Sunday, February 29, 2004

Leap

Don't forget to leap today. You won't get to for four more years.

"Constitutional Amendments are Gay" II

A witty, well-penned slogan that was recently posted on Echoland. The argument that follows it is however not as strong as the slogan is hilarious. The problem is that courts in the US do not decide the definition of marriage on judgements (or scientific fact) of behaviour v. biology. The much more likely criteria are freedom of expression, privacy concerning personal family relationships and, in the case of polygamy, freedom of religion. I wholeheartedly support gay marriage. However it is foolhardy to argue that there is no link between the issue of gay marriage and polygamist marriage. Richard Goldstein writes an interesting article on the issue for the Village Voice.

Hopefully Bush will smarten up and forget the whole Constitutional amendment idea. Beyond those of us who find it a vile and discriminatory proposition, there are many people in his own camp who either think the constitution to be inviolable, or who, considering the more pressing issues facing the nation, believe the whole thing to be a waste of time. What we can hope for is the continued fight for same-sex marriage rights at the state level. Nothing good can come from this going to the Supreme Court, not yet. Either we lose, or we win and a much too large proportion of the nation becomes alienated from the highest court in the land and armed insurrection breaks out. Though I do jest, I think there is a genuine concern regarding a likely increase in hate crimes. Perhaps we think it's worth the risk to have a speedy pro gay marriage resolution, perhaps not. Luckily the Supreme Court gets to choose which cases it hears.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Absurdity in Copyright Laws

Let me preface this post with the statement that I am not a raving anti-establishment anarchist. On the whole, I think well-defined property rights are necessary for the effective functioning of any free society (one might suggest viable alternatives, but I suspect their effective domain will always be small groups). However sometimes the delineation and definition of property rights goes too far.

Recently, this problem has been most in evidence in the realm of intellectual-property. In 1998, fearing the demise of Mickey "the cash cow" Mouse (and numerous other characters), the Walt Disney Company approached Congress requesting an extension of their copyright. Congress responded with, and Clinton signed, the Copyright Term Extension Act (this was by no means the first time that Congress had extended copyrights at the behest of businesses and their associations). The CTEA extends copyright to life plus seventy for works copyrighted by individuals, and to 95 years for works made by or for corporations. A little more than a year ago (Jan 15 2003) the Supreme court held up the CTEA saying that it neither infringed on free speech, nor had Congress overstepped its bounds in passing it (Justices Stevens and Breyer dissented).

The basic argument for intellectual copyright is that it engenders innovation. The idea is that if people can't make any money off of their creativity, then they won't be creative. Within the domain of science and technology, I think this argument holds great force (though I might suggest some specific changes, see below). It has been shown that even with a strong copyright, companies do not accrue all of the benefits of their technological innovations and scientific discoveries. I don't have the research at hand, but my fuzzy brain says they get something less than half of the total benefit to society (total benefit to society includes the benefit to the company). However, in the realm of the arts, I don't find that the argument has much sway. At a certain level, artists produce art because it is what they like to do. They should certainly be compensated, and should certainly have a limited monopoly over their work for a period of time. However it is not at all clear that one hundred years and up is in any way reasonable.
It's also worth looking at all the great art that, had it been produced under today's copyright laws, would constitute theft:

Shakespeare:
-His "Romeo and Juliet" owes a great deal to a poem by the same name written a mere thirty years earlier (by Arthur Brooke)
-Many of his historical plays would infringe on Holingshead's "Chronicles of England"

Disney:
Cinderella,Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Alice in Wonderland, and others were based on works in the Public Domain. And of course, Mickey himself was based on another cartoon character.

Music:
Both Jazz and, especially, Hip Hop developed a great deal through the interpretation and sampling of other peoples' music.

This all brings me to the more current events of DJ Danger Mouse vs. the EMI. Not too long ago, Mr. Danger Mouse released the critically acclaimed "Grey Album". It is, as one might guess, a remix of the Beatle's "White Album" and Jay-Z's "Black Album". I'm not going to summarize the particulars of the case here as this is done more than adequately elsewhere (see links below). I will however say that I think the terms of copyright need to be relaxed on artwork in general. This is a difficult issue. A few years back the Verve Symphony released a song whose entire melody was lifted from a Rolling Stones song. The Stones permitted the use in exchange for all of the royalties from that song. That is a bit excessive, but the Stones melody made what would have otherwise been a hollow and vapid song a success. And therein lies the crux of the issue. I don't think future artists should be able to repackage existing genius and turn a profit; I am however all for the reinterpretation and transformative use of existing material. How do we differentiate the two? I am inclined to think that this ideal is not really possible. We must, to some extent, choose one side or the other. The question is which side, and to what degree. As I've said, I think copyright law is currently too restrictive. To pick a number out of the sky, I'd say that the copyright on a work of art should be no more than fifty years from the date of creation (I'd concede an extension on this in the case of outright and entire duplication). After fifty years, a work should be mostly, if not entirely, in the public domain. Additionally, I'd like to see an expansion of the fair use guidelines so a to allow works such as the "Grey Album" (some have claimed that fair use already allows such works, but I'm not convinced these claims will stand up in court) to circulate unimpeded by spurious claims of ownership.

Links
DJ Danger Mouse
Illegal Art
Grey Tuesday
Eldred V. Ashcroft (the CTEA Supreme Court decision)

This is the see below: A friend of mine recently suggested that the copyright on scientific journal articles be limited to about four months. As it is, access to journals is very expensive, and it is thus very difficult to find all the information one might want in a given subject area. If I may, let me present an idealized vision: a grand database containing all of the research ever published nicely organized and crossreferenced. Alas, journals have become a money tree, and this seems unlikely.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Portland Attains status of "World Class City"

Yes, yes, Portland has finally arrived. Little more than a month ago Portlandites were finally introduced to the joys of Bubble tea. Oh bubble tea, how I have missed thee. The local joint around here also serves some very tasty tea time snacks and brews up a very decent espresso (made from Illy, so I guess it should be).

Monday, February 16, 2004

Bon

Voyage

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Happy Birthday

A fond Happy Birthday to my Dad! I don't think he reads this, but anyways.

Intel you didn't know that you knew

The Economist Intelligence Unit has just completed a ranked survey of the best places in the world to live. The study is based on 130 countries, and rated by an index which is meant to indicate the relative hardship of life. Factors measured include those that are grouped as health & safety (disease, and, of course, terrorism), culture & environment (corruption, recreation), and infrastructure (utilities, education). This yields a hardship percentage, 0% being utopia, and 100% being urban hell (no, not Newark, think more like Bangladesh [74% hardship]).

Guess what? Vancouver ties with Melbourne, Australia as the best (more precisely, the easiest) city in the world to live in--both clocking in at a jaw-dropping 1% hardship. All Canadian and Australian cities rate under 5%, while our neighbours to the south fall between 10-20%, given the ever-looming threat of annihilation that keeps America's alerts at a steady orange. EU contries generally rate well, while non-EU countries do not (thank goodness for the iron blanket of safety that is the EU). Rich Asian business centres do well; keep your future children away from poorer developing Asian nations. Latin America averages in the mid-range, while all of Africa and the Middle East sit neatly at the bottom.

In summary: rich, stable cities inside rich, stable countries tend to have nice food, good clubs, telephones that work and cars that do not explode. Vancouver rocks; Papua New Guinea is perhaps not the place to send grandma for retirement. Tell us something we don't know, you limey number-crunchers! Of course, if one is touring the globe on an obscenely large expense account, I suppose that one can live like a Vancouverite anywhere in the world, albeit behind a tall fence with armed guards (what comes to mind is the significant portion of Trinidad which is fenced off just so for employees of Exxon Mobil).

This study feeds my suspicions that my migration from one pretty cosmo Commonwealth city into another may not exactly be rife with culture shock (Sydney rates 4%). Confirmation to follow.

Regarding the Grammys
Looks like your wishes mostly came true, Ev. Outkast took their rightful best album away from the definitely unworthy BEP. Missy won a few and deserved it (come on, who doesn't like "Work It"?), and the White Stripes continue to be everyone's most stylish secret. I can't help but laud Coldplay's award for the ubiquitous single "Clocks". Sure, one can bash Coldplay indefatigably (holy Nigel Goodrich, it's a Radiohead-in-1995 cover band!), but there are few other (and none more often heard) singles that I continue to enjoy. An exemplary work of production: every time I hear the "DA-da-da-DA-da-da-DA-da" opening piano chords, I get the same guilty pleasure that I get from the handful of Moby singles from "Play". I want to fly like Peter Pan, drive a Chrysler in a deserted mountain pass in New Zealand, and start a hip career at an infotech college, all at the same time.

Speaking of Nigel Goodrich, it seems to me a tad ironic that he picked up a production award for Radiohead's aurally dysfunctional (yet pleasing) Hail to the Thief. Supposedly, the album was recorded as live studio sessions with little to no post-production. On the other hand, he really should get a best-series-thorugh-a-decade award for the Radiohead canon. Whoever is twiddling the knobs for Coldplay isn't exactly breaking new barriers (except perhaps platinum record counts--"A Rush of Blood to the Head" remains mid-way up in the Georgia Straight sales charts after nearly two years). Oh yeah, and Evanescence is about as significant an addition to the exciting world of cock-rock as is a silent fart in a cow pasture.

Ev, you didn't plug our awesome retrospective project! Well, there it is.

Jedd

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Grammy Hysteria

Or not. I look to the Grammys for entertainment and some vindication. It's sort of hypocritical that I at once feel happy when an artist I like wins, but then also enjoy making derisory comments about the commerciality (apologies) of the Grammys and the boneheaded selections that sometimes get made. The latter tend to serve me as fodder for rants about our "mass culture" and all of the schlock that it produces.
A case in point. This years nominees for best rock album really illustrate rocks decline (and hip hop's rise). That's not to say that good rock and roll isn't being made (somewhere), but it's not what most people are listening to (sorry). I must admit to not knowing anything about the actual music on the albums for which these artists were nominated, but I hold not even the faintest hope. Audioslave, Evanescence, Foo Fighters, Matchbox Twenty, and Nickelback. Now a year ago, being that they hail from my home town, Nickelback might nave gotten my vote (If only I had one), but of late they have been an embarassment. That leaves the Foo simply because Dave Grohl is their front man.
On to more interesting categories.
Record of the Year: Outkast(Hey Ya!). Critically acclaimed and loved by all there shouldn't been any contest (though I haven't hear Coldplay's effort)
Album of the Year: Outkast. Wahooo! (this is the excitement that I mentioned earlier).
Best New Artist: I've never heard of any of the nominees in this category except for 50, so why not. And really, seeing as the Grammys always seem to be at least partly a sales competition, this one seem a no brainer.
Pop Vocal Album: Timbernut. (George will roll over a few more times)
Rap Album: I heard Missy's album (Under Construction) once while waiting in the waiting room of a clinic. I was very impressed. Part of me wants this to go to her, Outkast doesn't really need a third, but they're not undeserving. A worthy match up.
Country Album: I've included this category so I can profess my great admiration for Lyle Lovett. I don't know any of the other albums in this category (though I do know the artists) and in my world this wouldn't be a competition.
Best Alternative Music Album: Radiohead (Hail to the Thief). I don't believe I've even heard this album in its entirety, however the other entries in this category will (in my world) burn in the firesome grip of Radiohead's glory.
Best Female Rap Solo Perfomance: Missy for "Work It". As much as I hate this song, Missy easily outshines the other artists in this category (most of whom I haven't heard).

Friday, February 06, 2004

It's late here and I am not going "somewhere I have never travelled" but am, as usual, pulling out hairs hopping that brilliant ideas may pop out of the empty pores left behind. Somewhat akin to the way in which the tensions established in a (good) poem resolve into a positive unity through the interplay of the poem's parts, or the view that consciousness is an emergent property, I hope that from the ashes of my midnight fire will rise an eloquent and thought provoking analysis of E.E. Cummings "somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond" as seen through the lens of Cleanth Brooks' views on the nature of poetry.

Adieu

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Ouch

It hurts to walk right now. That is why I am sittting down. But soon I will have to get I up, perhaps to get my textbook so that I may begin some work, and I will be reminded of how painful lifting weights can be. Today is day one of Evan tries to not be in such horrible shape. I plan to lift weights three times a week and not use so much bacon fat. If after a month or so, I've managed to keep with it, I may add some sort of aerobic exercise two or three times a week. I don't really expect that all of you find this especially riveting; my telling you has as much to do with establishing a sort of verbal contract as it with forming a part of the banalities of my life which I relate to you in this blog.

Classes are going well. I'm becoming aquainted with a new (to me) professor who thus far I quite like. He is at once interesting, eloquent, funny, and serious (in a good way). This, together with a decent mix of people, has made for very engaging classes to date. Here's a few quotables from the Prof himself (said during class):

"One should always be careful of people who appeal to the public; almost always what they're appealing to is the meaning(s) held by their particular coterie."

"Essentially what they're teaching you is kind of a series of Masonic handshakes in the guise of them being true" (in reference to a particular movement in Lit theory)

"The more people who are allowed in the club, the more democratic the club is, but one shouldn't necessarily mistake that for truth." (in refrence to the academic establishment)

I'm off to do some work.