What’s all this about less female performers at mainstream music festivals?

Posted in Uncategorized on April 25th, 2013 by byronkho

Why are there less female performers at major music festivals? Coachella this year offers up 90% male-fronted bands, while the next general music festival I’ll be going to – Firefly, in Delaware – will be offering up 75% male-fronted bands. Pitchfork has similar numbers. The next dance music festival I’m going to, EDC in NY, is even worse: 95% are male-fronted acts. I don’t necessarily have the most well thought-out position here, but I do tend to think that society reinforces most assumptions we have about women in music.

The kids dropping out of school and playing in bands, to Hollywood, are basically all dudes. Unless they’re making a movie about Joan Jett. There are tons more internationally famous male acts than there are female acts, and that includes both bands led by females and bands made up of mostly females. I bring up the distinction because rock, a genre that social scientists have found to appeal more to males over the last few decades, has a great number of female-led bands while there are almost no all-female rock bands. Why is that? Is that a reflection of the mostly male fanbase? Is that merely the label producers prejudices showing? Or is it that there are less female rock musicians, and less female rock musicians willing to band together in all-female groups? Trivia: the first all-female rock album on a major label came out in 1970. David Bowie was to later say of Fanny that “they were extraordinary: they wrote everything, they played like m**f**s, they were just colossal and wonderful…” There was a mystical fake all-girl band called the Carrie Nations in “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” a sexploitation movie written by Roger Ebert also in 1970. Between those bands and the Donnas, how many all-female rock groups are there?

Even when there are female-led rock bands, they still tend to appeal to more males than females. Lacuna Coil, Evanescence, Garbage, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, etc. Where you start to get the audience number differences are when the rock acts start to become more pop-py, reflecting the female lean toward pop and soul music instead of rock – thus, you have Paramore and many more screaming female fans than male ones. I like Paramore, personally, though I think the Donnas rock way harder. Keep in mind that sociological observations regarding gender preferences are more indicative of society’s motivations and prejudices, rather than comments on any one individual’s own preferences.

I don’t say that there aren’t a lot of female rock fans: there are a huge number out there, but %-wise, the statistics still fall to the guys. It’s a little different in EDM, however. EDC has three female acts, including Nervo, Rebecca and Fiona and La Roux. Just 3 out of 81? But the female fans that will show up will be legion; that weird non-representation of the female gender in the artists but over-representation in the fans has to have some interesting sociological and psychological reason behind it. I imagine it has something to do with the industry being a lot more misogynistic, and the music focusing a lot more on sexuality. Rock music tends to be more aggressive and testosterone-filled, while dance music focuses more on movement and mass euphoria. That would tend to improve or reinforce female positive perception of their sexuality, and thus increase the number of female fans. Conversely, that pressure must be killer on the female DJs, who have to be hot sexual items while trying to spin in the DJ booth – not easy. Niki Belucci certainly got experience dealing with that from way before she stepped into a DJ booth. How about other genres? Well, I can’t see any dearth of female musicians or fans in pop, even though many of the greatest bands are never heard on top 40 stations… and so perhaps lack the numbers. Having 10k fans scattered around the world is not as fun as having 1 million fans in one city alone. Soul and R&B? Plenty of female artists that are amazing. They have a hard time making it big in rap and hiphop, as society – like in rock – seems to call those genres a man’s game… but have they heard Jean Grae or k.flay before? I have. Live too.

From personal experience, I know there are a ton of female musicians out there that the festivals could have pulled in… and some have, so plainly it’s just a few festivals that are, er, misbehaving. While I can’t get a major festival to be more fair about gender representation (or get people to decide to like more female bands), I can always adjust my own concertgoing and attitudes. Thankfully, I don’t need to: I see a lot of female artists every year! Not counting the major orchestral and opera concerts and musicals I have seen this year, I’ve seen 15 female or female-led bands out of 40 for a nice respectable 37.5%. Tomorrow, I’m seeing Bess Rogers, Lelia Broussard and Kristen Ford. I’m seeing Beth Hart and Paramore and those female DJs at EDC and Jess Klein. Then The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ellie Goulding, Azealia Banks, Matt & Kim, Alabama Shakes, The Joy Formidable, Krewella, Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra, LP, Dragonette, Haim, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, Kopecky Family Band, Selah Sue, Blondfire, Chvrches, Delta Rae, Imaginary Cities, Trails and Ways, Icona Pop, Erykah Badu, Feist, Polica, Best Coast, Beach House, She & Him, Camera Obscura, Sandi Thom, Tegan and Sara, Miranda Lambert, Solange, Beyonce, Emeli Sande and Alunageorge during the summer. That’s a lot of women.

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The Electric Pancakes do GoT Flo-Rida style, and some more Jenny Suk!

Posted in Music on April 22nd, 2013 by byronkho

Ygritte: “I am a Wildling, tame me now. You’re my Direwolf and I’ll make you howl!” That is all.

The Electric Pancakes parody Jon Snow, Ygritte and Daenarys Targaryen from Game of Thrones.

Covering Elle Varner? HOT. Jenny Suk was on K-POP STAR 2. Can’t bring myself to watch some of these foreign singing shows (can barely watch clips from Idol and such) as some of the stuff they’re made to do is a total travesty. She actually does Gangnam Style on that show. I can’t bear to listen, though I’m sure she pulls it off with the usual slick sound.

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A Scandal at Christ Church.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22nd, 2013 by byronkho

Christ Church, the home church of George and Martha Washington on 2nd St in Old City, Philadelphia, was home to a philandering rector of some dramatic tendency in the years 1714-15. The Reverend Francis Phillips was extraordinarily popular during his first few months at Christ Church such that Robert Jenney, a visiting priest, could report back to the Bishop of London that Phillips had a “good character” and was so beloved that “it was impossible to dispossess him.” Still, controversy was destined to erupt.

Christ Church.

By February of 1715, Phillips was facing numerous suits for slander, attempted murder and debauchery. James Logan, the mayor of Philadelphia in 1723, noted at the time that Rev. Phillips was “taxed with scandalous expressions, boasting of undue intimacy with some woman of reputation.” Phillips’ tendency to talk out of hand regarding his sexual conquests caused him to be accused of slandering 3 Philadelphia ladies and propositioning a 4th. Among his supposed mistresses were the wife of William Trent, the Anglican provincial councilor; the daughter of John Moore, a customs collector and a co-founder of Christ Church; a Mrs. Newman; and Elizabeth Starkey, a servant of the Anglican minister in Chester with whom Philips was staying. To add to his troubles, he was also accused of administering arsenic to Starkey to get her to be quiet, and he was presented with another bill – returned with no answer – that specifically admonished him for “forgetting his sacerdotal vow”, aka neglecting his pastoral duty, through his acquaintance of offensive manner with one “Margaret S—.”

William Trent and John Moore had Phillips arrested at midnight on a Saturday and dragged to prison to face all these charges. Unfortunately for Phillips, the sheriff in charge happened to be Peter Evans, the aggrieved suitor for the unfaithful Ms. Moore. In revenge, Evans prevented Phillips from sending for bail money and forced him to stay in general lockup rather than in the undersheriff’s house, according to custom. It was a vindictive setup: slander cases typically had no bail set but mysteriously, Phillips’ bail was set at 3000 pounds, an unbelievably large sum. In indignation, Phillips called for a bill to be presented to the Mayor and Aldermen of Philadelphia for having “done him injustice” as “to have taken his servant Elizabeth S—.” And, presumably, for the injustice of imprisoning him.

During this time, he had some remarkable support from his male congregants. Upon hearing that their beloved minister was in jail that Sunday morning – and presumably upset at missing out on salacious sermons by a priestly Lothario – a mob of 300 men and boys surrounded the jail demanding Phillips’ release. Once Phillips had been released, the mob spent the next two days attacking and destroying the houses of the two initial accusers. Infuriated at this outcome, “Peter Evans, gentleman” challenged Phillips to a duel for infringing on his social privileges concerning a “gentlewoman that I have a profound respect for.” Phillips ignored the challenge and Evans was later indicted for unlawful duelling.

This particular episode in Pennsylvania history wasn’t only about the debaucheries. In fact, it was merely the distraction in a far more important fight over power in the colony. As there was no Anglican bishop in Pennsylvania at the time, the vestry was allowed to assert its right to choose a minister; their choice was Phillips. The men who brought up the suit against Phillips were seeking revenge against being cuckolded or otherwise offended, but luckily (or unluckily) enough, they also happened to be political rivals to Pennsylvania Governor Charles Gookin, who saw an opening. By defending the vestry’s right to choose their minister, Gookin saw himself as fulfilling his role as defender of the Anglican Church in the colony. This position would also net him points toward remaining governor when and if the colony was sold to the British crown. Not surprisingly, the richer congregants of Christ Church were offended that the colonial authorities would try to force themselves into religion; they did not want a political pontiff. This divided the congregation: the poorer congregants tended to side with Gookin and Phillips, and the richer congregants against.

Despite public support, Phillips was still brought to trial, found guilty and fined twenty pounds. At this point, Governor Gookin stepped in and declared “nulle prosequis,” meaning that the state had an unwillingness to prosecute and thus the fine and all charges against Phillips were dropped. Gookin’s opponents were angered by this and proceeded to hold a no-confidence vote against Phillips. At the local courthouse, they voted Phillips to “have acted scandalously” and requested that the Bishop of London “purge the Church of so bad a member and rid us of so scandalous a Brother.” To curry favor, they specifically exempted the Church from wrongdoing by claiming that “tares will grow with the wheat.” Christ’s church, the figurative head of the Christian religion and the physical Philadelphia church, was considered to be “one that had a devil.” And the devil must be removed.

Phillips’ defenders were not amused, but there was little to be done. The church itself had been whittled away as people moved to services run by rival Anglican priests in the area, and Phillips didn’t have much of a congregation left to boast to. The Bishop of London finally replied in October 1715, demanding that Phillips be recalled. Upon his return, the errant priest disappeared into anonymity. Gookin didn’t fare much better; he warred with the church for years and was unable to solidify any sort of control over the Anglican church in Pennsylvania. He was finally replaced in 1717 by Sir William Keith, who took Gookin’s stand one further and tried to completely overrule the vestry in all matters. After that, Christ Church leaders were never to contemplate any role for the political authorities with church governance.

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Ruminations on the continuing struggle for freedom to learn about and practice sexual health.

Posted in Opinion on April 19th, 2013 by byronkho

Due to the federal Comstock Act of 1873, it was illegal for Americans to disseminate “obscene, lewd and/or lascivious” materials through the post. The law was motivated by two things: a moralizing response to the flood of pornographic material generated during the Civil War, and a religiously sponsored backlash against contraception and abortion. Thus, no birth control or abortion information OR devices could be disseminated through the post, regardless if it was educational or for disease-fighting purposes. This particular law was echoed fairly quickly by state legislatures all over the country. For over four decades, Americans were kept in the dark and were ill-educated vis-a-vis sexual health. During World War I, the United States had the embarrassing distinction of being the only Allied nation to send their servicemen to war without condoms; they later had to deal with a rash (literally) of STD outbreaks, among other public health disasters. In 1918, the Margaret Sanger trial and later appeal found that contraceptive devices were only legal if promoted for the purpose of curing or preventing disease. It wasn’t until 18 years later, in 1936, that contraceptive devices for the purposes of birth control were finally legalized. The case that sparked that decision involved the mailing of Japanese contraceptive devices to the United States, as no US company was willing to legally produce or distribute any such products due to the overbearing nature of the law. There were US companies that did create similar products, but these were marketed as “feminine hygiene” products and ended up being much, much more unsafe – like the Lysol douche, which involved inserting liquid disinfectant into the vaginal area. Another three decades later, some of the last of the state contraception Comstock laws were finally brought down by the US Supreme Court – in Connecticut and Massachusetts, both Catholic voter strongholds. That decision only covered contraception within marriage; a 1972 decision finally covered unmarried individuals as well.

Of all the sections of the Comstock Act, only the directives surrounding “obscene” materials still remain and are in effect today. The standard definition of “obscene” is now derived from the Miller test, which considers a work obscene if “community standards” would consider the work prurient; and if the work is patently offensive according to state law; and if the work lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. The problem with the test is that community standards can differ wildly across the country, making it difficult for any content producer or product manufacturer to comply in every area they sell in. The Ninth Circuit stepped in on a case of pornography violating obscenity laws and concluded that due to the infinite reach of the product via the Internet, a “national community standard” should instead be devised and followed. No one has yet implemented a search for agreement on a definition of what this “national community standard” would look like, nor specified how such an agreement would be found. Perhaps an average of community standards, to be fair… but how do you average standards? Until that is decided – and hopefully not soon, as there are many more pressing items to consider – the vagaries of an “I know it when I see it” definition of obscenity cannot be considered acceptable in a legal setting unless we are willing to submit to cultural dictatorship by powerful social issue groups.

Where it gets more dangerous is when more science and practicality-based items are labeled as “obscene” or “pornographic.” Birth control devices and abortion information were considered obscene in 1873, and to some degree, they are still seen as such today by many conservative and religious groups. Several states, including a bizarre bill currently being proposed in Ohio, have tried to pass modern-day Comstock laws that are replacements of the early 20th century ones that had been passed and overturned. The worst of them seek to ban teachers from distributing any contraception information, focus completely on abstinence education and fine or jail individuals and institutions that pass on “unapproved” sexual health education to their students. This would suggest that many of these states are regressing to the moral and scientific understanding they had in 1873, and are forgetting that an increase in draconian sexual health laws usually leads to more teen pregnancies and more backroom abortions, leading to more deaths or unwanted babies – both drains on our social institutions and tax funds.

This diatribe seeks to make a point that is hardly new but is continually provoked by the daily details of legislative attempts to backtrack our way to ignorance. We are supposed to live in a progressive society that relies on facts and science to help make our lives more free and more efficient within the constraints of living in close proximity to each other in a social structure. Preventing people from being properly educated equates to prevention of proper decision making; one can’t make an informed choice without all the information. Furthermore, the outcome of ignorant decision making tends to mean a much higher expense for the entire social structure. Thus, we are both made less free and less efficient with every moralizing rule being placed on the books. It is up to the individual to decide if they want to have sex and how they do it, and it reflects badly on those who seek to watch, limit and rule how that is done – it is a kind of pornography itself, on a grander scale.

From Oscar Wilde to the beginnings of the Chinese film industry.

Posted in History and Politics on April 17th, 2013 by byronkho

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde, “Lady Windermere’s Fan”

Oscar Wilde.

Wilde produced the debut of Lady Windermere’s Fan at the St. James Theatre in London on February 22, 1892. A biting satire of social mores, the play concerned a lady who finds out her husband has been possibly having an affair with another woman – a woman who later turns out to be the lady’s mother and the blackmailer of her husband, who decides to throw away her reputation to save her daughter’s reputation. The dark goings-on of society backrooms and the instigation of family loyalty in crises were thick and juicy issues that were ripe for exploration by theater and film companies worldwide.

Hong Shen.

The Wilde play was brought to China in 1924 as “The Young Lady’s Fan,” by Hong Shen, a young Chinese dramatist who had trained at Harvard University and the Copley theater in Boston. Shen adapted, directed and starred in a Chinese-language version that he eventually turned into a film version just four years later.

Bai Hong, who as the third member of the Bright Moon Song and Dance Troupe, “invented” Chinese pop music. Her music was later banned by the Communists for representing decadent American cultural imperialism. She appeared in a 1939 version of Shen’s adaptation of “Lady Windermere’s Fan.”

In 1921, while still studying in the States, Shen was outraged by “The First Born” and “The Red Lantern,” ignorant Hollywood movies that portrayed Chinese as opium-smoking, brothel-mongering and otherwise bizarre and objectionable stereotypes, with many of the Asian roles going to whites in yellowface. To combat these racist Western representations of Asians in film, he started up the Changcheng (Great Wall) Motion Picture Manufacturing Company with other Chinese expats. Their only productions were short films introducing Chinese costume and the first Chinese martial arts film to open in the United States. However, the company was not wealthy enough to afford a large-scale national outing, so it decided to move to China and jumpstart the film industry there in 1924. The movies they later churned out were extremely literate and enjoyed by the intelligentsia but found little foothold with the majority of the country. They, like many indie studios, were not commercial enough.

Still from “The First Born,” with Miles Mander and Madeleine Carroll.

Shen himself, upon his return to China in 1922, proceeded to take up the cause of Chinese theater and film as well. He took up a theater professorship in Shanghai and then coined the term “huaju,” to name and separate the newly-developed niche of Western-style stage dramas from the traditional Chinese operatic productions. Shen wrote the first full screenplay for a Chinese film production (and earned the nickname the “father of the Chinese screenplay”); previously, Chinese films had been largely improvised from hazily written story outlines.

Harold Lloyd.

In 1929, Shen initiated what is probably the first Western movie ban in China: comedy superstar – and only second to Charlie Chaplin – Harold Lloyd’s first talkie, “Welcome, Danger” involved portrayals of Chinese gangsters as ruthless and subhuman, prompting Shen to start first a riot at the performance and then a literary riot wherein all the prominent figures of the drama, journalism and education world wrote to the Chinese central government with promises of dark consequences if the film were not banned. In revenge, the theater sued Shen for loss of income from the performance. At the trial, Shen used the courtroom as a soapbox from which to address cultural aggression. As the whispers moved across China and US film studios began to blanch at the possible loss of an international market – and yes, this was in 1929 – Paramount Pictures decided to throw in the towel and publicly express apologies for “daring to insult your honorable country.”

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Hsi Tseng Tsiang.

Posted in History and Politics on April 8th, 2013 by byronkho

While imprisoned on immigration charges at Ellis Island in 1941 – 15 years after he had moved to the States – Chinese actor, novelist, poet and playwright Hsi Tseng Tsiang wrote a letter to famed progressive artist Rockwell Kent on a roll of toilet paper, explaining conditions in the prison.

“Everything is fine and gay but the locked door, guard and uniform.” – from the toilet paper letter.

Tsiang was awaiting immigration status review under the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which mandated annual immigration quotas to 2% of the number of people from that country in the United States in 1890. A bad review would have meant expulsion back to China, which was undergoing considerable turmoil under a Communist revolution. As a former aide to Sun Yat-Sen’s secretary, Tsiang possibly considered a move back to Mao’s China as bad for his health.

His wit: “the cover of a book is more of a book than the book is a book.”

“I wish your taste would be like mine… we could just be sixty-nine.” – from The Hanging on Union Square.

Normally, the review process would have motivated individuals to display their respectability and social utility; that would behoove those who wanted to stay. But Tsiang was the dilettante all over: his scatological outcry against prison conditions and his long career in written and performance art that were insubordinate, sexually radical and provocatively obscene were purposeful. To his defense came the American Civil Liberties Union. Tsiang stayed.

Hsi Tseng Tsiang.

“Statue, turn your ass! Let us pass!” – Tsiang poem, quoted by other Ellis Island inmates.

Ellis Island wasn’t his first time defending his status. His initial entry into the United States was only allowed under an exception to the racist National Origins Act of 1924 that let students stay; otherwise, he would have been banned from immigration, like most other Chinese that attempted. For the next two decades, his policial activism and affiliations meant constant harassment by the federal government.

“With our paper bullets, we shall change the direction of the wind.” – from China Red.

Tsiang was unrepentantly leftist and a lifelong member of the Communist party, with much of his poetry appearing in the Daily Worker, the American Communist newspaper. The US officially backed Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang in China, but Tsiang constantly spoke out against them – such that the Los Angeles Times labeled him the “leader of the radicals” in 1928. That year, he also wrote a poem that denounced Japanese imperalism and urged Chinese workers to unite in a mass revolt.

“When the sky with blood is red, we all will have our bread!” – from Shantung.

Tsiang was one of the first Asian American authors and had a prolific output. As a novelist, he wrote three works including one that he self-published and proclaimed as an American Epic. They were all motivated by his desire to change the world; indeed, the Everyman hero of his last novel drops his quest to save himself in favor of bettering the human condition.

“No existing literary approaches suited Tsiang’s spectacularly expansive vision of how the world should be, and this might explain why he ranged so freely from sentimental, epistolary novels to militantly leftist poetry, plays, and music to bitterly ironic, experimental novels.” – Tsiang biographer, Hua Hsu.

From 1943 to his death in 1971, he had another career as a film actor, playing bit stereotypically Asian roles in over 38 movies. One of his first roles was in 1946 classic Tokyo Rose; his last, in the TV show Gunsmoke. Some of the money from his film acting gigs was used to pay for his own stage adaptation of Hamlet, which he performed on Friday nights for a dozen years in a dance studio over a bus depot in Hollywood.

His headstone, from Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles.

“John Barrymore is the only Hamlet who projected emotion. The rest, not right. Laurence Olivier? He plays himself, not Hamlet.” – from an interview in the Milwaukee Journal, March 23, 1954.

Starting in the Fifties, his hour-long version of the Bard’s classic replaced Yorick’s skull with a tin-can, used bells to mark scenes (like in classic Chinese drama) and was sparse with scenery; he performed solo in front of a black curtain, with only a chair and a spotlight as company. His performance was informed by his study of Shakespeare with Ashley Thorndike while atending Columbia University. He wasn’t just projecting the Bard: he often inserted anti-capitalist rants into Hamlet’s soliloquies.

“Shakespeare meant for this to happen: for his play to change with the challenge of time.” – from an interview in the Los Angeles Mirror, August 23, 1955.

His work also affected other artists who had aspirations to a social conscience. Composer Ruth Crawford Seeger set “Chinaman, Laundryman” (about the the experience of Chinese-American laundry workers) and “Sacco, Vanzetti” (about the trial of two Italian American suspected anarchists) to music, premiering the latter at Carnegie Hall on March 6, 1933, and the former at the Mellon Gallery (which had opened just the year before) in Philadelphia on March 27, 1933. These works were done in a dissonant style, heavily influenced by Alexander Scriabin and her composer husband, Charles Seeger. Her famous stepson, Pete Seeger, set his poem “Lenin! Who’s That Guy?” to music, publishing it in the 1934 collection “Workers Song Books.”

Ruth Crawford-Seeger and Charles Seeger.

On a side note: the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 relied on numbers from the 1890 census and was in use until immigration law reform in 1965. However, the original data from the 1890 census that would have been used to calculate the quotas was destroyed by government order in 1934, the same year that a permanent National Archives was set up – which would have been mandated to save such records.

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Digital copyright.

Posted in Opinion on April 3rd, 2013 by byronkho

“On Saturday, a federal court in New York ruled in summary judgment within the case of Capitol Records v. ReDigi. The court decided that no, users do not have the right to resell digital music files, as doing so violates existing copyright law.”

Essentially, the decision defends current first sale rights rules which allows for resale of material items that, upon transfer to a new owner, prevents the initial owner from accessing that item. Thus, complete ownership is transferred. In digital content, however, the file transferred can easily be copied by the original owner. This means that it is almost impossible to assure that ownership is completely transferred.

The decision doesn’t do much to clarify what ownership really means vis-a-vis digital content. If we can be said to own digital content, it should be similar to rights we hold as material content owners. We are currently free to do as we wish with material content in our possession: give it to whomever we wish and resell it as we wish. That isn’t true with digital content. We can’t resell digital content. Thus, what we bought essentially has no value for us – the court just decided that.

Some even more draconian reading of copyright law would suggest that creating copies and distribution to other devices or to other users – even without a value exchange – should be made illegal. On the face, it’s easy to see why distributing millions of free copies would be a lose-lose for the copyright owners and for the digital ecenomy. Unfortunately, the free use of such a reading would also mean that everyone on the planet would be guilty of a violation of that view of copyright law.

Common storage maneuvers including defragmentation, reorganization of drive index systems and merely changing folder names are completely consistent with users maintaining just one version of that content, and not attempting to create multiple copies… but it’s the same single copy being copied over and over and thus not the original piece of content. Ownership is based on the original content being transferred from owner to owner; in digital content, this is impossible as the original content never survives in its original form.

Even more disturbing is what the copyright quandary means for 3D printing. If material content is reproduced, then the “owner” faces the same limbo as the owner of digital content. The courts, with the mandatory assistance of the public, must redefine what ownership actually means, or soon, it will have no meaning whatsoever.

A logical but highly unpleasant solution is to license all content. That is what many digital content providers do, currently… almost all digital content sales are actually licenses, not transfers of ownership. You are given an exclusive right to view content once and the rules regarding manipulation are clear. They can also inactivate the license at any time, and appeals would be petty, bureaucratic and arduous. Even other limitations – like one must be connected to the Internet at all times, or licensing must be validated per use via webservers that are often discontinued when the copyright owners lose interest – destroy what little right the consumer has to the items they rented. The end result of requiring licensing for everything is that we would own nothing and rent everything. But even here, it’s not treated as licenses for material goods are – if our digital content gets damaged, the licenses rarely allow us to receive another copy of that content. Instead, we are considered SOL.

The only thing worse than owning nothing is not owning yourself, a position indeed possible given current patent law and licensing rules. Gene patents owned by corporate entities worldwide now cover 100% of the human genome. If they were to enforce their patent, it is feasible that – without court interference and protection of the individual – corporations would own us and we’d have to purchase a license to exist as we are. And, like digital content, we are constantly new copies of the original content; the original “us” doesn’t exist for more than a moment in time.

The higher courts are currently burdened with grand items like abortion and gay marriage… but the time is rapidly approaching when we will need them to pay attention to the digital world. It’s not only digital ownership, but privacy, consent, freedom… do any of these exist, really, online? Or are consumers merely trespassers on the World Wide Web?


Starting off April right.

Posted in Music on April 2nd, 2013 by byronkho

And to start this post off, we have another installment of sad country songs. This one, by Kacey Musgraves, is probably not the most romantic song you’ve ever heard. But it’s so honest that it probably means more than all those other pretty love songs. It is what it is.

Philadelphia’s Ben Folds. Hopefully that’s a compliment? I’ll be seeing these guys at Milkboy in not too long.

More wistful love songs I’m seeing Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors on a double bill with NeedToBreathe in May.

Australian rapper Urthboy with chanteuse Jane Tyrrell.

Magnificent. I’m not too convinced she’d be amazing live but whatever, this song by Sky Ferreira is pretty awesome.

Creepy chain-gang or witch-dunking folk rock number from Delta Rae.

Slick song from Robin Thicke.

Get pumped. Madeon!!!

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The Rape of Nanjing and the Oskar Schindler of the East.

Posted in History and Politics on April 1st, 2013 by byronkho

In August of 1937, before their invasion of China, the Japanese Army abolished the term “prisoners of war.”

Three months later, they had enter and occupied Shanghai with the intent of opening the way to Nanjing, the capital of China at the time. The Nationalist Chinese leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, after losing Shanghai, ordered a scorched-earth retreat of his forces that effectively destroyed all transportation, food sources and roads that could be commandeered by the Japanese invaders. Unfortunately, this meant that the Nanjing civilians had no means to leave and any civilians in the surrounding countryside were forced to go towards Nanjing, instead of away from, to keep from completely starving. This unfortunate circumstance left hundreds of thousands of civilians crammed into a city that was about to be attacked by the full might of the Japanese Army.

Chiang Kai-Shek.

Following the example of Jacquinot de Besange – a Jesuit priest who had saved Chinese residents of Shanghai via a “safety zone” – the last remaining Europeans in Nanjing decided to band together as “The International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone” and establish their own refugee camp in the vicinity of the Ginling Women’s College and the American Embassy in the northwest of the city. It was a strange partnership: their leader, a loyal Nazi engineer named John Rabe; American missionaries John Magee, Ernest Foster and Minnie Vautrin; the sole remaining surgeon in Nanjing, Robert Wilson; and a selection of 14 other professors, businessmen and missionaries.

Father Jacquinot de Besange

The Safety Zone had the full support of the Nanjing city government and Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces, as they were intent on escaping and grateful that anybody would take up support of the city. A massive amount of supplies were sent there and a force of 4,500 soldiers were assigned to the camp; a further 90,000 soldiers were left to defend the city, though they were mostly untrained and ill-equipped. A great majority of the soldiers had no guns and no bullets, and issued a mere 2 grenades per man in which to fight a force that included a well-organized army, air force and tank units.

On December 1, the mayor of Nanjing ordered all citizens to report to camps within the Safety Zone before evacuating himself and the city government. By December 9, the Japanese Army had surrounded the city. During this time, John Rabe was able to board an American gunboat and send telegrams to Chiang Kai-Shek and to the Japanese HQ in Shanghai. There was no answer from Chiang Kai-Shek, but Rabe was successful with the Japanese; he was able to persuade their commanders to leave the Safety Zone alone if he could remove all soldiers from within its borders. Though this was not official policy, the camp was left alone, at least for a little while, after the breach of Nanjing gates on December 12.

John Rabe, third from left.

Upon entering Nanjing, the Japanese army began a systematic pillaging of Nanjing while embarking on a forceful effort to rid the city of all Chinese soldiers. Their occupation through February 1938 saw the death of 350,000 civilians and unarmed soldiers; additionally, a war crimes tribunal established in Tokyo after the American occupation counted 20,000 rapes in the first month of occupation alone. (Indeed, recently declassified US intelligence revealed that William Dodd, the US ambassador to Germany, had heard the Japanese ambassador to Germany boasting that the Japanese army had killed 500,000 people in Nanjing.) The wholesale murder of women during the occupation meant that the number of rape targets leftover week after week was decreasing. To satisfy their lusts, soldiers began to target younger and younger girls and boys and even old women. They also looked longingly at the Safety Zone with their scores of protected women.

During January of 1938, the Japanese army started to sojourn into the camps to raid the camp of soldiers and military age men. They focused on patients at the hospital, thinking that injuries would only be garnered by individuals that had fought back, thus labeling them as soldiers. They also rounded up any other unattached men they could find. One tactic they used was to present each man to the camp crowd; if nobody claimed them as a family member, they were considered soldiers and roped into long lines of prisoners. These long lines of men were walked over to the river and bayoneted, machine gunned and burned to death with gasoline, depending on the mood of the commanding officer.

The Japanese often entered the camps and tried to round up women to serve in prostitution centers, ostensibly to satisfy their soldiers’ needs so they wouldn’t force themselves on the civilian populace. They also tried to persuade civilian women to return to their homes. Minnie Vautrin, a missionary that ran the Ginling Women’s College, protected thousands of women from these random culls but learned many lessons along the way. After negotiating with Japanese officers to send girls back to their homes, she learned that many of these girls had immediately been set upon by soldiers living in their homes, gang raped and then bayonetted. In her diaries, she noted that she would never again suggest that girls should leave the camps.

Minnie Vautrin.

Dr. Wilson, the sole remaining surgeon and European doctor in Nanjing, ran the camp hospital and helped deal with thousands of victims of the Rape of Nanjing. He was constantly forced to hide his female doctors and nurses on the top floor of the hospital while negotiating with Japanese soldiers to leave the casualty wards alone. Sometimes this required camouflaging soldiers as civilians or as close to death; these cases would generally be ignored as they were going to die anyways.

Though they were not allowed access to their home governments until later, this small set of Americans and Europeans was able to save over 250,000 Chinese civilians during the occupation. Japanese soldiers were apparently ordered not to molest these foreigners, and this often included the civilians being directly protected by this small set in any given circumstance. Rabe was able to stop several rapes by his presence alone; Vautrin saved thousands of women from prostitution by marching them from the city back into the Safety Zone and faced no opposition from soldiers during those jaunts.

Rabe was considered the most effective negotiator with the Japanese Army during the whole theater of war. His constant negotiations with Japanese military command were extraordinarily successful – possibly because of his connection with Germany – but his contribution to history was almost completely forgotten. He had arranged for tapes made by fellow committee member John Magee in the hospital to be smuggled out to the rest of the world. The tapes reached three targets: free China, who were outraged but could do nothing but better organize and equip their army for further battles; the Washington press corps and political elites, who refused to antagonize Japan over foreign conflicts and indeed continued supplying the Japanese right until Pearl Harbor; and the Nazi government on the recommendation of the secretary of the German Embassy in Shanghai. Nothing happened. The world was silent and no help came.

John Magee.

Rabe was forced to leave Nanjing in February 1938. Upon returning to Germany, he immediately reported the atrocities to the German government in person. His reward? Imprisonment and torture by the Gestapo, who ordered him to be silent about the actions of a military and political ally of Germany. Despite this extreme ill-treatment, Rabe remained a strangely loyal Nazi. (During the occupation, the missionaries noted that they could not quite align his obvious sympathy, humanitarian nature and utmost kindness in choosing to stay and rescue the Chinese civilians, with his devout loyalty to the Nazi cause. Apparently, he had little to say about his government’s treatment of unwanted and displaced persons throughout German territories and actually stated at one point that he was 100% behind German policies.) It was only through the intervention of Siemens, his employer, that he was able to leave the Columbia-Haus on Prinz Albrecht Strasse. He was then posted to Afghanistan for a short time, but soon returned to Berlin. Unfortunate timing: the Russians then occupied the city and Rabe was again imprisoned and tortured. After release, he was denied work based on his Nazi party membership but was finally able to obtain the deNazification certification upon the testimony of fellow occupation committee members from Nanjing.

Sadly, Rabe was to suffer in abject poverty from 1946 until his death of a heart attack in 1950. Though the survivors of the Nanjing massacre were desperately poor, they were adamant about providing him a stipend to support him once they heard of his condition. The mayor of Nanjing personally travelled to Berlin to provide him with the first of the monies that was to keep him from starvation. Once he died, his name was forgotten from history until 1996, when his grand-daughter realized she had his diaries in her possession. Today, Rabe is known as the Oskar Schindler of the East, having rescued hundreds of thousands more civilians than Schindler was able to.

The other missionaries and businessmen were forced to return to most of their homes and the camp was closed in May 1938. Most led fairly uneventful lives after their time in Nanjing. Those who tried to speak out learned that no one was interested in what they had to say – that is, until the attack at Pearl Harbor confirmed the Japanese as an actual enemy and thus atrocities could then be revealed. Minnie Vautrin, highly vaunted by the thousands of women she saved in Nanjing, committed suicide in 1939. Her suicide note stated that she would have given up ten lifetimes to do what she had done in Nanjing, but she lamented that she had failed.

General Iwane Matsui and Prince Yasuhiko of Asaka, center and right.

Prince Yasuhiko of Asaka and General Iwane Matsui were the two primary military officers responsible for the Nanjing massacre. Both men were recalled to Tokyo in February of 1938; Matsui was retired and Asaka was promoted to general but given no more military commands. During the Allied tribunals, Asaka was given immunity as he was a member of the imperial family; this was even more outrageous given that it was Isamu Cho, Asaka’s aide, that had given the order to “kill all captives” which allowed soldiers to run rampant. Asaka was also given additional protection by the testimony of Matsui, who went out of his way to protect Asaka from assuming any responsibility.

Matsui’s punishment was an indictment for “deliberately and recklessly” ignoring his legal duty “to take adequate steps to secure the observance and prevent breaches” of the Hague Convention. From his judgment:

“Organized and wholesale murder of male civilians was conducted with the apparent sanction of the commanders on the pretext that Chinese soldiers had removed their uniforms and were mingling with the population. Groups of Chinese civilians were formed, bound with their hands behind their backs, and marched outside the walls of the city where they were killed in groups by machine gun fire and with bayonets.”

Matsui was hanged in late November of 1947. Strangely enough, he was the only Japanese officer to express dismay at how the occupation had turned out. On December 18, 1937, Matsui told one of his aides that “I now realize that we have unknowingly wrought a most grievous effect on this city. When I think of the feelings and sentiments of many of my Chinese friends who have fled from Nanking and of the future of the two countries, I cannot but feel depressed. I am very lonely and can never get in a mood to rejoice about this victory.” He later confided to a Japanese diplomat that “my men have done something very wrong and extremely regrettable.”

Japan left China in 1945. Nanjing was ruled by a collaborationist government from 1940 until 1946, when the Nationalists moved their capital back to Nanjing. In 1949, the People’s Liberation Army under Mao Tse-Tung recaptured Nanjing and established the city as a provincial capital.

The monument to Radha Binod Pal at Yasukuni.

A weird aside: the lone Indian justice on the International Military Tribunal, Radha Binod Pal, was also the lone non-guilty vote for all Japanese officials on trial for war crimes. A monument to Judge Pal was established at the Yasukuni Shrine in 2005, the national war memorial shrine which also commemorates war criminal and leader of the Japanese military effort in World War II, Hideki Tojo. That same year, Indian PM Manmohan Singh told Japanese PM Koizumi Junichiro that “the dissenting judgement of Justice Radha Binod Pal is well-known to the Japanese people and will always symbolise the affection and regard our people have for your country.”

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