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Hollywood Pirates

Matthew Quirk’s short piece on movie piracy (“The Movie Pirates,” June Atlantic) was eye-opening, but it disappointed me in a few respects. The article cites statistics of questionable provenance. For instance, Motion Picture Association of America head Dan Glickman is cited as an authority regarding Chinese DVD piracy, but his objectivity on the subject is comparable to Jack Valenti’s when discussing Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. BayTSP, an antipiracy tracking company, is cited as the source for data on the pirated movie described in the article, and while I have no specific reason to question BayTSP’s data, the company obviously has a commercial interest in emphasizing the severity of the piracy problem.

The article says, “Dozens of other illegal versions of the movie [were] posted to other file-sharing networks,” but it doesn’t discuss the crucial issues—quality and reliability—this raises, which may pull customers toward legitimate downloads. Different pirated versions of a single film can vary widely in quality and come in formats that may or may not play back properly. Downloading software, such as the cracked version of Microsoft Windows Vista mentioned in the piece, poses a huge danger as a vector for viruses, spyware, etc.

But the article’s essential point—that content owners have yet to fully seize a great opportunity posed by Internet distribution—is vividly illustrated by a recent experience of mine. After downloading a pirated copy of a new episode of The Sopranos, I received a notice—triggered by a tracking company such as BayTSP—from HBO threatening legal action. As one of the millions of Sopranos addicts, I would happily buy a legitimate download, if only that were possible.

Why isn’t it possible? One reason is that movie studios and TV networks are just as subject to “channel conflict” as other businesses: The Internet and other new distribution methods threaten their existing sales channels, such as theater chains, affiliate stations, and cable/satellite providers. Accelerating DVD releases of movies may make sense for the studios, but not for cineplex owners. Putting The Office online may make sense for NBC, but not for KIOU-TV in Peoria.

Ken Broomfield
San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Military Politics

Andrew Bacevich argues (“Warrior Politics,” May Atlantic) that it is “shortsighted and dangerous” for our society to permit a group of soldiers to join the debate over the Iraq War. It would be absurd to tailor national-security policy to the whims of men and women in uniform, whether officer or enlisted. However, the context of campaigns such as the Appeal for Redress—a movement I co-founded comprising service members who have chosen to voice their opposition to the war in Iraq—must be considered before judgment can be cast.

The proponents of this war, and sadly even the so-called opposition in the halls of power, are justifying the continued funding of the occupation of Iraq because to do otherwise would be, in their words, “abandoning our troops.” As long as the men and women of the military are being used as political human shields in the debate over war funding, troops are a component of the national dialogue, whether they want to be or not. The Appeal for Redress, which is entirely legal, becomes justified when politicians use the aura of the troops as a means to solidify their agendas. It is unconscionable that policy makers are using troops as their rhetorical Monopoly money, flaunting an imaginary moral authority while they continue to put our young service members in a position where they must kill or die for a lie, for oil, or to preserve the remaining shreds of presidential credibility.

Therefore, the Appeal for Redress is not the military seeking a more prominent role in politics; it is troops renouncing the role being projected onto them. Bacevich claims, “Although [the soldiers, sailors, and marines driving the Appeal for Redress are] sworn to obey, they have undertaken to obstruct [their commander in chief].” What he neglects to clarify is that we, as members of the armed forces, are sworn to do more than simply obey; we are sworn to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

All people, especially soldiers, are bound to their consciences before their commander in chief. Accordingly, when I served in Iraq, I was a human being first and an American second. Further, troops are bound to serve their Constitution before their orders. Accordingly, I was an American first and a marine second. This philosophy is what protects humanity from militaries in the wrong hands.

Liam Madden
Co-founder, Appeal for Redress
Boston, Mass.

Still evolving

Your glowing review of Jeffrey J. Kripal’s Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (Cover to Cover, July/August Atlantic) does handsome justice to the book, but not to the institute itself. Where does your reviewer get the idea that “Esalen itself ultimately couldn’t sustain” its early achievements? Now in its 46th year, Esalen continues to offer some 500 programs to over 15,000 seekers each year. Our visiting faculty is made up of the world’s most cutting-edge authors, activists, and field leaders. Our subsidized initiatives incubate social change through citizen diplomacy, political activism, consciousness research, cultural and spiritual studies, interfaith dialogue, and leadership education. Check us out on the Web, or better yet, visit us in Big Sur and see for yourself.

Gordon Wheeler
President/CEO, Esalen Institute
Big Sur, Calif.

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