Copyright Keeps Books Out of Print

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Copyright advocates have long (and successfully) argued that keeping books copyrighted assures that owners can make a profit off their intellectual property, and that that profit incentive will “assure [the books’] availability and adequate distribution.” The evidence, it appears, says otherwise.

Rebecca J. Rosen outlines that evidence in an article at the Atlantic, “The Hole in Our Collective Memory: How Copyright Made Mid-Century Books Vanish.”  It’s always worth asking ourselves just what use present copyright law is for anyone but the massive copyright hoarders like publishers and entertainment retailers. It certainly doesn’t benefit the public and now it’s even clear that it doesn’t even benefit the author whose “intellectual property’ it’s alleged to protect and promote.

Copyright law does, in any case, provide a good lesson in American civics. It demonstrates loudly and clearly whose interests our government has nearest and dearest to its heart.  It’s not the people, of course, but always the intellectual property barons. We can rely on our faithful public servants in government, when given a choice between liberalizing the law (which would have the effect of enriching the creative atmosphere for all) and making it more and more constipated, to always choose the path of most constipation. Call it the trickle out theory of American culture.

Rolling Stone Has a Right to Put Whoever They Want On Their Cover

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Big, stinking heap of phony outrage story of the day: Rolling Stone is printing a cover story about Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev and they have the nerve and lack of good taste (which is always the very first phrase we think of when we think American media, isn’t it?) to put a photo of the subject of that cover story on their cover. Shame, shame, Rolling Stone, now every body knows your name (which was probably the point to begin with, wasn’t it?).

Obvious point millions of “concerned” media members and other nervous nellies are blithely missing while falling all over themselves to feel outrage on behalf of poor, weak, innocent, defenseless, little Boston (Shame on you, Dropkick Murphys!): Rolling Stone has the same right to put on their cover whoever or whatever they want to put on their cover as all of those magazines that chose to give Osama bin Laden his celebrity treatment in the aftermath of September 11th did. What part of First Amendment right do you hypocrites not understand?

(Hey, Boston Herald, why don’t you show Rolling Stone the way and just say no to using the Tsarnaevs’ mugs to sell your cheap rag, huh?)

Grow up, America. The world is a hard place. The news media have a right (and responsibility) to make that unpleasant fact known to us.m

No use spending any more time on this ridiculous waste of a non-story. But if you want to defend the “defenders of decency” and attack Rolling Stone‘s “poor taste” and “bad judgment” in the comments, I will be more than happy to kick your ass down there.

Poof of Heaven: Eben Alexander’s Truth Problem

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Esquire magazine has a long article (available online for $1.99 for non-subscribers) in the August issue by Luke Dittrich investigating the claims of Eben Alexander, a so-called “Harvard neurologist” whose book Proof of Heaven purporting to describe his “near death experience” has been on the best-seller lists for almost a year.  (I wrote about the Newsweek article that preceded the book last year.) Of course Dittrich was unable to verify or falsify the central claim, that Alexander actually went to heaven while he was in a coma during a bout of bacterial meningitis. However, Dittrich did uncover a number of awkward facts about Alexander’s career as a neurosurgeon, including a history of malpractice suits (five in ten years) that eventually deprived him of his license to practice neurosurgery and which suggested to Dittrich a possible motive for Alexander to write the book besides a reportorial one.

Over at Huffington Post, Paul Raeburn has written a blog that admirably summarizes Dittrich’s article:

Dittrich comes as close as one could, without access to Alexander’s private thoughts, to showing that the book was a cynical effort to provide a new career — as a prophet! — for a neurosurgeon whose career was being consumed by malpractice suits. He was, Esquire‘s editors write in the deck, “a neurosurgeon with a troubled history and a man in need of reinvention.”

One of Dittrich’s most damning revelations (so to speak) concerns the story of one of Alexander’s own doctors who says, in contradiction of Alexander’s claim that the  e. coli bacteria that caused his meningitis also caused his coma, that she chemically induced the coma because Alexander’s involuntary movements made it impossible to operate on him. This would give the lie to Alexander’s contention that his brain had ceased all activity and that he essentially died on the gurney. It would also suggest (though Dittrich doesn’t mention the drug used to induce the coma–one major shortcoming of the Esquire piece) a likely chemical source for Alexander’s ecstatic vision.

Of course, believers will continue to believe, and as evidence of that, you need only look at the comments section on Raeburn’s blog. Continue reading

Sabbath Musings: The Reality of God

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The following is based on a post I made three years ago at MUBI.com, of all places. I happened to be rereading old posts there this morning, and I wanted to put this one down here so I could think more about it. I was in conversation with someone who had asserted that believing in God can be compared to belief in the future, which, even though it doesn’t yet exist, we believe in anyway. I begged to differ with the aptness of the comparison.

I’d love to hear what others think about all this. Please leave a comment below if you’re so moved:

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Noam Chomsky: “It’s institutional structures that block change.”

Keystone XL demonstration, White House,8-23-20...

Keystone XL demonstration, White House,8-23-2011 Photo Credit: Josh Lopez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If yesterday’s post of Lawrence Lessig‘s TED talk on corruption gives you reason for optimism, you may want to check that after you read this from perennial thorn in the side of the powers that be Noam Chomsky, who writes of a peculiar distinction between the most “advanced” societies in the world today and those  least touched by technological “progress” as far as the threat of climate change goes:

So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster.  At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible.  Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.

Both political parties, President Obama, the media, and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the United States.  Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside.  What they mean is: we’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.

And that’s pretty much the case everywhere.  Admittedly, when it comes to alternative energy development, Europe is doing something.  Meanwhile, the United States, the richest and most powerful country in world history, is the only nation among perhaps 100 relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets.  It’s not because the population doesn’t want it.  Americans are pretty close to the international norm in their concern about global warming.  It’s institutional structures that block change.  Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one.

This seems to be a pretty important point, but it’s very difficult to know how seriously it’s being taken: The United States government does not have the species’ or the world’s best interests at heart. And it’s not just the Republicans, who are an easy target for American liberals,  that we have to blame. The fact is the Republicans are pretty much brain-dead and useless at this point. But are the Democrats really all that much better on this issue in particular? Continue reading

Lawrence Lessig on America’s “Impossible” Corruption Problem

Lawrence Lessig, Harvard professor, lawyer, creator of Creative Commons, and author of Republic, Lost, explains via masterful use of Power Point, the profound corruption problem facing the republic and why there is reason for optimism that the people can solve it.

Ron Paul’s Principle of Personal Responsibility: A Critique

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5. Individuals are responsible for their own actions; government cannot and should not protect us from ourselves.

–from The Ten Principles of a Free Society

Part of the reason I began critiquing Ron Paul’s Ten Principles of a Free Society a couple of years ago was my curiosity about whether they really were essential to any free society or just Ron Paul’s vision of one. I think I can use the fifth principle to show why they are all uniquely Paulian/Libertarian and not, in fact, essential to all notions of a free society. To do that, I just need to show you an example of a free society where government or an authority can and should protect us “from ourselves.” Continue reading

Krugman Trashes Austerity’s Phony Morality Economics

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DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 24JAN08 – Jean-Claude Trichet, President, European Central Bank, Frankfurt, captured during the session ‘Systemic Financial Risk’ at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apropos of a current theme of this blog, that the powerful Austrian school of economics that has supplanted Keynesianism as the go-to ideology of our government and, more and more, both political parties, is rooted in the same Nietzschean stew of pro-winner, anti-loser sentiment that appealed to the Nazis, Paul Krugman has a piece in the current New York Review of Books that devastates the “austerian” contention that Keynesianism feeds the Beast, while austerity corrects naughty economic behavior. His main support for his argument is the recent discovery of severe flaws in the methodology of two studies most often cited by austerians, one by Harvard profs Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff and the other by Italy’s Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna, purporting to show that government spending that exceeds 90% of GDP in the wake of a depression or financial meltdown is catastrophic for the economy in question.

David Stockman’s The Great Deformation … [is] an immensely long rant against excesses of various kinds, all of which, in Stockman’s vision, have culminated in our present crisis. History, to Stockman’s eyes, is a series of “sprees”: a “spree of unsustainable borrowing,” a “spree of interest rate repression,” a “spree of destructive financial engineering,” and, again and again, a “money-printing spree.” For in Stockman’s world, all economic evil stems from the original sin of leaving the gold standard. Any prosperity we may have thought we had since 1971, when Nixon abandoned the last link to gold, or maybe even since 1933, when FDR took us off gold for the first time, was an illusion doomed to end in tears. And of course, any policies aimed at alleviating the current slump will just make things worse.

In itself, Stockman’s book isn’t important. Aside from a few swipes at Republicans, it consists basically of standard goldbug bombast. But the attention the book has garnered, the ways it has struck a chord with many people, including even some liberals, suggest just how strong remains the urge to see economics as a morality play, three generations after Keynes tried to show us that it is nothing of the kind. Continue reading

The Idle Rich and the Working Stiff: Nietzche von Hayek on Capital v. Labor

Corey Robin, whose Nation piece on Nietzsche and Hayek I referred to here, posted this comparison of the two thinkers’ ideas on class on his own blog. They support his contention that Hayek was more in tune with Nietzschean philosophy than commonly supposed. Whatever you think of Robin’s thesis, it is instructive at least to see the contempt or, at least, casual dismissal of the worth of the working class in Hayek’s musings.

Corey Robin

Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human:

Culture and caste.—A higher culture can come into existence only when there are two different castes in society: that of the workers and that of the idle, of those capable of true leisure; or, expressed more vigorously: the caste compelled to work and the caste that works if it wants to….the caste of the idle is the more capable of suffering and suffers more, its enjoyment of existence is less, its task heavier. (§439)

My utopia.—In a better ordering of society the heavy work and exigencies of life will be apportioned to him who suffers least as a consequence of them, that is to say to the most insensible, and thus step by step up to him who is most sensitive to the most highly substantiated species of suffering and who therefore suffers even when life is alleviated to the greatest…

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Also Sprach Hayek: Nietzsche and the Libertarians

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (Photo credit: risu)

Whatever has value in our world now does not have value in itself, according to its nature—nature is always value-less, but has been given value at some time, as a present—and it was we who gave and bestowed it.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882)

Value is therefore nothing inherent in goods, no property of them, but merely the importance that we first attribute to the satisfaction of our needs, that is, to our lives and well-being.

Carl Menger, Principles of Economics (1871)

Corey Robin has a fascinating, very long post up at The Nation on the possible (or even likely)  connections between Nietzsche and the Austrian school economists (Hayek, von Mises and their American disciples). He’s added a bit at Crooked Timber, where a lively discussion is underway.

Here’s his opening:

In the last half-century of American politics, conservatism has hardened around the defense of economic privilege and rule. Whether it’s the libertarianism of the GOP or the neoliberalism of the Democrats, that defense has enabled an upward redistribution of rights and a downward redistribution of duties. The 1 percent possesses more than wealth and political influence; it wields direct and personal power over men and women. Capital governs labor, telling workers what to say, how to vote and when to pee. It has all the substance of noblesse and none of the style of oblige. That many of its most vocal defenders believe Barack Obama to be their mortal enemy—a socialist, no less—is a testament less to the reality about which they speak than to the resonance of the vocabulary they deploy.

The Nobel Prize–winning economist Friedrich Hayek is the leading theoretician of this movement, formulating the most genuinely political theory of capitalism on the right we’ve ever seen. The theory does not imagine a shift from government to the individual, as is often claimed by conservatives; nor does it imagine a simple shift from the state to the market or from society to the atomized self, as is sometimes claimed by the left. Rather, it recasts our understanding of politics and where it might be found. This may explain why the University of Chicago chose to reissue Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty two years ago after the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. Like The Road to Serfdom (1944), which a swooning Glenn Beck catapulted to the bestseller list in 2010, The Constitution of Liberty is a text, as its publisher says, of “our present moment.”

The benefit of Robin’s article is that it doesn’t dismiss libertarian thought out of hand, as most leftist critiques might be tempted to do, but takes it very seriously and digs deep into its roots, showing precisely where the ancestral ideas that gave rise to our right-wing, market-obsessed American brethren diverged from the extremist right-wing ideology of the fascists in Germany. Libertarians may find the article unsettling, if they take Robin’s arguments as seriously as he takes theirs. Most Americans, left or right, may find it a disturbing read. I certainly did. Continue reading