A brave new world: the music biz at the dawn of 2008

Is the music industry dying?

An anecdote in a recent Economist perfectly summed up the problems facing the major music labels. After EMI, the smallest of the Big Four, invited a teen focus group to its London headquarters in 2006, it wanted to give the teens something for their time. The response is worth quoting in full.

At the end of the session the EMI bosses thanked them for their comments and told them to help themselves to a big pile of CDs sitting on a table. But none of the teens took any of the CDs, even though they were free. “That was the moment we realised the game was completely up,” says a person who was there.

Given the years of declining revenues at the major labels and the constant stream of stories in the mainstream press about music’s decline, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the music industry’s pallbearers are already lined up and waiting in the hallway. But music isn’t on its deathbed yet; in fact, people are listening to more artists than ever before, on more white earbuds than ever before, in more places than ever before. They’re just not paying as much.

Don’t put all the blame on file-swapping, either, or chalk the problems up to an inability to “compete with free.” Digital music sales soared in 2007, and in fact, the total number of “units” moved during the year increased over 2006. eMusic, the number two music download service in the US behind iTunes, doubled its own projections for the Christmas season, pushed out 10 million tracks in the month of December, and added 50,000 new paying customers in the last six months.

And all of this happened without the four major labels even offering DRM-free tracks online. Now that Sony BMG has finally capitulated, 2008 is poised to be the year digital goes so mainstream that even your parents use it.

All that good news means that music is alive and well—but it doesn’t mean that things are rosy at the major labels. Let’s run the numbers from 2007, then do a case study on eMusic’s recent results to see just what kind of success can be had in the digital download world by competing with free.

Major label blues

Revenues at the four major labels (Warner, EMI, Sony BMG, and Universal) have been on a slow decline throughout the decade. From 2002-2006, the majors’ revenue declined by 11 percent even as movies held steady at the box office and video games grew. Despite the downturn, the chart below makes clear just how large the major label music business truly is.

g1.jpg

Things have gotten bad enough that the labels themselves are demanding change even from their trade groups. EMI has recently been pushing both the IFPI and RIAA to restructure their operations, for instance, and all four labels have tried to adjust to a new world by dropping DRM and launching innovative programs like “Comes With Music.”

Is the downturn due to people not paying for music, though? Hardly; it’s due in large part to people not paying for CDs.

Again, looking at data from 2002-2006, we can see that CD sales have seen sharp decreases in all but one year, with 2006 having the sharpest drop of the bunch (2007 may have been worse).

 

musicsales11.jpg

  But unit sales have actually been rising over the last few years, with 2007 being another strong year. Reuters recently reported that overall unit sales rose 14 percent in 2007, with digital sales jumping by 45 percent.

 musicsales2.jpg

What’s happening is obvious; consumers are making far more purchases than ever before, but are often choosing to grab only selected tracks rather than complete albums. The album may not be dying in a general way, but it has certainly lost its importance as the primary way that buyers in the digital era get their music. Bands with a track record of putting out uneven albums won’t be able to milk that strategy for massive profits anymore, nor will any labels that nurture such acts.

That has translated into a grim situation at the major labels. Warner Music’s stock price is down more than 70 percent from its IPO price in 2005. EMI, recently acquired by private equity firm Terra Nova, was appalled by some aspects of the business it had acquired. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, new EMI boss Guy Hands asked rhetorically, “Can you imagine what would happen if most consumer industries over-shipped by 20 per cent? Can you imagine any consumer industry having 10 per cent of employees as middle management? Can you imagine only 6 per cent of staff in production?” Things are so bad that EMI has been spending $50 million a year just to destroy CDs it couldn’t sell, and has announced plans to lay off as many as 2,000 employees.

The situation is reminiscent of a Tim O’Reilly essay from 2002 in which he pointed out that “File-sharing networks don’t threaten book, music, or film publishing. They threaten existing publishers.” The same holds true of music. As long as the demand is present, there are huge opportunities to make money by giving consumers what they want—but that’s no guarantee that existing business models will continue to support companies.

It’s often said that it’s hard to compete with free, and that may be true for some segments of the population. (Are college kids ever really going to cough up much cash?) But for most adults who don’t get off on breaking the law or on stiffing artists, it’s easy enough to compete with free. Make something that’s faster, more reliable, with better metadata and album art, and a huge DRM-free selection. Throw in charts, some editorial staff, and some community features, and money is there to be made.

Even as the majors have found their revenues declining, indie-focused companies like eMusic are growing rapidly. Ars talked to eMusic CEO David Pakman to get some insight into how his company fared in 2007.

Case study: eMusic

eMusic remains the number two source of digital music downloads in the US. While it’s a bad time to be in the business of physically distributing music, the converse is also true: it’s a great time to sell songs online. eMusic blew away its own internal sales projections for the holiday season, moving more than 500,000 songs on Christmas Day alone, and 10 million in the month of December.

In the last few months, the service has seen subscriptions surge from 350,000 to more than 400,000, with each of those users paying at least $10 a month to download a set number of tracks (each song can cost as little as a quarter, but you can’t buy only one track).

“We really crushed it,” CEO David Pakman told me last week, in an obviously ebullient mood after doubling his company’s own sales projections for the holiday season. That stands in stark contrast to sales of physical CDs, which were down 20 percent over the same time period.

Convenience isn’t the only thing at work here; price is also a major factor. Pakman believes that the CD is priced “completely wrong,” and points out that hundreds of major DVDs can be had for $4 or $5. Despite the pressure that music labels have been under the last few years, CD prices have never approached this level (not counting those Beatles Greatest Hits! (as played by the Western Ljubljana State Radio Orchestra) discs you find in value bins).


David Pakman

Whatever artists and labels might think their music is worth, Pakman believes that consumers see music as simply being worth less than movies. If a thriller can be made for $80 million but be sold for $7.50, why should music remain in the $11 to $14 range? At those prices, fans would much rather 1) use P2P services and pay nothing, 2) pay a tiny amount to pick up the “hits” from online music vendors, or 3) purchase digital albums online for under $10.

The CD, with its lossless music, album art, and (general) lack of DRM, could move more units if it were appropriately priced, Pakman believes, but he doesn’t see this happening. Instead, his view is that we’ll see another 20-30 percent drop in CD sales in 2008.

But the divide here isn’t just between physical and digital distribution; it’s also between major labels and the indies. eMusic only distributes independent music. At first, this was simply a response to the fact that the majors refused to release their music without DRM, and the music has always offered MP3s. Now that the DRM walls are coming down, though, the company still has no interest in the vast majority of major label catalogs. Pakman says that eMusic might like “portions” of major label music, but much of it is not targeted at the eMusic demographic (music lovers 25 and older).

So eMusic’s success this year is also good news for the independent labels. The indies can now move serious units and have become much more than the major label’s “farm team.” Just consider a few of this year’s indie releases: Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Arcade Fire, David Gray, Spoon, Taylor Swift, the New Pornographers, and John Fogerty. Hardly a group of no-name lightweights.

Internet distribution has opened up music (like many other products) to the effects of the “long tail.” Since huge quantities of goods costs so little to store and deliver, online venues can offer products that appeal only to very small numbers of people and still make money. “The long tail does better online,” said Pakman, saying that eMusic is proof of that fact.

That’s great news for smaller labels, which have been grabbing a larger percentage of the total music market for the last few years. One major music conference coming up next month is even running a session called “The Indie Takeover?” to discuss the shift.

The majors haven’t helped themselves by pushing legendarily shifty contracts over the past 50 years, and artists are well aware of the pitfalls. Now that other options are proving workable, groups like Radiohead are publicly telling other artists to “think different.”

Diagnosis: Competition

So, in conclusion:

  • Indies gaining market share
  • Digital downloads up 45 percent in one year
  • Well-known artists going indie
  • DRM-free downloads from all major labels
  • Major label revenues declining
  • CD sales in a death spiral

Those don’t suggest that the music business is dying so much as changing, and the center of gravity is shifting to individual artists and to smaller, more focused operations. There will always be a role for what are still called the “major labels”; who would put out all those American Idol and Hannah Montana albums, for instance?

It’s too simple to say that the majors suck and indies are the future. Labels like Nonesuch (part of Warner) are putting out great music with a lean staff. They’re also willing to make artist-friendly gestures like allowing Wilco to sell CDs with no Nonesuch logo, no Warner logo, and no copyright information (this is contained on a disposable cardboard sleeve around the jewel case).

But the majors aren’t entitled to their “major” status by an act of God. They have to scrap for it like anyone else. The Economist put it well when it concluded that the majors may have to adjust to lower revenues. Calling it the current experiments with music “a leap into the unknown,” the magazine noted that “some among their number, indeed, may not survive.”

read more | digg story

Advertisements

Quantum of Solace, the new Bond film title.


_44378894_daniel_craig_203300ap.jpg

The next James Bond film is to be called Quantum of Solace, producers have confirmed. The title is taken from one of a collection of short stories published by 007 creator Ian Fleming in 1960.

Producer Michael Wilson said the film would have “twice as much action” as 2006’s Casino Royale, which saw Daniel Craig debut as the iconic secret agent.

The next outing, previously known as Bond 22, is partly being shot at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.

At a press conference at the facility, reporters were shown a minute of footage from the new film, including Bond swinging on a rope after an explosion at an art gallery in Siena, Italy.

Another scene showed him meeting M – played by Dame Judi Dench – outside in the snow.

Filming on the movie has been taking place at Pinewood since November.

He’s looking for revenge, you know, to make himself happy with the world again
Daniel Craig on James Bond

Craig said the cryptic title referenced how Bond’s heart had been broken at the end of Casino Royale.

“Ian Fleming had written about relationships,” he explained.

“When they go wrong, when there’s nothing left, when the spark has gone, when the fire’s gone out, there’s no quantum of solace.

“And at the end of the last movie, Bond has the love of his life taken away from him and he never got that quantum of solace.”

Craig said the new film would follow 007 as he goes out “to find the guy who’s responsible”.

“So he’s looking for revenge, you know, to make himself happy with the world again.

“But the title also alludes to something else in the film,” he added.

‘Driven by revenge’

_44378804_olga_gemma_203pa.jpg

Olga Kurylenko, who plays Bond girl Camille in the film, said that she has yet to film any scenes, but was working hard preparing for her role.

“I’m doing weapons training and body flight training for aerial scenes and stunt work for fighting,” she said.

“This girl is going to kick ass. She’s on her own mission and she’s driven by revenge.”

But it is not clear whether Camille is a secret agent.

French actor Mathieu Amalric, who plays the villainous Dominic Greene, told reporters his character had “the smile of Tony Blair and the crazy eyes of Nicholas Sarkozy”.

Actress Gemma Arterton plays an MI6 agent in the film and has already shot her love scenes with 007.

She said: “I felt like a giggly girl, and I felt so young and inexperienced – but I kissed James Bond!”

The 21-year-old, who recently starred in the St Trinian’s film, said her Bond role is “not so frolicksome” and her character “fresh and young, not sultry and a femme fatale”.

‘Pretty prickly’

Dame Judi Dench, who returns for her sixth Bond film, said: “I get to do more in this one, which is brilliant.”

She hinted that her character’s relationship with Bond would be “pretty prickly”.

Rumours about the name had grown after fans noticed that film studio Sony had bought the domain name quantumofsolace.com.

But co-producer Michael Wilson said the name had only been decided “a few days ago”, adding the story’s start point would be “literally an hour after the last film left off”.

Asked if Casino Royale star Eva Green would appear in Quantum of Solace, co-producer Barbara Broccoli said: “There are no flashbacks in the film, but she’s certainly on Bond’s mind.”

Director Marc Forster is in charge of work on the movie, which is due for release on 7 November. read more | digg story

Why the MPAA and RIAA can’t stand college students

According to a recent report from the Associated Press, the Motion Picture Association of America–Hollywood’s antipiracy wing–admitted to releasing data that was not only factually incorrect, it grossly overstated the impact college students have on the movie industry’s losses.

The MPAA claims its original figure citing a 44 percent loss due to college piracy was inflated by a whopping 29 percent. In fact, the MPAA admitted that the actual impact college students have on the industry’s revenue loss is just 15 percent.

“The 44 percent figure was used to show that if college campuses could somehow solve this problem on this campus, then it would make a tremendous difference in the business of the motion picture industry,” an expert covering the case said. The new figures prove “any solution on campus will have only a small impact on the industry itself.”

So why do the MPAA and the Recording Industry Association of America focus so much of their time on college students? Is there something that these disgusting organizations aren’t telling us? Are college students really that bad? Sadly, it’s just another example of these organizations trying to vilify the easy target when the real violators are left to roam free.

The main reason the RIAA and MPAA can’t stand college students is actually quite simple–they’re the easiest target. How many times have you heard organizations blame so many of the world’s problems on the 18 to 25 crowd? A quick history lesson on what happened in the ’70s should be enough to satisfy that assertion.

Let’s face it: The 18 to 25 crowd represents change and innovation. It represents a new way of thinking and the condemnation of the old guard. And it’s the old institutions like the movie and music industries that can’t seem to grasp that the change that’s occurring–the right to own your own digital media after purchasing it–is a rogue tidal wave that will eventually lead to their demise.

Sadly, the MPAA and RIAA just don’t like college students. In fact, why would they? After all, isn’t this the group that, according to RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth, “has reached a stage in life when their music habits are crystallized, and their appreciation for intellectual property has not yet reached its full development”?

I simply don’t understand these organizations. Instead of being the bastions of progress in an age where everyone can see that a change is coming, the RIAA and MPAA have decided to insult college students and cite faulty statistics to back up their ludicrous claims.

Why haven’t these organizations focused on the real pirates who cruise in gunships overseas and account for well over 15 percent of that revenue loss the MPAA is so quick to mention? Even better, why doesn’t the MPAA realize that the 15 percent loss is nothing compared with the incredible box-office losses it’s incurring because of crappy movies and skyrocketing ticket prices?

College students represent change, innovation and a new way of thinking. The MPAA and the RIAA represent two industries that would like nothing more than to go back to the days of no video media and vinyl–their comfort zones.

Unfortunately for them, that simply won’t happen. Realizing this, both organizations made a conscious decision to vilify college students in the hopes the rest of us would jump onboard. We didn’t.

The MPAA and the RIAA are two organizations that should be looked upon with the greatest amount of distaste and downright condemnation. Trust me, they’re really that bad.

read more | digg story

Google Translate bug mixes up Heath Ledger, Tom Cruise

Gawker has unearthed a rather odd bug in the Google Translate software: its English-to-Spanish translator converts the name of the actor Heath Ledger, who died tragically on Tuesday, to the name of another actor–Tom Cruise. So if you enter in “I will miss Heath Ledger,” Google Translate will come back with “Voy a perder Tom Cruise.”

This looks like a simple bug in the system, perhaps the work of a bored Googler somewhere in the world. It only affects the English-to-Spanish translation; translations from English into other languages leave “Heath Ledger” intact, and “Tom Cruise” remains “Tom Cruise” in a Spanish-to-English translation. And the bug only appears to apply to the name “Heath Ledger,” as substituting a number of other actors’ names (Owen Wilson, John Travolta, Russell Crowe, Jake Gyllenhaal) also fails to yield “Tom Cruise.”

It’d all be pretty funny were it not for the terrible circumstances surrounding Ledger, 28, who was found dead after an apparent overdose of sleeping pills; there’s nothing tasteless about it, thankfully, but cracking jokes or hinting at Scientology conspiracies just doesn’t seem all that fitting. We’ve contacted Google for comment. But we’re guessing that this won’t be a very pressing issue for Mountain View.

read more | digg story

“I Escaped Scientology” An insider gives a brief history.

1-100_7510.jpg

There are moments in life, coincidences, which have the potential to utterly change the direction and meaning of your existence. Of these I have had several; they have all marked me in various ways, but none more so than that fateful late afternoon in Stuttgart, Germany, when an attractive and rather aggressive young woman blocked my path and accosted me with the interrogative; “Do you have a good memory”?

This story aims to serve a dual function: Enlighten those who may be susceptible to seduction by mind and life control cults and to provide a sense of hope for those who may be so entrapped. A tertiary purpose is to encourage the reader to seek wisdom and direction from the vast array of knowledge available at our finger tips – thanks in part to Google and ultra-fast broadband, you can read incisive works on psychoanalytical and sociological thought by Fromm and Jung, Russell’s seminal ‘Analysis of mind’ lectures to the philosophic revolutionary ideas of the enlightenment.It is among these that you will find true wisdom and real answers to the questions and uncertainties that have driven so many into the gaping maw of deceptive pseudo religion.

To the informed, Scientology evokes a visceral revulsion, and with good reason. Cruise, the empty headed fanatic, stirring up collective nausea on national TV, personifies the true core value of Scientology to the man in the street. Lisa McPherson’s emaciated corpse, the true facts of her agonizing demise hidden under a cloud of Church generated obfuscation. ‘The exhibition of death’, a C-grade horror movie set, toured around the world by the Church in a vain attempt to obliterate two hundred years worth of neuropsychiatric and psychological research and insight.

To the yellow coated Scientology Volunteer Ministers, guaranteed to appear at the site of any national disaster, like the proverbial vulture, in a hopeless endeavor to pass off recruitment and the conceited effort to gain positive media response as ‘help’; in actuality, they tend to get in the way of qualified professional rescue and emergency personnel, while wasting valuable resources that could otherwise be passed onto the victims of disaster.

scientology_psychiatry_kills.jpg

Professor Erich Fromm would have diagnosed the cults’ founder, L Ron Hubbard, as suffering from an extreme form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. So warped was his condition that he not only founded a religious body to honor him and his thought, but further, formed a virtual military unit to protect him and his ‘works’, execute his orders and pretty much pander to his every whim.There is no doubt that he was a powerful individual and, at least before his increasing mental instability got the better of him, had bucket loads of charm and great intelligence. But these virtues were contorted, perverted, by his illness. In an all too brief moment of clarity in the early 1950s, he asked for psychiatric help, but ran away before he could be adequately assessed and treated.

A thread that runs right through all of Hubbard’s lectures and writings from the early years of the cult to his last incoherent broadcast in 1979 is that of impending doom. He paints a bleak picture of our everyday lives. Our minds are subject to our barely contained, violently irrational subconscious, and the civil cohesion we see around us is a mere shallow pretense. Hubbard gives us to believe that our social order is run by a small clique of Machiavellian, fascistic bankers, politicos and media moguls plotting to subvert our liberty and freedom.

One could be forgiven for objectively viewing his world view as an expression of severe paranoia. It would be laughable except for the fact that all cult members were gradually inculcated into this exact outlook; we viewed the world around us with mistrust and apprehension.

scientology-sign.jpg

It was just one of many mechanisms employed to keep us obedient and fearful of leaving.The organization operating under the brand name ‘Scientology’ and later on Hubbard’s own militant ‘praetorian guard’ The Sea Organization, where I spent twenty years of my life, were born out of Hubbard’s pathological desire to take fiction out of its context as entertainment, and place it into the realm of actuality. In this fashion he hoped to rewrite the miserable reality of his life.

This deeply flawed individual failed at everything he attempted to put his hand to. His only modicum of success was his much touted brilliance as a science fiction writer. The reality was that he wrote rather garish and poorly constructed short stories for about eight years during the nineteen thirties for a cheap throwaway medium, the pulp fiction magazine. He also wrote pornographic texts; this was an aspect of his literary career his church publicity officers kept under wraps.

Hubbard signed up for the Navy in 1940. Here he found himself in vast organization, a complex bureaucracy that he could play to suit his own ends. He never saw action, most of his war being spent in training institutions, hospitals and on leave. The brief period where he was actually allowed command of a small submarine chaser ended in disaster when he ordered his crew to fire live rounds at America’s ally, Mexico. He was relieved of command and put under close supervision as a navigator on a Liberty ship; he signed himself into hospital complaining of ulcers and conjunctivitis the day before the ship left for combat in the Pacific theatre.

World War II was over, the troops had come home.

l-ron-hubbard-building.jpg

The youngsters that had previously devoured pulp fiction during the mid 30s had grown up and were focused now on building lives in a newly prosperous America. There was now little or no market the fiction magazine.Hubbard was out of a job. Working off his 1939 premise that the way to make a million dollars was to start a religion, Hubbard dug up his unpublished manuscript, the science fiction novel ‘Excalibur’. This novel concerned a galactic overlord called Xenu, who banished millions of his subjects to the ‘prison planet’ Earth. It was around this 1930s era manuscript that Hubbard created what we know today as Scientology.

He was enough of a pragmatist to realize that the story of Xenu and the fate of the banished aliens would not entice the masses to part with hard earned cash; he needed a hook, and thanks to Freud and a few party tricks, found one. He called it Dianetics and its brief popularity rode on the back of a wave of a renewed interest the mind, mysticism and self exploration.

Dianetics was concocted from a mixture of vicious mind-control techniques and scrambled versions of both Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis. It was developed and expanded upon over the years, and eventually became part of an apparently vast body of ‘research’ that Hubbard called ‘The Tech’ (as in Technology) which he made available to his followers; for a price. Trained in this lethal ‘therapy’, these unqualified mental practitioners were brainwashed into believing they were the vanguard of a new civilization, one that would eventually overwhelm the institutions of state, learning and religion with Hubbard’s brand of social obedience, and thus avert the coming apocalypse. Driven by their leaders incessant haranguing, they formed what we know today as ‘The Church’ of Scientology.

Hubbard had been practically kicked out of Washington University’s School of Engineering, where he was a sporadic attendee between 1930 and 1932. As he developed the ‘philosophy’ of Scientology, he thought it would be helpful if he acquired a Ph.D, and he did, for about $250 US. I will cite a passage from Dr. Christopher Evan’s pithy volume on the religion, ‘The Cult of Unreason’ – The Cult of Reason: “As for Hubbard’s doctorate, it was awarded, one learns, from the magnificently styled `Sequoia University of California’ – an establishment which you will search for endlessly the standard list of American universities, but which used to be well known to quacks on the West Coast as a degree mill where `qualifications’ could be bought for suitable sums.

There is some evidence, as it happens, that L. Ron has had occasion to regret his involvement with the diminutive faculty of the Sequoia University, for his bogus Ph.D. has been frequently brought up by unkind critics as a stick to beat him with – and one for which he can find no ready defence.

On 8 March 1966, possibly tiring of suffering on behalf of this valueless embarrassment, but with a typically flamboyant gesture, he took an advertisement in the personal column of The Times, `resigning’ his degree in the following words:

“I, L Ron Hubbard of Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, having reviewed the damage being done in our society with nuclear physics and psychiatry by persons calling themselves `Doctor’, do hereby resign in protest my university degree as a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.), anticipating an early public outcry against anyone called `Doctor’; and although not in any way connected with bombs or `psychiatric treatment’ or treatment of the sick, and interested only and always in philosophy and the total freedom of the human spirit, I wish no association of any kind with these persons and do so publicly declare, and request my friends and the public not to refer to me in any way with this title.”With this characteristic piece, which it is impossible not to admire, he partly sealed a crack in his armor, at the same time cleverly taking the opportunity to pound psychiatrists, his perpetual antagonists.

Having considered the Founder of Scientology’s scanty academic background, we now pass on to inspect other interesting claims which have helped to bolster his image as a man of wild and far-reaching talents. The claims are many and apart from the obvious, and quite unchallengeable, one that he is a writer, he is also often referred to as an explorer, a naval war hero, a philosopher, a master mariner and, most extraordinary of all, `one of the prime movers in the US effort of getting man into space’.

What of Lord Xenu and the 1939 manuscript?

This became part of the mysterious Scientology ‘holy of holies’, the secret knowledge that would only be revealed to the follower after years of extensive conditioning and parting with large sums of money. Hubbard built various myths around this ‘level’: One would attain superhuman abilities, read minds, operate as a conscious unit outside the confines of the body, become aware of ‘past lives’ and so on. It was a hook that Hubbard used, and indeed, the ‘Church’ today, uses to keep the sycophant paying money, donating time or, in the case of Hubbard’s military, their whole lives, to the cause.

I escaped the cult just over a year ago, having been an ultra orthodox member of its militant inner circle for twenty years. Contrary to their rather shallow propaganda claims, it was neither a healthy nor life enhancing experience.During my last year in the cult, I was involved in wide ranging plan that involved among other things, the infiltration of a relatively important local government institution. I was already sitting on several influential committees and it was really only a matter of time before I would be able to manipulate this democratic institution to the advantage of my own, very undemocratic, hierarchical and quite frankly, criminal operation.

It is ironic that my subversive mission provided the key to my waking up, seeing Scientology for what it is, and escaping.

I had been more or less cut off from the real world since 1986: Access to TV, Internet and other media has always been discouraged, but since 1990, Internet use for the Sea Organization member, with the exception of those in the intelligence and policing branch, has been strictly verboten.

My work granted me considerable latitude with regard to typical organizational rules and restrictions, and the fact that I was in a rather senior position a long distance from the cult HQ in Sussex, gave me unprecedented freedom. Because I was involved in the educational and social field, I had to read up on the various theories I was being exposed to: Fromm, Jung, Freud and Dr. Perry. Additionally, I had to do considerable internet searches to trace key targets for the purposes of my mission.Exposure to such material had the effect of developing my critical thinking faculties, and I began to spot huge holes in Hubbard’s ‘philosophy’. One evening I ‘Googled’ the word ‘Scientology’, I began reading. I stopped at five the next morning due to exhaustion, but I was exhilarated, I had hit a gold mine of information. I came across posts, essays and exposes of the cult, very often from colleagues I had known over the years and who had disappeared into that murky realm outside of Scientology.

It was a terrifying experience to walk out into the real world, with nothing to show for my slavish devotion to the cult. Twenty years of sixteen-hour days and seven-day weeks takes its toll. I had nothing to show for myself, just the clothes on my back, I was unknown to any social services and was in a country that was not my own, this and facing up to the lies and distortions that had been drummed into me over the years was difficult.

The Scientologist describes the world outside as ‘the wog world’; the unenlightened humanoid is a ‘wog’.

The cult member who ‘falls from grace’ and leaves the church is described as a ‘degraded being’, destined for a short pain-filled life and reincarnation as a lunatic, handicap, street kid or some other form of degraded creature. This is not very encouraging to say the least.As is typical of many ex-cult members, I suffered a period of acute suicidal depression, which I survived thanks to Hubbard’s and Scientology’s biªte noir; Psychiatrists and psychologists.

In my new life outside of that psychotic cult, I have found love, encouragement, compassion, real peace and a sense of contentment that I did not think possible while moving up Hubbard’s torturous ‘Road to total freedom.’

*****
If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy Scientology Exploits The Virginia Tech Tragedy

read more | digg story

Oops: MPAA admits college piracy numbers grossly inflated

“For clearly not in any and every body
Can mind and can intelligence exist.”
-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, book five

Unbelievable.

After commissioning a 2005 study from LEK Consulting that showed collegiate file-swappers were responsible for 44 percent of movie studio “losses” to piracy, the MPAA then used the report it bought to bludgeon Congress into considering legislation to address this massive problem. Now the MPAA admits that the report’s conclusions weren’t even close to being right; collegiate piracy accounts for only 15 percent of “losses.” Oops. And that’s assuming you believe the rest of the data.

The Associated Press broke the news today; apparently, the MPAA is busy notifying government and education officials about the blunder, which may explain why it’s too busy to post a mea culpa to its web site. The group blames “human error” for the calculation problem.

Of course, human error can and does happen to the best of us, and at least the MPAA finally owned up to a mistake that no one else would have noticed—even if it took over two years. Of course, the reason no one else would have noticed it is because the group kept the 2005 report and its methodology under wraps. But even the summaries that it published were enough for us to express some potent skepticism of the numbers back in 2006 and to argue that “the contours and effects of piracy are quite open to debate, and as a result, the best ways to address the problem are up for debate, too.”

But the MPAA didn’t see it that way. It had its numbers, and it trucked them off to Congress. Howard Berman (D-CA), a powerful Congressman from Hollywood who does plenty of work with IP issues, bought the complete bill of goods. In March of 2007, we reported on Berman’s veiled threats against universities and colleges in the US, comments apparently based in part on the now-discredited report.

“Indeed, the statistics demonstrate that students engage in rampant piracy,” he said at the time, “and while Congress has given universities many exemptions from copyright liability it might be time to condition some of those exemptions on action taken by universities to address the piracy problem.”

This attitude led to bills like the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, still pending a vote in the House. That bill directs schools to “develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property as well as a plan to explore technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity.” Or, in English: figure out some way to sell content to your kids, then figure out some way to filter their Internet connections if that fails. No one was required to implement these plans, but the very fact that the bill has already cleared its House committee suggests that Congress is getting serious about having universities bring down that 44 percent—sorry, 15 percent—number.

But university actions, no matter how draconian, are unlikely to affect collegiate downloading habits too much. The AP also quotes Mark Luke, a VP at education technology group Educause, who argues that most college students live off-campus; therefore, even if the MPAA numbers are now in the ballpark, filtering campus Internet connections will have only a minimal effect.

With most of the Ars staff having backgrounds in higher education, the MPAA lobbying drive to turn universities into copyright cops touches a raw nerve. The fact that one of the key data points in this lobbying for the last two years was overstated by a factor of three is bad, but the fact that it came from a secret report just makes it all worse. After all, this is exactly opposite the approach taken by most of the academic world (and the open-source community) when it comes to research, and there’s a good reason why findings need to be open and repeatable and scrutinized by other experts before gaining acceptance. Or before guiding US law.

Yes, college students need to rein in the file-sharing. We get it. Artists need to eat. But while the MPAA has been busy lecturing universities about the way they run their IT operations, perhaps the universities have something to say to the motion picture business about how it buys and releases its research. Back to school, MPAA.

read more | digg story

Meet Oscar’s Class of 2008 : And The Nominees Are…

no-countryx.jpg

Oscar voters sure are happy about a somber set of films.

In nominations named Tuesday, There Will Be Blood, which follows a ruthless tycoon’s pursuit of oil, and No Country for Old Men, a bloody contemporary Western, lead the best-picture pack with eight each. Two other top-picture contenders, Atonement (distraught lovers) and Michael Clayton (deceitful lawyers), are close behind with seven each. The light spot on the list is Juno, the sweet story of a precocious, pregnant teenager, which got four nominations.

While no front-runner has emerged, No Country for Old Men has won the most critics’ awards, including those from the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle. There Will Be Blood was cited as best picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. Atonement won the Golden Globe among dramas. None of them is a box-office blockbuster.

Leading Blood and Clayton are best-actor nominees Daniel Day-Lewis as the oilman and George Clooney as a law firm’s fixer. An unexpected entry is Tommy Lee Jones playing the father of a missing soldier in In the Valley of Elah. The other nominees are Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd, and Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises.

Cate Blanchett earned her second best-actress nomination for playing Queen Elizabeth I. She got the first as the young British monarch in 1998’s Elizabeth. She portrays the mature queen in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Julie Christie, suffering from Alzheimer’s in Away From Her, and Marion Cotillard, the tragic French singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, were considered locks in the actress category. Joining them is Laura Linney, who cares for an aging father in The Savages. Again, Juno injects levity into a serious lot. Its 20-year-old sensation, Ellen Page, tops off the list.

Blanchett’s name appears again in the supporting-actress category for her role as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. Also nominated are Ruby Dee, American Gangster; Saoirse Ronan, Atonement; Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone; and Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton.

In a big surprise, Juno‘s Jason Reitman was nominated in the directing category after being snubbed by the Directors Guild of America. In turn, Into the Wild‘s Sean Penn, a guild nominee, was shunned by Oscar voters.

Other nominated directors include Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood; Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton; and Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men. The Coens are the first sibling team to be nominated.

If there is a sure bet in the supporting-actor category, it may be No Country for Old Men‘s Javier Bardem, who has won many critics’ awards. He is up against Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War; Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild; and Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton.

read more | digg story