Liberty Ale

Tonight*, Wheels is serving me Liberty Ale, by the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco. The label claims it’s a “strong ale”.

It’s pleasant on balance. The first few sips had sort of a bitter “core” to them, but it’s settled down. The further down I get into the beer, the less unpleasantly strong it gets, though it doesn’t get bland by any means. Not a flavour I’m going to seek out, but it’s pleasant enough now that I have it.

I was drinking half a beer – the bottle was huge, so Wheels and I split it. The glass I had had no noticeable dregs, except for the last sip, which was a last, diabolical grasp of bitterness.

(* I’m typing on Saturday evening. This should go online in the wee hours of Sunday morning.)

Media Smash-And-Grab

On this episode of Diggnation, Alex Albrecht and Kevin Rose discussed file-sharing and theft, and how significant (if at all) the distinction between them was. This discussion was spurred by US government’s recent call for a crack-down on media piracy.

There’s a quote of US VP Joe Biden at the top of the story:

“It’s smash and grab, no different than a guy walking down Fifth Avenue and smashing the window at Tiffany’s and reaching in and grabbing what’s in the window.”

I am not here to argue that file sharing is okay. I am, however, here to stomp all over its equation with the theft of physical merchandise.

Seriously.

A Basic Business Model

Let’s start with a hypothetical store: Skippy’s Wonderful Widgets, owned by Skippy. Skippy’s Wonderful Widgets sells, surprise surprise, wonderful widgets. Skippy’s cost, when he orders widgets from his supplier, is $18 apiece. He sells these widgets for $20 apiece.

Before Skippy orders a widget to sell, his assets are, effectively: {$0}. That is, he has neither profits nor losses, and he has no inventory. (I could start him with some capital, but $0 makes the math a little easier. It means the same thing.)

After Skippy orders a widget, his assets are: {-$18, 1 widget}. That is, he has two items – a widget, and a debt for $18.

Now, when Skippy sells this widget – for $20 – his assets look like this: {$2}. The widget’s gone, but he got some money for it, and now he has more money than he started with. That is, he’s turned a profit. Skippy’s profit on each sale is $2. Yes, I’ve left out labour costs and overhead. I may get to that in a later post.

Forgive me if I sound like I’m talking to a five-year-old, but some of the people in this discussion talk like five-year-olds, complete with the childish name-calling.

A Precarious Position: Holding Merchandise

So, back to Skippy. When Skippy’s holding merchandise – when he’s got {-$18, 1 widget} – he’s in a slightly precarious position. He owes money, and he doesn’t really have much use for widgets except as merchandise to sell.

But! Skippy just needs to make one sale to move from having {-$18, 1 widget} to having {$2}, which is better than his original {$0}. Just one sale to recoup his investment and turn a $2 profit.

Smash and Grab

Now, lets look at theft – real good-old-fashioned smash-and-grab theft. A nondescript-looking customer wanders into Skippy’s Wonderful Widgets, then pockets a widget and bolts!

Okay, so “smash and grab” isn’t entirely accurate. Nothing was smashed. But Biden used the term, and it’s nicely evocative, so I’ll run with it.

Now Skippy’s in a real pickle. He started out with {$0}. Then he bought a widget, bringing him to {-$18, 1 widget}. Then that awful, awful person stole his widget, leaving him with just {-$18}. Well crap.

What’s Skippy to do now? He goes out and buys another widget, which brings him to {-$36, 1 widget}, then sells it, bringing him to {-$16}. Due to that $2 profit per sale, which we saw earlier, Skippy recovers $2 per sale. He needs to make $18 to get back to where he was before he bought that stolen widget, and $18 / $2 = 9. Thus, Skippy needs to make nine sales to recoup his loss.

Now, in the earlier case – where he moved from {-$18, 1 widget} to {$2} – his one sale didn’t just recoup his investment, it turned a $2 profit. Thus, to make this case the same as that one – to compare apples to apples – we need to move Skippy from his {-$18} post-theft black hole to {$2}. That’s a $20 difference. $20 / $2 = 10, so to move from the {-$18} calamity to the earlier, utopic {$2}, Skippy needs to make ten sales.

Let me say that again: to recoup from one theft of merchandise, Skippy has to sell ten more.

And even after he makes those sales, Skippy’s still behind. He’s $20 down from where he’d have been if he’d sold that stolen widget.

A Magic Trick

Now, that shoplifter. What that shoplifter did was… basic. Old fashioned. But understandable. It seems to be the only sort of theft Joe Biden and Nicolas Chartier understand.

But what if we had a more… well, a more magical shoplifter. What if the shoplifter could walk into the store, wave a magic wand, and duplicate the widget that’s sitting on Skippy’s shelf? Before the shoplifter walks in, Skippy has {-$18, 1 widget}. The shoplifter would walk out with a widget in his pocket, and Skippy would still have {-$18, 1 widget}.

We’ve seen this position before. We know that to move from “precarious” at {-$18, 1 widget} to “successful” {$2}, Skippy needs to make one sale.

Let’s dig a little deeper into this case. There are two slightly subtle sub-cases here, and they stem from what the thief would have done if theft (by magic or by sleight of hand) hadn’t been an option. There are two possibilities: he would have bought the widget, or he wouldn’t have.

If he would have bought the widget, then his duplication-theft of the widget robs Skippy of a sale. Where he should have had {$2}, Skippy instead has {-$18, 1 widget}. To get from one to the other, Skippy needs to make one sale. If he wouldn’t have bought the widget anyway, then Skippy both should have and does have {-$18, 1 widget}. To get from where he is to where he should be, he needs to make zero sales.

A Comparison: Holding, Smashing, and Magic

When all goes well, to turn a $2 profit, Skippy needs to make one sale.

When a widget is stolen, to turn a $2 profit, Skippy needs to make ten sales.

When Skippy’s merchandise is stolen by means of duplication, to turn a $2 profit, Skippy needs to make zero sales or one sale.

10 is not “no different” from 1. 10 is not “no different” from 0.

10 > 1.

10 > 0.

Conclusion

There is absolutely a discussion to be had about file-sharing and piracy. Of those who pirate stuff – music, movies, software, whatever – some would have bought it if piracy hadn’t been an option, and some wouldn’t have. That is, some represent lost sales, and some don’t.

What’s more, piracy can also lead to gaining sales. A person might discover a musician through piracy, then go out and buy that musician’s work. Some creators depend on this exact principle, freely distributing large portions of their catalog for free, hoping that increased recognition and goodwill will earn them sales.

On the other hand, there’s the simple permission issue. This was one of Metallica’s (many) positions on the subject, back in the Napster days – that, regardless of profit and loss, their stuff was taken without permission. And that’s a fair argument. But it’s not the argument being made.

My point is that there is a worthwhile discussion to be had here, and glibly equating piracy with physical theft completely short-circuits that discussion.

Wonder Woman Costume Linkspam

More Wonder Woman costume links, mostly from Dean Trippe’s Project: Rooftop, a delightful blog that focuses on superhero costume design (and redesign).

First, their comments on the new costume. Reactions are mixed.

Second, some fan-art of the new costume. What I find especially fascinating is that all of these illustrations look both cooler and more Wonder-Woman-y than anything we’ve seen from Jim Lee or Don Kramer.

Thirdly, for interest’s sake, the results of a contest P:R ran a while back, where people submitted alternate designs for Wonder Woman’s costume.

And finally, via Topless Robot, some alleged costume designs from Joss Whedon’s fizzled attempt at a movie adaptation. I… actually really like all of these.

Jackets Will Never Not Be Cool


I am of course not remotely the first to comment on the new Wonder Woman’s costume design by Jim Lee.

Of particular note, however, is this roundup prepared by the mad geniuses over at Topless Robot: 10 of the Least Stylish Jackets in Comics

For my money, Diana’s new costume would look worlds better with a Matrix-style longcoat. It’d be less practical, and it’d still be dated, but it would be “cool and slightly retro” dated, rather than “Oh God, Superboy!” dated.

Wondering about Wonder Woman

Last week, Wonder Woman #600 hit the stands. It’s a reverting to an earlier numbering scheme (it follows issue #44), it’s an extra-thick issue, and it’s an anthology.

As an anthology, it’s pretty good. Outgoing writer Gail Simone, whose work I adore, gets to say a quick little goodbye, and a host of other writers and artists contribute some fun little shorts, but the real meat of the issue – the real news of the issue – is a nine-page story called “Odyssey: Prologue – Culture Shock”, by incoming writer J. Michael Straczynski (JMS).

New Writer

Straczynski is a controversial writer. The iFanboy crew all despise him. I’ve dearly adored most of the work of his I’ve read.

With his story in WW #600, JMS has set up a major departure from the current status quo for Wonder Woman. It seems that there was a divergence in the timestream twenty in-universe years ago, and so Things Are Different Now.

There are shades of “One More Day” here, the JMS-written, Joe-Quesada-driven storyline that essentially reset Spider-Man to his teenage self. That storyline undid Spider-Man’s revelation of his secret identity to the world, brought Aunt May back from the brink of death, and – most infamously – erased his marriage to Mary Jane from continuity.

However, based on an interview JMS gave, this is less “One More Day” and more “Yesterday’s Enterprise“. He’s not trying to create a new permanent status quo, but merely to shake things up a little, to draw in new readers. He gives the impression that he’ll stick with this new setup for as long as it’s interesting, then revert back – keeping whatever elements people respond well to.

New Backstory

So. Things Are Different Now. In JMS’s own words:

As it stands now, Diana was taken from Paradise Island 18 years ago, when she was a child. The island was under a massive assault, and Hippolyta wanted to be sure that her daughter survived. The queen led the final defense of Paradise Island, but in the end was defeated. She and most of the other Amazons were killed, with some taken prisoner while the rest escaped to the four winds.

So Diana’s task now is to a) find out where, how and why the timeline was changed, b) who did it, c) if it can be undone, and d) stay ahead of the forces trying to kill her while e) helping as many of the surviving Amazons stay alive as possible, since they too are still being hunted.

That he calls it “Paradise Island” and not “Themyscira” is worrisome. It ties in with an overall sense that he’s an outsider who knows Wonder Woman by reputation, rather than by current or recent work.

Diana has/had some cool people around her, and it’s a shame to see them go. JMS explicitly mentions in the interview that he wants rid of the existing supporting cast, which is annoying. On the plus side, the new backstory and status quo has the potential to be cool in and of itself.

New Costume

Point:

Counterpoint:

It’s a nifty costume, but I hope and expect that it’ll get refined as various artists play with it for a while. The short jacket is very ’90s. A longcoat would also be very ’90s, but it would be less dated.

The pants I’m okay with. They look good. The timing’s kind of hilarious, though.

New Character

Okay. So we’ve only seen nine pages of the New Wonder Woman. We haven’t seen much of a character yet. She’s tough, but other than that… she seems sort of a blank.

When I think of Wonder Woman – and, granted, I’m thinking mostly of the Gail Simone Wonder Woman – I think of grace and empathy and wisdom and dignity and compassion, and I think of courage and clarity and strength of will. She’ll find – or make – a way to avoid having to harm someone, but if no such way exists, she won’t shy away from what needs doing.

I’m waiting to see how many of these traits JMS keeps.