All posts by Jesse Moeller

A moderate opinion on mass shootings in the U.S.

The mass shooting issue in the United States, from the outside, probably seems easily solvable. First of all, the United States has mass shootings regularly and with a much higher frequency than other western democracies. Additionally, the United States also has the most guns (a little more than one gun per citizen). At this point it would be hard for anyone, understandably, to stop themselves from drawing the lines of causation. But, we should not be so hasty. Before we get excited about gun violence and dream up some legislation, perhaps there is a more nuanced approach to understanding mass shootings in America. Such an approach would have to weigh the already known facts about the issue: How is gun regulation handled already? Which guns are legal? Which guns are used most often in mass shootings? What is the mental health situation of the shooters? What is the commonality between all of these shooters?

The article that I am sharing provides some answers to these questions. It is, so far, the most interesting perspective I have heard on this issue. Far too often we hear people either demonize mass shooters as reactionary machines of hate carrying out the unspoken will of the far right, or people dismiss them completely as being mentally ill. I have, admittedly, tended towards the dismissive side. I would often think, “You can’t be right in the head to wake up one day and decide to follow through with something like that.” While I still maintain this, the statement is different from “the shooter was mentally ill.” Indeed my statement, thanks to the article I am sharing, has been refined. I now will say, “the shooter has been socially neglected.”

I imagine that this narrative won’t be well received. There are those who hold that “making the shooter a victim subtracts from the justice of the victims.” Frankly, I don’t give a damn. Part of my lack of sympathy with people who hold this opinion is due to my stance on the “justice system” as a whole: it should not be about justice, but rather rehabilitation. Society does not benefit from prisons as they have been, criminals should be given a chance to start over and improve themselves so that they can one day rejoin the people and share their gifts. Secondly, on my lack of sympathy, the view that holds shooters as a victim (in some light) is optimistic; perhaps there are attitudes and practices that we can implement from day to day life that can prevent this behavior.

I am not sure that I stand with Ahmed, and that is okay.

Self-indulging finger snaps aside, I think that the public response to the Ahmed’s clock story is a little ridiculous. Here are some snippets from CNN’s coverage:

When Ahmed Mohamed went to his high school in Irving, Texas, Monday, he was so excited. A teenager with dreams of becoming an engineer, he wanted to show his teacher the digital clock he’d made from a pencil case.

“I built a clock to impress my teacher but when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her,” Ahmed told reporters Wednesday. “It was really sad that she took the wrong impression of it.”

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CNN reports, as well as Ahmed himself, that Ahmed built the clock. However, analysis of the guts of the device pictured indicate that Ahmed is getting far more credit than is due for his device. Ahmed’s clock is a disassembled 80’s alarm clock loosely attached to a pencil case. In this light, these praises are vacuous:

@BUCKVBVRNES
#IStandWithAhmed
When a white kid builds nuclear fusion reactor it’s cool
but when a Muslim builds a clock it’s not

@POTUS
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.

@Bear2theRight
If anybody has a spare STEM scholarship laying around, there’s a very bright kid in Texas who could use your help. #IStandWithAhmed

I am not frustrated with the painfully obvious narrative, and maybe the narrative is true, but rather I am frustrated that the narrative is completely disjoint from the facts, which are these: Ahmed did not build the clock and the device looks very suspicious. It goes without saying that most people couldn’t tell an IED from any other case full of electronic guts, as emphasized in this picture:

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Nor do I want to rush to the other side and claim that Ahmed is a hooligan, as implied by Richard Dawkins. I don’t want to do this for the same reason that I don’t want to praise him as a prodigal creator: doing so is unsupported by the facts at hand. So, my friends, before you hop on the shared opinion train of groupthinkville, please find the facts in the situation before you fully purchase any narrative.

Copyright Infringement in the Modern World

Near the end of the spring semester here at UNI I was accused of uploading Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 3 without permission on the university’s network. As one of the sanctions placed on me by the university I was required to write a research paper about “the history and importance of copyright infringement”. I did honest research, albeit with an initial bias, and came to my own conclusions about modern copyright law. I did not write an apology letter. Indeed, I wanted to challenge dogma. Here is what I gave the Office of the Dean of Students:

A culture is not complete without its own forms of literature, film, drama, music, and other creative works. In order to ensure the flourishing of these arts, and hence the flourishing of a large and diverse part of Western society, it is necessary to protect artists and their rights. This is precisely the motivation behind the Copyright Act of 1790, as well as its major revision in 1976. Times have changed, however. With the advent of computers, DVR, camera phones, and the internet, it is has become very easy to copy, reproduce, and obtain media of all kinds from all over the world. With the development of these technologies, and the ease of obtaining and distributing copyrighted media, contemporary intellectual property law was born.

In 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a document which serves to establish and protect the rights of artists in the case of online copyright infringement, was signed into law by Bill Clinton. The DMCA passed through senate with a unanimous vote. (DMCA, 1998) To combat redistribution and infringement, the DMCA empowers artists by strengthening their copyright on the internet. For example, a young artist trying to make money from selling singles may invoke the DMCA in order to remove a YouTube video featuring the artists’ content without the artists’ consent. In such a case YouTube is responsible for removing the video and informing the user, but YouTube is not liable for damages. This is another facet of the DMCA. Since it is unfair to require internet service providers of such large scale (YouTube has more than one million users who make profit from advertisement revenue) to be held accountable for the actions of their clients and users, the DMCA limits the liability of the providers.

Although the DMCA limits the liability of service providers like YouTube, there is still conflict between content providers and the large video streaming website. In 2007 Viacom filed charges against YouTube for copyright infringement. Viacom claimed that the volume of different users uploading Viacom’s content accrued more than $1 billion in damages. (Helft, 2010) The initial verdict was that YouTube was protected by the DMCA, but in the sequence of appeals there was a ruling that YouTube could be held liable due to YouTube having “general knowledge” that “many people upload copyrighted content.” In the end of the court battle, the DMCA acted as a shield for YouTube rather than a sword for Viacom and no damages were paid. Though it is obvious that YouTube is not interested in committing infringement, their liability was the subject of heated debate – the case took 6 years to settle. When it comes to the case of file sharing with copyrighted media, however, the verdict is clear. Using file sharing services to download or upload files is a violation of copyright law.

Since file sharing software is so commonplace, copyright infringement is happening more now than ever. Those who stand to challenge copyright infringement are, of course, those who feel the effect most of all. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) manufacture and deliver 85% of all media in the United States and have sued more than 20,000 individuals for distributing copyrighted media. (Kravets, 2010) Since the DMCA protects internet service providers, the RIAA may only sue individual violators directly. Out of the 20,000 cases that have been opened, only 2,500 have been settled. The RIAA’s litigation campaign has been incredibly unsuccessful and has even been accused of being nothing more than an “intimidation campaign”. Such allegations are easy to believe knowing that the RIAA has also sued the families of dead men; the RIAA gave the family of Larry Scantlebury 60 days of grieving before the attack on his estate in the courtroom. (Bylund, 2006) As indicated by only 2,500 settled cases, this behavior from the RIAA does not go unchecked. The RIAA has been met by the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), a pro-open culture litigation shield for vulnerable parties, in court many times. (EFF, 2015) With their defeat on the front of individual lawsuits the RIAA has resorted to tracking peer to peer uploads and asking the service provider to dispense its own form of justice to the users, this comes typically in the form of a three strike system.

But do not forget that the original intent of copyright law is to protect artists and their rights. The fans, believe it or not, are actually interested in compensating artists.
The RIAA has spent long hours and many resources on its campaign and they are legally in the right. But do not forget that the original intent of copyright law is to protect artists and their rights. The fans, believe it or not, are actually interested in compensating artists. The staggeringly high amount of illegal downloads might not be very persuasive, but if one considers different mediums then the fact becomes obvious. There is a new form of entertainment present on the internet today called “streaming”. With online videogames, a professional player will share their screen activity with the world through a website for free and anyone can come to the website and watch them play. The interesting thing about this arrangement is that thousands of these professional players make a living from fan donations. The professional players build a connection with their fans and, with support from donations, these professional players spend their days doing what they love – providing content.

Some may argue that if fans want to support music artists then they should just “suck it up” and buy the albums. This argument is flawed because it assumes that the profits of the purchase will benefit the artists. While it is true that some of the profits will go to the artists, the split is nowhere close to fair for the artists involved. According to a report done on music sales artists only make $24 for every $1,000 sold. (Jefferson, 2010) Therefore it is in the artists’ best interest (that people buy albums) in the same way that a starving person would prefer a plate with crumbs rather than a plate with nothing on it at all. A new system, one which protects the artists and the fans, is necessary.

It is not hard to imagine what these alternative support systems might look like. The model might function in the same way that it does for radio stations; they pay a recurring fee to play whatever music they like. It might function in the same way that it does with streaming; artists connect directly to their fans and collect donations. In any case, file sharing is not going away. Despite the fear tactics and lawsuits, file sharing is at an all-time high. It is time to change the rules of the game. Artists and fans deserve a system that will allow culture to flourish.

Works Cited

Bylund, A. (2006, August 12). Retrieved from ArsTechnica:
http://arstechnica.com/uncategorized/2006/08/7487/

EFF. (2015, June 3). Retrieved from Electronic Frontier Foundation:
https://www.eff.org/cases

DMCA. (1998). Retrieved from U.S. Copyright Office:
http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf

Helft, M. (2010, March 18). Technology. Retrieved from New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/19/technology/19youtube.html

Jefferson, C. (2010, July 6). Culture. Retrieved from The Root:
http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2010/07/the_root_investigates_who_really_gets_paid_in_the_music_industry.html

Kravets, D. (2010, September 21). Security. Retrieved from Wired:
http://www.wired.com/2010/09/supreme-court-riaa/