SOPA/PIPA And A Virtual Blackout

You can only see the bottom of Google's blue "g" under the censorship bar.

If any of my readers have been on the Internet today, I imagine you’ve noticed an unusual amount of the color black covering up some of your sites or their logos.  Google.com has a solid black banner stretching across its typically bright logo; Wikipedia’s English-Language page sports an ominous, monochromatic theme; WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed page that usually features the day’s popular blogs has replaced their links with black bars.  Even the pages of this blog are decorated with a black ribbon in the upper right-hand corner.  Why?  Like many thousands of sites across the Web today, I’m protesting in 21st-century style: virtually.

Since it was announced in late October, the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act has come under increasingly harsh fire, and as the Congressional vote next week continues to approach, opposition has exploded across the Internet.  January 18 was the set date for a Web-wide protest featuring the black censorship bars, though many sites plan to continue their protest until the vote.  The question that plagues Internet users and non-users alike is: Why?

An Web-based protest is an unusual approach to the typical signs and megaphones and Occupy Zucotti Park stereotype of protesting.  But, since the act protested is aimed at the Internet, it seems appropriate that the majority of organized opposition should come from there.  So what exactly are we protesting?  In the most recent WordPress.com newsletter, blogger Jane Wells outlined how WordPress users could show their support of the protest and included an excellent video summing up SOPA/PIPA: 

Obviously, the video comes from a biased perspective, but I think it accurately covers the meat of SOPA/PIPA.  If passed, the acts will give the government, media, and entertainment firms the right to not only sue websites and users for using copyrighted material (which they already can), but also to remove the pirated content and/or shut down the website entirely for its infraction, whether it was intentional or not.  The key piece of all this is that these restrictions don’t just apply to whole websites or Internet administers: these rules are also directed at Internet users.  This means that anybody who posts copyrighted material to social networking sites, blogs, or media sharing sites can be blocked, sued, or jailed for their infringement.  The problem with this is that the language in the acts is so ambiguous that these rules could apply to anything: a song playing the background of a YouTube video, a movie clip posted to Facebook, a photo added on Tumblr, a link uploaded on Twitter…things social media users do everyday without thinking twice, under SOPA/PIPA would be seen as criminal acts and would be punished as such.

Stealing copyrighted material and passing it along is piracy, but the infringements covered in SOPA/PIPA would apply to far more than malicious theft.  Most of the copyrighted material available on the Internet is there because it has already been released.  For example, let’s say somebody buys a newly released music album, plays it in their kitchen and videotapes their kid dancing to it.  Then, that video is placed on YouTube for the world to enjoy.  Although the CD is copyrighted to its artist and/or production company, it has been generally released to the public for the public’s use.  Now, two things could happen here: somebody who does not own the album sees this video, decides to record it and steals the song off the video, then passes it off as the real deal.  This is Internet piracy, and this is the type of crime SOPA/PIPA and similar laws want to prevent.  The second option is this: the video is posted to YouTube and nothing malicious happens, but the poster is still prosecuted for copyright infringement for putting up that video at all because it has copyrighted material in it.  The poster is not trying to steal it from the artist (like in the first example), but they are still punished.  This is unjust, and according to the language in the act itself, this is what would happen under SOPA/PIPA: “Expands the offense of criminal copyright infringement to include public performances of: (1) copyrighted work by digital transmission, and (2) work intended for commercial dissemination by making it available on a computer network.” (Courtesy of The Library of Congress Bill Summary and Status)  This is good intentions taken entirely too far.

The intent of SOPA/PIPA is not malicious.  It’s meant to bring better business to the media and entertainment realms.  With SOPA/PIPA, instead of watching TV shows on YouTube, users will have to view episodes via cable and satellite.  Instead of finding song lyrics or music on public domain websites, listeners will have to buy the CD.  Instead of browsing and editing photos on Tumblr, photographers will have to subscribe to private photo sharing programs.  All these options draw business away from the Internet and toward the entertainment industries, hopefully boosting the economy in the process.  The other obvious bonus to this legislation is the prevention of Internet piracy.  Piracy is a crime (sorry, Jack), and unfortunately it is a rampant one.  SOPA/PIPA aims to significantly reduce piracy by removing the sources and locations of pirated material.  In conclusion, the end is a positive one, but the means are far from acceptable.

At the heart of SOPA/PIPA is the word writers and artists hate to hear more than any other: censorship.  According to Dictionary.com, “to censor” means to, “examine (as a publication or film) in order to suppress or delete any contents considered objectionable.”  Censorship, according to its definition, is an indefinite thing.  It varies on opinion, on who’s doing the censoring.  What one person considers acceptable, another may disapprove of.  This variance in opinion is at the heart of censorship and the controversy around SOPA/PIPA, because instead of a person deciding what’s acceptable and what’s not, an organization will be: the government.

Forgive me for feeling Orwellian, but it’s impossible not to in this situation.  The concept of censorship goes against everything our Founding Fathers intended when they wrote our nation’s laws.  It is for a reason that the first amendment to the Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (Courtesy of http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/billofrights)  The very first thing our Fathers worried about in this nation was the same restrictions that brought the Puritans to these shores in the first place.  America is a nation built on tenants of freedom: freedom to say, do, and believe what we wish.  Although not everything said, done, and believed in America may be right, at least we have the freedom to say, do, and believe it anyway.  Most nations in the world can’t say that.

SOPA/PIPA, if passed, will be in direct violation of the First Amendment and freedom of speech.  As an American writer who strongly believes in the freedoms our nation was built on, I’m joining the protest against this legislation.  Although its intentions may be positive, its restrictions are harsh and unfair.  Over-punishing a crime won’t stop it, and going against the tenants of our nation is definitely not a viable solution.  For now, the black banner will remain at the top of my blog: Stop Censorship.

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Is Tim Tebow The Hand Of God?

Only a few things in this world are impossible: eating one potato chip, crunching a Jawbreaker candy, and slamming a revolving door, for instance.  Once upon a time, I thought that it was possible to move to a new state and avoid being caught up in its sports affiliations.  I managed pretty well in our last state by switching my loyalties when the occasion demanded (shameful, I know), but here in Colorado, I have added one more thing to my list of impossibilities: it is impossible to live within 300 miles of Denver and not be a Broncos fan.

It’s kind of inevitable, actually.  You are surrounded by it on all sides, and if you dare defy it, you’re promptly drowned in a furious sea of orange and navy.  The only way to survive is to defect.  So, in a way, I have.  I smile and nod and applaud at the right moments when the Broncos are being discussed and I get along just fine.  It’s on days like yesterday, however, that I cannot ignore my true loyalty to the black and gold: that’s right, I’m a Steelers fan.  Born and raised, it’s in my genes, fear the Terrible Towel…I could talk smack all day, and yesterday I did, since the Steelers played the Broncos in Denver for a wild card spot in the playoffs.  Sadly, my Steelers lost by a single touchdown in overtime…but I’m not here to write about that.  In anticipation of the clash, The Daily electronic magazine posted an article in its Modern Faith column about Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow entitled, “The good (play)book.”  Its premise states: “When a pious person like Tebow achieves the impossible, do we credit God?”  Being the amateur football fan that I am, I just couldn’t resist.

Tim Tebow is a unique brand of quarterback.  His last-minute victories and astounding early winning streak this season defied expectations for this first-time team leader.  As a football player, he leaves sports analysts and fans alike dumbfounded.  But it’s his identity as a Christian that really gets people talking.  He writes verse references in his eye black, prays before every game, first credits God in post-game interviews, and Tebowing is now about as big a phenomenon as planking.  Tebow’s religious devotion has been making waves, and it is no surprise why.  In a culture that criticizes Christianity and believes faith doesn’t mix with anything else, Tebow’s boldness is surprising and controversial.    He’s a hero for believers and a fall guy for critics.  And when all the hype about his faith is compounded by unpredictable victories, people can’t help but ask if divine intervention is the cause.

The Daily’s article covers some of the comments made about this phenomenon, but instead of concluding with a solid decision for or against God’s hand in Tebow’s sports career, the article puttered to a stop with, “…whether it’s a gap in the fossil record or an unlikely string of football victories, we reduce God to a rather minor, if useful, role in the world.”  Despite this disappointing ending to the article, its premise remains interesting: is God really intervening on Tebow’s behalf?

There’s not really an easy answer.  People don’t like to think of an external power messing with life, much less with sports.  Sports are supposed to be fair, and if something uncontrollable like God interferes, it immediately becomes unfair, and therefore unsavory.  On the other hand, Tebow’s victories could be seen as rewards for his faith, which would be a rare warm fuzzy for believers.  We display our faith and life goes swimmingly for us.  So which is it?

Well, neither, actually.  Here’s why: displays of faith don’t always result in reward, and God involving himself in life doesn’t always make it unsavory.  Take one solid look at Christian history, and you’ll find that the most vocal believers often had the hardest lives.  Tebow himself hasn’t had the easiest time with expressing his faith.  The criticism and harsh words about him are undoubtedly difficult for him to hear.  As for God’s interference as a negative force, I’d like to counter that God as a factor, at least in this instance, is a positive thing.  It’s obvious that Tebow’s faith has drawn a lot of attention to him, or else I wouldn’t be writing this.  Because Tebow so passionately shows his faith, people are noticing God’s influence on him.  When people look at Tim Tebow, they see a dedicated, kind, devoted man, and it’s really hard to separate his admirable personality and conduct from his inexcusable faith.  Tebow is one of the best possible examples of a strong Christian in a tough situation.  If God is affecting Tebow’s performance on the football field, it is not to promote Tim Tebow; it’s to promote God in and through Tim Tebow.

It’s no new thing for God to affect circumstances in the world to display himself, his love, and his glory.  The counter that says, “God doesn’t (or shouldn’t) care about football!” is unfounded considering how much attention we as a culture pay to football.  Tebow is just one example.  God does care about football, and he’s using it to grab our culture’s attention.  He’s taking Tim Tebow and saying, “Look: this is one of my followers.  You can see me in him, and I’m proud.”

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2011: We Made It?

It’s not a question.  We did live one more year, this planet traveled all the way around the Sun one more time, we knocked another twelve months off our calendars.  It’s now four days into the new year, 2012, and I’m still dealing with that strange feeling of writing an extra “2” on my dates.  I’m excited for this year.  Personally, I’ve got a lot of new adventures coming.  Nationally, we’ve got presidential elections on the horizon.  Globally, if you believe the Mayans, we’d better party like it’s 1999 (just kidding.)  Like everyone, I spent a good portion of my New Year’s celebrations looking both backward and forward, recounting my past 365 days and wondering what the next will be like.  While I was surfing the Web, I came across a video posted by Google’s Zeitgeist program.  “Zeitgeist” is the German word for “the spirit of the times,” and Google uses the program to track the millions of searches plugged into its system every day.  (Thanks to http://www.google.com/intl/en/press/zeitgeist/index.html for the biographical info.)

This video (Oh, here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAIEamakLoY&noredirect=1) was a summary of the biggest events in 2011 portrayed as Google searches.  Included in the sum-up were photos of the tragic earthquakes in Japan, the Arab Spring, the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and the birth of the world’s newest country, South Sudan.  Brief video clips covered Bin Laden’s death, the final liftoff of the Space Shuttle program, Occupy Wall Street, and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  There were also many individual tributes to 2011’s headlining people, including Gabrielle Giffords, Steve Jobs, Betty Ford, Amy Winehouse, and Andy Rooney.  The video transitioned smoothly from topic to topic, and I think it does an excellent job of acknowledging the best and worst moments of this year.  I was prepared to walk away from my computer pleased until I reached the last frame.  It showed the familiar Google search bar as the words “we made it” were slowly typed in.  Fade to black.  Well, white, but you get the picture.

Now, “we made it” is in and of itself not a bad phrase.  In fact, it’s a pretty good one.  It expresses feelings of relief and accomplishment: we made it!  We lived through all the good and the bad, we did OK, we’re doing OK, we survived…

Wait a minute…survived?  That’s certainly not as positive a thought as “we made it,” yet it seems to be the prevailing attitude towards 2011.  News articles, TV commentaries, even Facebook posts are looking back on 2011 and shuddering. Why?

Don’t get me wrong; 2011 was not an easy year.  There have been many tragedies…many lives lost, many homes destroyed, and many worries for the future created.  It wouldn’t take anyone who watches even a little news very long to come up with a fistful of negative things from last year.  What I wonder is why people are choosing to focus on all those negative things and creating this philosophy of survival.  Has everything really gotten so bad that the best thing we can say at the end of a year is, “We made it?”

In ancient Babylon, the New Year was celebrated by stopping all work for eleven days, replacing it with feasting and rest and ceremonies that signified the beginning of a new life.  Ancient Romans celebrated their New Year by decorating their houses with fresh garlands to signify healthy living and by giving each other gifts to bring good luck.  The Chinese New Year is one of the most famous, and traditionally the focus is on cleansing themselves and their homes in preparation for the upcoming year.  Also, there’s a good deal of food.

In all of these cases, the attitude toward New Year’s is excited and joyous.  No one was regretting the disasters of the past or worrying about the problems in the future.  Now, please don’t spin this into the predictable connotations of chronological snobbery, or read this as if I don’t care to remember the past or worry about the future.  My point is that New Year’s has always been a celebration, and that if you went back 1000 years to China and said, “We made it!” people would look at you like you were nuts.  “Yes, obviously,” they’d say.  “Now, sit down and eat your food and open your presents and for heaven’s sake, enjoy yourself!”

Making it through something implies that the something was tough and difficult to survive.  2011 had its rough spots, yes, but it had its share of victories too.  And now, here we are in 2012.  We have a whole other year we get to live, not we have to live.  Negativity never inspired anyone, and “we made it” just doesn’t strike the right note when we’re trying to move forward with another year.  I’ve got the same issue with the phrase, “Here goes nothing!”  Nothing doesn’t exist and it never went anywhere.  Something, on the other hand, has always gone places, although we may not yet know where those places are.

So, in conclusion, Happy 2012 everyone.  Here goes something.  Let’s make it big.

Happy New Year

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