, if this sounds like it was written by a lawyer, I let one previously unknown fact about me slip.  I am a member of the New Jersey bar and graduated in 1999 from Rutgers School of Law - Camden.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

When You Expect Your Adversary to Play by Your Rules, You Loose

The US and Britain pretty much play by the same rules.  We believe in cooperation among allies.  We expect our allies to back up up during wartime.  Also, we believe in fair play.  Once an enemy surrenders, we stop attacking and begin post-war reconstruction.

Turn the clock back almost 70 years to 1945.  After Germany was defeated the US, British and Russian leaders met at Potsdam to discuss the post-war world.  The US and Britain who were still fighting Japan asked Stalin to declare war on Japan.

In the minds of Truman and Churchill, what we expected was Russia to attack the Japanese in China, which would destroy the last remaining large Japanese troop concentrations and hopefully cause the Emperor and his generals to see the reality of defeat and surrender without an invasion of Japan proper.

The Russians of course had different ideas.  They held off on attacking China until August 1945, when the war was almost over.  After the Japanese surrendered, the Russians kept on attacking the Japanese in China.  By the time the Russians stopped their offensive at the end of August, they controlled half of Korea, all of Manchuria and a good chunk of China itself.  This provided a convenient Communist bastion from which Chairman Mao was able to carry on the Chinese Civil War and eventually conquer the whole country.  It also allowed a Communist state to be set up in North Korea.

Because we were played as patsies by Stalin we are still stuck with the aftermath.  Two decades after the fall of the USSR, we still have to deal with a Communist China which is growing more powerful by the day.  We had to fight the Korean War and are still stuck with North Korea, which has nuclear weapons and is just as dangerous as ever.

The worst mistake we can make with our enemies like Iran or frendemies like China is that they think like us.  What we must do is look out for our self interests.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Where Mass isn't Boring

Our Lady of Guadaloupe is the patron saint of Mexico.  Certainly this would be an odd choice for a stained glass window in circa 1900 Trenton.  Over 100 years later, this choice has become extremely relevant at Immaculate Conception on Chestnut Ave.

After a couple years of blowing off Sunday mass, I decided to begin participating in the Catholic church again.  As anyone who isn't fanatical about Catholicism knows, mass at most places is boring.  What you usually get on Sunday is a church that is three-quarters empty and where the average age of a congregant is about 70 or 80.  Wow, you can hang out with a few people that really need the product the priest is selling - a trip to heaven.

Such is the case at St. Joachim's on Bayard Street.  They have a nice Romanesque sanctuary, which is a real rarity - most churches built before World War II were Gothic in design.  Very small and homey.  But the problem is that the parishioners have been dropping off like flies and the number of grey heads in the pews has dropped off noticeably since I stopped going a few years ago.  Also, the priests are even older than the congregants, so you got the 90 year olds preaching to the 70 year olds.  Anyone up for a senior citizen pot luck supper?  Not me.

On Christmas Day, I got up late and went to 12:00 mass instead of 11:00. In Trenton this means you have to pick your language, and that language will be something other than English.  Now let's see, do you want Polish or Spanish, or perhaps Korean.  At first I thought that hanging out with the foreigners for Sunday worship would be something akin to going for root canal therapy.

For me, the choice was fairly easy.  While the Poles look like me, I don't understand one lick of Polish, so I went with Immaculate Conception on Chestnut Ave. for Spanish mass.  When I went there I noticed a few things, the first being that the people who picked out the stained glass windows over a century ago made an appropriate choice for today which they would not have imagined at the time the windows were installed.

Yep.  There she was in the middle position on the church's North side.  Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, which is now located in a church full of Mexicans and Guatemalans.  There was another notable thing about this congregation.  The pews were full- a packed house in a large Gothic church, and they were full of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s with children in tow.  What do you know, a live congregation.

Now, a you may know, I started a new job on in the economics and statistics section at the Labor Department.  Where my old job involved writing about the economy, my new job involves being a resource person for our statistics.  As a statistical expert, I know a few things about the Hispanic population which explains what is going on at Imaculate.  For one thing, Hispanics have an extremely high birth rate.  While non-Hispanic whites in the state now have a birth rate below that needed to replace losses due to death and outmigration, the Hispanic population is growing faster than either Blacks or Asians, and most of the growth is due to natural increase rather than immigration.  Yes it is true they breed like rabbits, or at least the Irish Americans I remember from my childhood growing up in 1960s Hamilton.  Families of 4, 5 aand 6 kids are common. 

Just as important, a greater proportiion of Hispanics attend Sunday worship services than Blacks, Whites or Asians.  While church attendance has fallen dramatically among low income whites and blacks in the last 30 years, attendance among Hispanics remains uniformly high among Hispanics regardless of educational attainment or income level.

Not only do these people take the church's prohibition against contraception and abortion seriously, they continue to remain faithful, even if they have little income or education.

If you want to see a packed Catholic church with a good cantor and choir, Immaculate Conception at 12:00 is a must-see.

It's been a while

I haven't posted anything in a while, which probably means that some people think I fell off the face of the earth.  No, I'm still here.  I just got bummed out about some things such as the election (because the voters returned all the same bums back including George Norcross's Benedict Arnold Democrats and the turncoat Sheila Moore from Newark).  I have also been having problems with my knees, teeth and VA benefits.

We even lost Buono and Cryan from leadership positions.  They were replaced by Sweeney's lackeys.
If public employees want to see real change in Trenton, they have to do something besides slavishly voting for the same ol' faces, because if you keep voting for people who stab you in the back you'll keep getting stabbed.

There is another election coming up, and ordinary people have the opportunity to take control of their county Democratic Party machinery if they have the nerve to stand up and run for county committeeman positions.  It only takes 2 or 3 signatures to get your name on the ballot for the June primary.  County committee people get to vote in their county Democratic convention.  They have the power to pick the candidates and pick their county party's leadership.  Normally, the political hacks get the conventions to vote to suspend the rules and then submit a slate of same ol' same ol' candidates for county and state office as well as a slate of the same old tired faces for the county party officers.

If we get enough public employees on the county committees we can thwart these strategies and force a full-blown convention where the committeemen themselves choose the party's candidates and officers.  Then we can dump the Donald Norcrosses of the world and replace them with authentic rank-and-file public employees.  Put the party machinery in the hands of ordinary cops, teachers, office workers, etc. and you will see a real change on who gets on the ballot in November.

Go to your city hall and pick up a petition for county committeeman in your district.  Make a real difference!!!