The privilege of modernity

I imagine that I’m hardly unique among people who studied abroad in high school and college, that I came home with tons of stories waiting to be told. Last time I blogged about my experiences in Russia, I spoke about people I’d met outside of the planned curriculum.

This time, I want to speak about something that was a planned part of my studies, presumably scheduled long before I left the United States. But if you’re going to a city like St. Petersburg, there are some things you just have to do.

As a part of the curriculum organized by the Council on International Educational Exchange, my group of Americans took several walking tours of the city and its environs. (That probably happens with all cities, mind you; I can only speak to what I saw in St. Petersburg, though).

One such tour, was about the devastation wrought during the Siege of Leningrad, the period of nearly 900 days during World War II, when the Soviet city was completely cut off from outside help, by the Nazis.

Our tour guide spoke of the brutal living conditions, the death toll, the magnitude and cost in human lives, but also the tales of every day bravery undertaken to help keep people alive in the hope that the siege would end soon.
The simple truth is that nobody who had to hunker down during the siege, knew when it would end and hopelessness and despair slowly took over the longer the siege lasted.

We are left to guess what it must have been like, if you had young or adolescent children to care for during the siege. How much should any parent tell their children about what’s going on in a situation like that?

I’ve been thinking of that tour a lot lately. We may not be facing a direct famine like the people of Leningrad more than 75 years ago, and it’s not a time of war, but there’s still a deadly disease out there, spreading at a pace that borders on uncontrolled. If I’m properly understanding the current research, our children are, for the most part, safe but they can still carry the diseases to family members who aren’t, if they should become infected.

I understand that it’s obviously better for our children’s emotional well-being, that they be with their friends at school, rather than being cooped up at home. But if doing so could endanger themselves, their teachers, and their families, we should do what’s in the best interests of society, of our towns and neighborhoods. We can deal with the emotional consequences after the pandemic is over.

That’s why it’s disappointing to see, in the Facebook group I’m in for parents of students in my kids’ school district, such a strong push for fully opening our schools. I disagree with the people who are pushing for it, and have said so. I’ve gotten people attacking me for my position, and others supporting me.

Earlier this month, the schools implemented a partial reopening. Less than a week after it started, I got a call from my younger son’s school nurse, telling me that he had come in contact with someone who tested positive, and that he has to quarantine for two weeks. That quarantine will be over in a few days. My son hasn’t developed any symptoms, and I’m cautiously optimistic that he won’t.

Both of my kids have been very good about wearing masks and social distancing.

But when I see the parents pushing for reopening our schools, I wonder about how they would have dealt with the situation had they been in Leningrad during the siege. Would they have been pushing for a reopening of the schools, with the risks associated with a Nazi attack? Or would they have been more protective of their children?

I suppose an argument can be made that spreading the family out in case of an attack could ensure someone’s survival, but that just seems like a scary argument to make, at best.

I understand that a plague is not the same as a war. And I understand the problems with boredom when cooped up at home. But in the year 2020, we have tremendous privileges that didn’t exist in the 1940s. We have television, video games, internet, and ways of communicating with others that previous generations could barely dream about.

You can argue that I’m being more conservative than I need to be, considering the death rate from the novel coronavirus. I’m not sure I’d say “need to be” so much as I’m saying that I’m more conservative or cautious than other parents.

But given the recklessness I see in other parents, I’m merely trying to strike a balance. If others were more cautious, I’d be more open to meeting them in the proverbial middle.

If nothing else, I think we need to retire the cliche “avoid that like the plague.”

Then, when it’s all over, maybe I’ll find an excuse to talk about the walking tour I took of the life of Alexander Pushkin in St. Petersburg.

No wonder they don’t recognize fascism

It’s not often that I see an article that, a couple of paragraphs in, I have to stop reading because they make a statement so utterly devoid of fact, logic, or good taste, that I can’t concentrate on the rest of the article.

But, damn, Dr Ted Baehr, the founder of Movieguide, wrote a doozy. I first tried to read his essay last night, but I had to stop a third of the way through because of the breathtaking stupidity of what he said. I tried to proceed, but kept going back to the earlier part in my mind. I managed to read the full article this morning.

So let me start by clarifying the first, less egregious assertion at the beginning of the article. Let’s start with Hugo Chavez, a corrupt crackpot dictator who bankrupted his country in order to enrich himself. That he was a socialist is a convenient bugaboo for the right, and has been for as long as he was in power. But it was his corruption, his use of his country’s resources as his personal checking account, that impoverished the country, not his socialism. Indeed, I can think of several world leaders in the past two or three decades who did something similar, but only Chavez was a socialist. Other world leaders who have done or are doing similar things, include Vladimir Putin, Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, and Donald Trump.

But that’s not even the most ahistorical statement of the first three paragraphs of Dr Baehr’s article. When Hitler was elected president of Germany, it was already in an economic tailspin, brought on by a combination of the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression. Who knew that being told to bear all of the costs and responsibility for a devastating war might prove to be a problem for more than just the government of a given country? Throw in a worldwide economic downturn, and you’ve got everything you need for a brutal dictator to rise up and cause real problems.

But where Dr Baehr’s essay really goes off the rails, is in the next few paragraphs. So if I may, I’d like to address the author directly:

Ted, buddy. Do you mind if I call you Ted? Let me give you a little bit of advice on being taken seriously. If you’re going to talk about the Holocaust — and I have no problem talking about it for all of its horrors — you might be well served to recall that, generally speaking, the victims of the brutality were not Christian pastors. Sure, some of the more liberal ministers who opposed Hitler might have ended up alongside of their Jewish brethren, but as a general rule, it was the Christians who were doing the killing and not being killed.

No wonder I couldnt keep reading that article last night.

They then go on to cite — without links to confirm or disconfirm — an opinion editor of the Washington Post expressing an opinion (something I’m sure happened) about a political party (which probably also happened) for a reason that I can’t verify (and, given the inability to verity it, I’m going to assume that his reason “because … they might win an election” is at best an oversimplification of not an outright fabrication).

I think I found the Keith Olbermann quote that Dr Baehr is so incensed about. And yes, it is a little bit over the top, but Trump wouldn’t have been able to get away with his crimes if it weren’t for his enablers, so there should be some responsibility there too. And again, it’s an opinion.

I, too, have expressed similar opinions about the Republican Party.

And then Dr Baehr goes on a very tired old screed against abortion, saying that it is the murder of innocent babies.

Let me make something abundantly clear: it seems as though the entire foundation of the antiabortion side of the greater political debate, rests on lies, misrepresentations, distortions, and cherry-picked information. And there is no greater lie about abortion, than the conflation of a blastocyst, zygote, embryo, or fetus, with a baby. This is blatantly false, and is designed to cause outrage without regard to the facts or simple human truth or decency.

Killing babies isn’t abortion; it’s infanticide. And as far as I can tell, there’s only one text that actively promotes infanticide: the Bible.

And finally, I do wish Dr Baehr would stop referring to the party founded by Andrew Jackson as “The Democrat Party”. That’s not the name of the party. It’s the Democratic Party. Individual members may be Democrats, but the party as a whole is the Democratic Party. When you see this, it’s intended to be a derogatory shorthand. It has reached a point where the use of this phrase is a sign of extreme bias against one party. I could, of course, refer to the other party as the “Rethuglican Party” because that’s what it seems like they are, but only the most rabid partisans would see it as anything other than an insult. Ted, you really ought to drop that too.

It’s the least you can do if you want your doctorate to actually imply you know what you’re talking about.

The Heart that Made America Great

About two weeks ago, a documentary about the life of Harry Chapin was released to a small number of movie theaters around the country. Today, that documentary became available to own as a digital download on the various platforms of that sort. And if Amazon is to be trusted, it’ll be available on DVD on November 10.

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way first. It’s a very well-produced movie, a great mix of archival footage (both professionally made as well as “home movies”), interviews with notable people, and assembled in a way that’s engaging, personal, and moving.

(That said, there were three notable people mentioned at various points in the movie, including with archival footage, who would have been well served to have been included to a greater extent in the movie. They are Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, and Jimmy Carter.)

Just about anyone who knows me, knows how I feel about Harry Chapin, his life, and his music. I have blogged about something to do with him multiple times, most recently in an entry about eight months ago, with a title identical to the name of the movie.

The movie follows Harry’s life in a more-or-less linear fashion: from his youth growing up in New York, to when he and his brothers first heard The Weavers at Carnegie Hall album, inspiring them to try their hand at music. Then it moved on to a discussion of his career, both as a musician and as a humanitarian whose efforts to lobby congress to authorize a Presidential Commission on World Hunger. Then, when covering his untimely death in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway, it focused on his memorial and his legacy.

In short, it is simultaneously an inspiration and a challenge. As a pandemic ravages the nation and the world, wreaking economic devastation to many, having taken north of a million lives worldwide, food insecurity is as serious a threat as the virus itself.

I found myself most intrigued by the interviews with his (now adult) children. I specifically appreciated the scenes with his daughter Jaime, who recalled when her mother first met up with him, how she and her brothers weren’t sure what to think of him, but warmed to his warmth, generosity, and charm pretty quickly.

This movie is bound to invite comparisons with the 1988 biological documentary Imagine: John Lennon, as they both draw heavily from archival footage provided by the family of the subject, and cover a subject who at times can seem larger than life, even in death. Both movies feature the subject saying something that both presages and stands in stark contrast with the fate we know is coming all too soon.

July 16, 1981 was a dark day; it’s unfortunate that Harry didn’t live to see the efforts in the 1980s to help eliminate world hunger, such as USA For Africa, Live-Aid, and Hands Across America.

And his message is as relevant today as it was forty years ago.

As soon as you get the chance, you need to watch this movie. You won’t regret it.

This is sadly somewhat typical

Both of my kids have special needs, and I get wraparound services to help socialize them. Yesterday, my younger son’s mobile therapist came out, and when she showed up, he asked if we could all take a walk around the neighborhood.

I had no problem with this fact.

My son gets very excited this time of year. His birthday is later this month and he loves the holiday of Halloween. His mobile therapist immigrated to this country from the Caribbean. She thus has, um, dark skin.

As we were walking on a nearby street — one we don’t generally drive down — we passed a house decorated with (1) a couple of plastic jack-o-lanterns and (2) a lot of pro-Trump signs, including this one.

(Side note about the sign, how can you love both god and the constitution? The constitution says you’re free to speak whatever you wish to speak. God says the penalty for blasphemy is death…)

When we walked by this house, my son pointed to the decorations and said that it looked like they’re getting ready for Halloween. I can’t be certain if he based this observation on the jack-o-lanterns, or if he based it on the political signs which I assure you he did not read, as they are far above his reading ability.

I nodded my head and said I think so, and we just walked by. A man in the house came out and yelled at us, and then his wife came out and started cursing at us. We got several houses away and she was still swearing.

I’m not sure exactly what upset them. Was it my son who didn’t see or care about the political message, or our Black companion? I don’t know.

But I wish this were not typical of the average Trump supporter. So much for the love in their house.

The highest profile COVID diagnosis since Tom Hanks

So at about 1 am EDT this morning, Donald Trump tweeted that he and Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. I was awake enough to see the breaking news come through on my phone and iPad, but not awake enough to read any articles on it at the time.

Now before I get into my various thoughts on this matter, I wish him a speedy recovery and a relatively painless time during which he will fight this affliction that has already killed north of 200,000 of my fellow Americans, and more than a million worldwide. As far as diseases go, this is already third place for top killers in the year 2020, only behind cancer and heart disease.

One of the most glaring errors in the drafting of the constitution, had to do with order of succession and transfer of power in the event that a president becomes incapacitated, dies, resigns, or otherwise is unable to execute the duties of the president. This was fixed relatively recently, with the passage of the 25th Amendment. We’ve heard a lot of talk over the past four years about this amendment, specifically in regard to Section 4, as many people questioned Donald Trump’s fitness to be president. But it’s section 3 that is relevant, assuming that does not die from the disease (and if he does, then section 1 becomes relevant). Section 3 has been invoked three times since its passage, and all three involved something to do with the president’s asshole. (Reagan transferred power to George H W Bush for a colonoscopy in 1985, and then George W Bush had colonoscopies in 2002 and in 2007, transferring power to Dick Cheney both times, although one questions when Dick Cheney didn’t wield executive authority during W’s tenure…) Will Trump transfer power to Mike Pence under Section 3?

In public, Mike Pence always has a stoic look on his face. Never smiling but not frowning. A little bit over two years ago I wrote about how horrible a human being Mike Pence is, and how I wondered even then if he’s just biding his time waiting for the reins of power. Given that he tested negative since Trump’s diagnosis, that could mean that he might still test positive in a few days, or that could mean that he’s not as close to Trump as either man would have you believe.

While I don’t doubt Trump’s diagnosis, I’m being a little bit more skeptical of the news about Pence. If there’s one thing that is certain, I don’t imagine anyone in the Trump administration would welcome the possibility of a temporary President Nancy Pelosi, who would be next in line if Pence is also incapacitated. Will Team Pence follow the pattern of what happened in the Soviet Union, when the leader would die and then the news services would announce that he’d gotten a cold?

I’d welcome it, though. If nothing else, I’d like to see her use that power to revoke the SCOTUS nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

Speaking of Judge Barrett, we know that she has met with Trump in the past week. And if he’s starting to show symptoms as the news reports are saying, that means he was infected about a week ago, give or take a day or two. Is it possible that she’s infected? Who else has Trump come into contact with, who might now also need to quarantine? Could this at least delay her nomination process?

But back to Trump. Given his age and greater health, he is a prime candidate for having a serious fight against the disease, even with the best doctors in the world. Recall that a couple of months ago British Prime Minister Boris Johnson got infected with the disease and spent a month in the ICU. Johnson leads a similarly unhealthful lifestyle but is twenty years younger than Trump. Trump may have access to the best health care available to any person on the planet, but the way this disease works, who knows how rough things are about to get for him?

I don’t envy any news editors right now. Just look at the past week of news stories: Trump’s taxes, the debacle of a debate, and now this.

We know that Trump loves to hold campaign rallies; indeed, they are his lifeblood. To stop holding them for at least the next two weeks will be very difficult for him. (And that, if nothing else, is why I don’t doubt the veracity of the tweet that reported he had tested positive.)

They should probably postpone or cancel the next presidential debate. It’s still going to be within the two week quarantine period (assuming Trump is actually able to stand after that). Biden can take the moral high ground here and wish Trump a speedy recovery and modify his campaign agenda to show respect. I do wonder how much sympathy Trump is going to garner for the diagnosis, given that he has spent so much time downplaying the seriousness of the disease. Time will tell on that one, and it’s going to be at least partially dependent upon how rough the next two-plus weeks are for him. The last thing Trump wants, is to look weak.

But if he does look weak, will any of our enemies — Russia, North Korea, Iran, etc — take advantage of it in new and novel ways? They already know and understand how to take advantage of him and his narcissism, I don’t see how this really changes much from that point of view.

During the debate the other day, the single most memorable line spoken by either candidate, was when Biden said, “Will you shut up, man?“. It looks like Trump might actually shut up for a little while.

App Economy Redux

I wanted to write a quick follow-up to my post rom last month about the dispute between Apple and Epic games, the creator of Fortnite. I’m writing this because a coalition of developers has apparently come together to challenge Apple’s App Store fees of 30%.

I’m honestly torn about this. This is at least partially a function of the in-app purchases that I bemoaned in my previous entry. But it also underscores the privilege that developers think they have when, in fact, they’re clearly missing a key point.

App developers are, by definition, content creators. You could create the best app in the world, but if you don’t have a mechanism for distributing it, nobody will find out about it. That’s what the App Store is. Google Play is the same mechanism.

And while we’re at it, so is an Amazon Kindle ebook reader. And Barnes and Noble’s Nook. And Pandora. And Spotify.

Artists also create content. And if an artist creates a work and wants to try and sell it, they’re lucky to bring in 70% of the asking price after everyone who helped with the distribution of the art takes their cut first. It’s why musicians literally make pennies on the dollar for their works. And don’t even get me started on gallery fees if the art is a visual medium like that.

Maybe there’s room for negotiating that 30% fee down. And if there is, more power to them. But compared with other mechanisms for distributing content, it seems like app developers really don’t know how good they have it.

Some statements are stupider than others

Mitt Romney (R-UT) said something the other day that essentially reaffirms the theft of two separate SCOTUS seats over the course of the past four years.

Specifically, he said:

My liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court, but that’s not written in the stars. [It is] appropriate for a nation that is … center-right to have a court which reflects center-right points of view.

Speaking as a pragmatic liberal, I have to ask Sen. Romney in all seriousness: what the fuck have you been smoking?

Let’s start with being used to the idea of having a liberal court. I will readily acknowledge that the Supreme Court had a liberal bent in the 1950s and 1960s, under the tuttelage of Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Justice Warren himself wrote the rulings that desegratated schools, decreed that congressional districts had to be roughly the same, population-wise, required police to notify prisoners of their rights, and allowed interracial marriage. And you can get all of that from the first paragraph of the above-linked Wikipedia entry on the man.

But as long as we’re looking at the Wikipedia page for the person who served as Chief Justice four chief justices ago, we should note that (1) he retired in 1969, and (2) he died in 1974. Given that, in the time period since then, Democratic presidents have seated exactly four justices on the Supreme Court, (and one of whom recently died and we are now a nation in mourning), I don’t see how the court can be considered “liberal” by any stretch of the imagination, even if there have been a few rulings over the years that qualify as “liberal”.

I also take exception to the idea that the nation as a whole is “center-right”. I often speak of the fact that, beginning with the first quadrennial election in which I was eligible to vote — the election of 1992 — I have voted with the majority of Americans in all but one election. That’s seven elections and I (a liberal as I mentioned above) voted with the majority six out of those seven times.

And while I recognize that the majority of people don’t always have positions that can or should stand up to constitutional scrutiny, it should be noted that the majority of Americans believe that abortion should remain legal and that some restrictions ought to be placed on guns to help prevent mass shootings. Nominating a judge whose worldview contradicts either of these even before judging a case on its legal merits, directly contravenes the will of the people.

But overall, Romney’s statement abandons all pretense at the fact that the judiciary should be impartial. If a so-called liberal idea or a so-called conservative idea needs resolution, then the judiciary should consider it on its merits against the framework of the constitution, period.

By cheerleading for a nakedly partisan court, as Romney’s statement clearly does, he is about to do significant damage to the court as a whole. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the democrats need to stop playing fair and, when the ball is back in their court, they need to do the same things to the republicans, that the republicans have been doing to them since Reagan swept into office.

Joe Biden for President

This blog post, believe it or not, wasn’t as easy to write as you might think. After all, if you look back over the history of my postings on this blog, you’ll know that:

1. I haven’t had much (if anything) good to say about Donald Trump since he first announced he would seek the Republican nomination for president in June of 2015 (and that includes my March 2016 declaration of a moratorium on Godwin’s law, and my assertion in October, 2016, that, of every person who had a legitimate shot at winning the presidency, I couldn’t find a single candidate less deserving of a victory than Donald Trump.

2. I realized in 2004 that the Republican Party as an entity had become a completely valueless, soulless, heartless entity, undeserving of my vote on any level, when I watched then-Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA, although six years later, he would switch his party affiliation to the Democratic Party) hew dangerously rightward to fend off a primary challenge from then Representative Pat Toomey, who fashioned himself a clone of Rick Santorum.

Now of course, I could always quote myself from my post dated January 2, 2019, when I said, “Once the general election rolls around, the nominee would have to be someone totally repugnant to me (at the level of Donald Trump or worse) in order for me not to vote for him or her in the general election.”

I stand by that statement; the only candidate in the entire Democratic field who would have given me pause, was Marianne Williamson. Joe Biden, therefore, will get my vote in the general election.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, though, is it?

I don’t (and can’t) deny that Biden was never anywhere near my first choice. I remember watching him campaign for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and thinking that I thought he had some good ideas and some good things to say. The sixteen-year-old me would have been enthusiastically all-in for him, had he gotten the nomination. When he left the race under the specter of plagiarism of one of his speeches, I remember wondering how exactly you could cite someone else’s work when giving a campaign speech in the first place. That’s not to say that he couldn’t have found a way to do it, but that’s not necessarily the kind of thing that a campaign should end over.

My opinion of Biden has ebbed and flowed over the years. I liked him in 1988, but thought he seriously mishandled the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. And there’s no shortage of votes he’s taken as a Senator over the years for which he needs to be held responsible.

When Barack Obama chose him as his running mate in 2008, I thought that was a good choice. Obama felt — correctly — that someone like Biden would help to balance the perception of inexperience he brought to the table. It was a good combination.

Of course, the length of one’s political resume is not really a good measure of the person once they become president. If it were, then any current debate about whether Donald Trump is our worst president ever, would be weighed against Abraham Lincoln or George Washington, and not against James Buchanan, who ran for president in 1856 (with good reason) based upon his experience.

And I want to underscore that a vote for Joe Biden because you dislike Donald Trump counts exactly the same as a vote for Joe Biden because you like Joe Biden.

And the long and short of everything boils down to the fact that, on the whole, I think Joe Biden will be good for the country. From undoing the short-sighted or otherwise horrible policies Trump has enacted, to repairing broken relationships with our allies, to being a steadying hand as we work our way out of the pandemic and corresponding economic crisis, we can use him to make right what has gone wrong these past four years.

If the speech he gave to accept the democrats’ nomination is any indication, then he’s as good a choice as any to lead the country into the future.

There are some things I’d like to see, that I’m going to have to wait for because I acknowledge that Biden isn’t the person to deliver them. But on the most important issues of the day — climate change, race relations, healthcare, the economy — he might not have all of the answers, nor will he be able to fix them overnight, but he’ll at least get us moving in the right direction.

And as we go down the road towards the ultimate fixes for these problems, maybe we’ll see that there is a better solution once we’ve laid the groundwork for solving them.

I understand the impatience and dissatisfaction that some of the more liberal members of the Democratic Party have been expressing; I’m pretty liberal myself after all (if that weren’t already obvious).

But we’re currently in a car that’s speeding out of control and about to go over a cliff, in the exact opposite direction of where we need to go. Joe Biden can get us out of that car and to safety. Once we can stand again and take a deep breath, we can worry about our true destination.

The App Economy

About a year or so ago, I downloaded the game Fortnite to my phone, played it for about five or ten minutes, didn’t see it as anything special, and deleted it.

My experience with the publisher of the game, was limited to the three games in the Infinity Blade series, and I did enjoy those games, even if they had a certain repetitive aspect to them.

Of course, the big news surrounding the game Fortnite and its publisher, is that there is an ongoing legal dispute between Epic Games and both Apple and Google.

To be fair, it was inevitable that this kind of dispute would happen. It was just a question of when. Turns out, it’s been just under eleven years. Kind of surprising that it’s taken that long.

I say that because of how we have evolved to pay for applications on our devices. In the early days of both personal computing and console gaming, you would either go to a store or use some form of mail order to buy a physical package, that contained the requisite software, which you could “plug in” or otherwise “install” on the device in question. Be it a cartridge for your Atari 2600 or Nintendo Entertainment System or one or more floppy disks for your computer (a la Zork or Word Perfect), it was still a physical object that you bought.

This, of course, had its disadvantages, most notably that you didn’t actually know if you’d like the software in question until after you bought it. And, specifically with regard to computer software (moreso than console games), this you couldn’t return it because of legitimate concerns over software piracy.

This problem was solved in the mid-nineties, as software developers took advantage of the distribution opportunities afforded by the burgeoning internet, and offered two possible solutions, both of which began with a download that was free for anyone to install and share however people would see fit. First, you could download a pared back “demo” version of the software, usually a smaller version of the software that, if you liked it, you could then decide to buy the full version in a store or through mail-order. And second was the idea of shareware. With shareware, the free version of the software is limited, but buying the full version is usually done either within the software or on the developer’s website. What you’d get is a code of some sort that, when input into a space within the application, “unlocks” the full version of the software.

As a general rule with shareware, the cost of the software was usually less than comparable software that required you to use discs (and by now, software had gotten so large, that it was distributed on CDs or DVDs instead of floppies) because there was no physical product to press, print, publish, box, or otherwise transport.

In a way, the apps on our phones are a natural progression from Shareware. At first, developers had to either charge for their software through the App Store, or receive compensation for their efforts through ads (or both). But in 2009, Apple announced the concept of In-App Purchases.

Nearly eleven years later, the way I see it, there are essentially three classes of In-App Purchases.

First is the purchase that truly unlocks additional functionality within the application, and is closest in concept to what Shareware was 25 years ago. This is the adventure game that allows you to play beyond the first couple of levels, the puzzle game that enables you to buy more puzzles beyond the “demo” version (my favorite puzzle app maker does this quite nicely), the security camera application that allows you to save video to the cloud or share it to social media, etc. I have no inherent problem with this type of purchase.

The second in-app purchase is the one that does away with advertisements within the application and little else. I readily acknowledge that developers need to make their money somehow, and each user has a legitimate choice between allowing an occasionally annoying ad to interrupt usage, and paying a little bit to stop the ads. You can learn a lot about a developer based upon how often they force you through the ads and the cost of this particular purchase. My decision to make or not make this purchase is entirely a function of my perception of the developer’s value of the work. I will never, for example, shell out the money to turn off the ads on Wordscapes because I don’t consider the app to be good enough for that large an outlay, and they interrupt the play with ads far too frequently. This makes it feel more like extortion than anything else. Conversely, I have made the purchase to turn off ads on TypeShift.

The third type of in-app purchase seems ubiquitous in games throughout the App Store, and is not the kind of thing that I would ever imagine spending real money on. If I had my druthers, I’d do away with this type of purchase altogether. It is the purchase that merely accelerates the “play” of the app but otherwise doesn’t enhance the user experience. Something that a user could accomplish or acquire over time by making no purchases, but for a little bit of money now, you can do it sooner. This is the casino game where you can “buy” the right to keep playing. Food, energy, weaponry, or in-game currency for your character in a role playing game or fighting game.

That third type panders to our impatience, our compulsions, and the worse aspects of our nature. I can see why this would be attractive to developers, because your users can keep coming back and spending more money for the same function or feature. Why charge $5.00 to completely open up the software to a user when you can charge $1.00 to a user each time they feel the need to spend it? Make them “need” it more than five times and you’ve got even more to profit from.

I don’t think I’m being excessively cynical when I say that a developer who uses the third type, doesn’t have a very high regard for its users.

And that’s what Fortnite does. You can buy “loot” for your character in the game, but it’s the kind of stuff you can find with enough patience and work. So when Epic complained that Apple was taking too large of a cut on the in-app purchases, they went out and developed their own mechanism for scamming collecting money from their users.

This is in violation of Apple’s Developer Agreement and as a result, Apple pulled Fortnite from its App Store. Google quickly followed suit.

Given the proliferation of apps that use the third type of purchase, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for this to come to a head. And Apple is not without blame here, both in encouraging this type of purchase, and for the restrictions they place on their developers (which have led Congress to openly question whether antitrust laws need to be strengthened).

As a matter of law, Apple seems clearly in the right. Not unlike how Monsanto was in the right each time it sued a farmer for violating its End User License Agreement. And I personally have no sympathy for Epic Games because they have used psychology to pander to the worst instincts of their users, essentially allowing users to buy cheat codes.

But the problem isn’t Apple’s control over its ecosystem, or Epic’s attempts to work around it. The problem is this type of in-app purchase in the first place.

Can we go back to something more closely resembling the Shareware of the mid-to-late 90s?

I didn’t expect that…

Way back in 2004, my favorite radio station, Philadelphia’s WXPN (88.5 on the local FM dial) asked their listeners to submit ten songs, all of the votes would be compiled for a countdown of the 885 greatest songs of all time. In 2005 they did it again with albums, then artists, and then a few “themed” years up until 2014, when they decided to revisit the topic of the greatest songs.

I blogged about it at the time, compiling what I had voted for and, once the countdowns were complete (and they suspended their normal programming to do it), which of my votes made it to the final list.

I was pleasantly surprised earlier this week when I heard they’re doing it again, only this time they’re going to do a top 2,020 songs (for the year 2020). Voting is open for the next two months if you want to get your vote in.

So I sat down to decide which songs I wanted to vote for. I tried to choose (mostly) different songs from what I voted for the two previous times they asked for the greatest songs, but I couldn’t keep Phil Ochs’s “When I’m Gone” off of this list. It’s just too powerful. Here are the songs I voted for this time around:

1. Drowning in the Sound, by Amanda Palmer

2. What Made America Famous? by Harry Chapin

3. Desolation Row by Bob Dylan

4. Something Beautiful by Tracy Bonham

5. Honey by Tori Amos

6. Waiting for Water by Shelley Segal

7. This Is Why We Fight by the Decemberists

8. Small Comfort by George Hrab

9. When I’m Gone by Phil Ochs (as I said, I voted for this in 2014, too…)

10. All My Life by Silverman

Let’s see which songs make the final countdown.