Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 30th, 2007

Classical music

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Listen to it more:

Reports about the diminishing relevance of classical music to new generations of Americans addled by pop culture keep coming. Yet in my experience classical music seems in the midst of an unmistakable rebound. Most of the concerts and operas I attended this year drew large, eager and appreciative audiences.

Consider this: On Dec. 15 the Metropolitan Opera’s first high-definition broadcast of the season, a Saturday matinee of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette,” played on more than 600 movie screens around the world to 97,000 people, a new record for attendance in this bold Met venture. O.K., the total doesn’t match the millions who watch rock videos. For all her popularity, Anna Netrebko, who sang Juliette, is not Mariah Carey. But classical music always was and always will be of interest to relatively modest numbers of people.

In recent years a spate of articles and books have lamented classical music’s tenuous hold on the popular imagination and defended its richness, complexity and communicative power. I’m thinking especially of the book “Why Classical Music Still Matters” (University of California Press, 2007) by Lawrence Kramer, a professor of English and music at Fordham University.

Just this month classical music emerged as pivotal to international relations. With the blessing of the State Department, the New York Philharmonic announced that it would present a concert in North Korea during its Asian tour in February. Some consider this plan an outrage that will allow a totalitarian regime to use the Philharmonic musicians as puppets for propaganda. Others see it as at least a chance to pry open a door and share Western culture with a closed society, which is pretty much my view.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Music

Forgive: it’s good for you

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We knew this, didn’t we? Why is it so difficult?

Close your eyes and think of someone who has hurt you. The offense may be profound or small but deeply painful, a single arrow to your heart or a thousand wounding slights. The perpetrator may be a stranger — the guy who caused your accident, the gang-banger who took your child. More likely, it will be someone close and trusted. The sister who killed herself. The parent who lashed out, the spouse mired in addiction, an unfaithful lover.

Maybe it’s the boss who’s a tyrant, the business partner who’s an idiot, the trickster who seduced you. It might even be yourself.

Let all the anger, hurt and resentment you feel for that wrongdoer bubble to the surface. Seethe, shout, savor it. Feel your heart pounding, your blood boiling, your stomach churning and your thoughts racing in dark directions.

OK, stop. Now, forgive your offender. Don’t just shed the bitterness and drop the recrimination, but empathize with his plight, wish him well and move on — whether he’s sorry or not.

University of Wisconsin psychologist Robert D. Enright, the guru of what many are calling a new science of forgiveness, calls this final step “making a gesture of goodness” to a wrongdoer. It’s the culmination of a process that, he insists, “you’ve got to be able to see through to the end.”

But why, exactly, would you do that? For the good of your soul? To hold the family or business together, to make the world a better place?

A growing corps of researchers thinks they have it. Forgiveness — a virtue embraced by almost every religious tradition as a balm for the soul — may be medicine for the body, they suggest. In less than a decade, those preaching and studying forgiveness have amassed an impressive slate of findings on its possible health benefits.

They have shown that “forgiveness interventions” — often just a couple of short sessions in which the wounded are guided toward positive feelings for an offender — can improve cardiovascular function, diminish chronic pain, relieve depression and boost quality of life among the very ill.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 2:57 pm

The Free Market: a false idol

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If you’ve been reading the blog, you’ll know that I’m extremely skeptical of the degree to which the Free Market provides the protections that civilized people want and expect. And apparently I’m not alone in that view:

For more than a quarter-century, the dominant idea guiding economic policy in the United States and much of the globe has been that the market is unfailingly wise. So wise that the proper role for government is to steer clear and not mess with the gusher of wealth that will flow, trickling down to the every level of society, if only the market is left to do its magic.That notion has carried the day as industries have been unshackled from regulation, and as taxes have been rolled back, along with the oversight powers of government. Faith in markets has held sway as insurance companies have fended off calls for more government-financed health care, and as banks have engineered webs of finance that have turned houses from mere abodes into assets traded like dot-com stocks.

But lately, a striking unease with market forces has entered the conversation. The world confronts problems of staggering complexity and consequence, from a shortage of credit following the mortgage meltdown, to the threat of global warming. Regulation — nasty talk in some quarters, synonymous with pointy-headed bureaucrats choking the market — is suddenly being demanded from unexpected places.

The Bush administration and the Federal Reserve have in recent weeks put aside laissez-faire rhetoric to wade into real estate, wielding new rules and deals they say are necessary to protect Americans from predatory bankers — the same bankers who, only a year ago, were being lauded for creativity. Were the market left to its own devices, millions could lose their homes, the administration now says.

Central banks on both sides of the Atlantic are coordinating campaigns to flush cash through the global economy, lest frightened lenders hoard capital and suffocate growth. In Bali this month, world leaders gathered in the name of striking agreement to slow climate change.

Adam Smith used the metaphor of the invisible hand to describe how markets should function: With everyone at liberty to pursue self-interest, the market omnisciently distributes goods and capital to maximize the benefits for all. Since the Reagan administration, that idea has weighed in as a veritable holy commandment, with the economist Milton Friedman cast as Moses.

As the cold war ended and Communism retreated, the invisible hand seemed to monopolize economic thinking. Even China, controlled by a nominally Communist party, has blessed private entrepreneurs and foreign investment. In Latin America, the International Monetary Fund financed governments that embraced market forces while shunning those that were resistant.

But now the invisible hand is being asked to account for what it has wrought. In this country, many economic complaints — from the widening gap between rich and poor to the expense of higher education — are being dusted for its fingerprints.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 2:45 pm

Speaking of infringement of freedoms

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Now publishers want to eliminate free lending by public libraries:

At a small reception for publishers of scientific and academic journals, Patricia Schroeder waves her hand toward several dozen egghead types who are cocktailing it at the Corcoran Gallery of Art — sampling shrimp and cheese kebabs, wining on not-too-shabby Chablis and schmoozing above the soothing strings of the Bellini Ensemble.

“They’re terrified,” she says.

She ought to know. Schroeder is president of the Washington- and New York-based Association of American Publishers, sponsor of the event. Like a nurturing shepherd, she moves gently among her flock. But when she talks about threats to the group, she stiffens her back.

And who, you might be wondering, is giving Schroeder and her publishers such a
fright?
Librarians, of course.

No joke. Of all the dangerous and dot-complex problems that American publishers face in the near future — economic downturns, competition for leisure time, piracy — perhaps the most explosive one could be libraries. Publishers and librarians are squaring off for a battle royal over the way electronic books and journals are lent out from libraries and over what constitutes fair use of written material.

Grossly oversimplified: Publishers want to charge people to read material; librarians want to give it away.

“We,” says Schroeder, “have a very serious issue with librarians.”

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Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 1:05 pm

The RIAA is insane

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They’ve totally gone nuts:

… Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry’s lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are “unauthorized copies” of copyrighted recordings.

“I couldn’t believe it when I read that,” says Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer who represents six clients who have been sued by the RIAA. “The basic principle in the law is that you have to distribute actual physical copies to be guilty of violating copyright. But recently, the industry has been going around saying that even a personal copy on your computer is a violation.”

RIAA’s hard-line position seems clear. Its Web site says: “If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you’re stealing. You’re breaking the law and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages.”…

The Howell case was not the first time the industry has argued that making a personal copy from a legally purchased CD is illegal. At the Thomas trial in Minnesota, Sony BMG’s chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, testified that “when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Copying a song you bought is “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy,’ ” she said.

But lawyers for consumers point to a series of court rulings over the last few decades that found no violation of copyright law in the use of VCRs and other devices to time-shift TV programs; that is, to make personal copies for the purpose of making portable a legally obtained recording.

As technologies evolve, old media companies tend not to be the source of the innovation that allows them to survive. Even so, new technologies don’t usually kill off old media: That’s the good news for the recording industry, as for the TV, movie, newspaper and magazine businesses. But for those old media to survive, they must adapt, finding new business models and new, compelling content to offer.

The RIAA’s legal crusade against its customers is a classic example of an old media company clinging to a business model that has collapsed. Four years of a failed strategy has only “created a whole market of people who specifically look to buy independent goods so as not to deal with the big record companies,” Beckerman says. “Every problem they’re trying to solve is worse now than when they started.”

The industry “will continue to bring lawsuits” against those who “ignore years of warnings,” RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said in a statement. “It’s not our first choice, but it’s a necessary part of the equation. There are consequences for breaking the law.” And, perhaps, for firing up your computer.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Business, Music

One problem with TV

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I don’t watch TV, though I do occasionally watch TV programs collected on DVD. Even then, I find most programs unwatchable. For some, it’s a matter of strange pacing—unconscious rhythms of a program shaped to fit commercials and a time slot. For others, it’s the gradual emergence of a cookie-cutter format. For example, I started watching “Foyle’s War,” a BBC series, the first four episodes of which were available at the library. I watched those with some interest, but by the time I sat through the fifth episode the formula had become painfully clear: the way that suspects were tagged, the big crime (homicide)/small crime combination, the tracking of personal issues of the series characters, the conflict between justice and wartime need, etc. It was revealed as a Lego sort of series, with standard pieces snapped together to make each episode.

“The Wire,” thankfully, lacks this sort of predictability.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

The new Oligarchy, free from oversight and law

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Glenn Greenwald spells out in detail how the American Republic has been transformed into an Oligarchy, created from the elite of the media and both political parties. This Oligarchy is accountable to no laws and no oversight, and the interlinking of the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary provide a castle. In the meantime, you and I are subject to ever-increasing surveillance and regulation, with forcible reminders of the power of the Authorities visible everywhere.

Read his column today. Please.

One excerpt:

… As Matt Stoller recently noted in an excellent post on the bipartisan orthodoxies that are untouchable in political debates, “there are 1 million people put in jail for doing what Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George Bush have done” (buying and consuming illegal drugs) and “2 million people are in prison in America, by far the highest total of any other country in the world.” It’s almost impossible for the non-rich to defend themselves effectively against government accusations of criminality, and judges have increasingly less sentencing discretion to avoid imposing harsh jail terms. Punishment for crimes is for the masses only, not for members in good standing of our political and corporate establishment.

Where our political elite break the law, our leading media stars and pundits fulfill their central purpose by dutifully arguing that establishment figures who have broken the law have done nothing wrong and deserve protection, even our gratitude, when they do so. In the view of our establishment, even mere civil liability — never mind criminal punishment — is deeply unfair when imposed on lawbreaking corporations, as we see in the “debate” over telecom immunity.

This same warped principle is also expressed in how our establishment scorns the work John Edwards did in representing maimed or dead individuals against the corporations which, through recklessness or negligence, destroyed their lives. From a letter from Theodore Frank of the American Enterprise Institute to the New York Times today (h/t Jay Diamond):

There is a critical distinction between Mitt Romney’s and John Edwards’s wealth. Mr. Romney, as a businessman, made investments that created wealth. Mr. Edwards, as a trial lawyer, made his money through lawsuits that merely took from one pocket and gave to another, and probably destroyed wealth in the process. (Mr. Edwards’s multimillion-dollar medical malpractice verdicts almost certainly hurt the quality of health care in North Carolina.) Little wonder that Mr. Romney understands that to improve the economy, one needs to expand the pie, while Mr. Edwards’s policy proposals focus entirely on the redistribution of the existing pie without thought for the future adverse consequences to the size of the pie.

Anything that results in accountability for our largest corporations is inherently bad, even when they’re found under our legal system to have broken the law or acted recklessly. Thus, John Edwards’ self-made wealth is deeply dishonorable and shameful because it came at the expense of our largest corporations and on behalf of the poor and dirty masses, while Mitt Romeny’s wealth, spawned by his CEO-father’s connections, is to be honored and praised because it benefited our establishment and was on behalf of our glorious elite. Naturally, our establishment sees itself as Good, and thus, whatever their most powerful leaders do — even when illegal — is never really bad. It can’t be, because they do it. Hence, George Bush’s and Lewis Libby’s felonies aren’t really like the felonies of the “drug dealers” and the other street dirt. Neither the Law nor Jail are for the clean, good, upstanding establishment members, so sayeth Jay Rockefeller and Fred Hiatt and Joe Klein and David Ignatius and the rest. …

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 8:10 am

Sybaritic planes, your treat

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The Empire demands luxury:

Does one American in a thousand know that the Federal government is buying 23 VIP helicopters, each one of which will cost more than the extravagantly expensive F-22 fighter aircraft? A half-billion dollar helicopter – a half billion dollars each! – to ferry political hacks to their campaign events?

If the reader was unaware of that fact, we welcome him to Washington. The helicopter in question, the VH-71, is the government’s planned replacement for its current allegedly deficient presidential helicopter fleet. (One might well ask why even an elected monarch like the U.S. president needs twenty-three helicopters. At most, he might require one helicopter, a backup or two, a couple of training machines, and a pair to act as operational decoys. Rational math cannot count beyond 6 or 7, but the president’s vast retinue of hangers-on, coat holders, and post-pubescent appointees [the U.S. attorney scandal revealed what a sorry lot of inferior religious seminary graduates they typically are] is always raptured, so to speak, by the experience of getting VIP treatment several cuts above that experienced by the common herd of U.S. taxpayers on a Carnival cruise. Thus we are stuck with 23 flying palaces to transport the courtiers of the American emperor.)

The requirement (“requirement” is a government euphemism for “this is a really neat idea that will help my post-government career with a contractor”) and go-ahead decision for the VH-71 were established in 2003, coincidentally the year the United States invaded Iraq along with its coalition of the willing. Oddly enough, the procurement authorities decided that a modification of the European EH-101 helicopter would suit the requirement just fine. By pure coincidence, this decision would benefit the British firm Westland and the Italian company Augusta. If any glory accrued to Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi, that surely would have been fortuitous. The idea that the White House paid off these worthies for assisting the administration in the invasion of Iraq has not been proved by transcripts of phone conversations or secret memoranda of understanding that have come to light; we will leave to the reader the onus of the obvious interpretation of events.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 8:05 am

Error correction: Goldwater wrote his book

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A commenter once mentioned that it was well known that Goldwater didn’t really write The Conscience of a Conservative. But even though this is commonly thought, it turns out not to be true. John Dean:

I am working on a book for publication next year (in April 2008, if all goes well) about the late Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who served for thirty years in the United States Senate and was the 1964 Republican Party presidential nominee. His son Barry Goldwater Jr., who is my longtime friend, and I discovered a lot of unpublished first-person material in the Senator’s papers at the Arizona Historical Foundation as the archivists were completing the processing of his collection. Because we found this material remarkably revealing about the man and his thinking, we hope others might find it fascinating as well.

Contemporary conservatives have moved so far toward the radical right, of course, that they barely recognize Barry Goldwater as one of their own, not to mention that many are unfamiliar with his rather courtly conservatism based on civility and common sense. Liberals, meanwhile, can see how far to the center they have moved because their views on many issues are indistinguishable from those of the man once known as “Mr. Conservative.”

Our project has also provided an opportunity to tidy up some confused history about Senator Goldwater. For example, there have long been conflicting reports about his role in his political classic, The Conscience of a Conservative, which was published in 1960 – and reissued by Princeton University Press this year. The editor of the Princeton series of political works, Sean Wilentz, describes Goldwater’s book as “one of the most consequential political writings in American history.” Goldwater’s detractors claim, incorrectly, that the Senator had nothing to do with the writing of the book. The evidence proves they are entirely wrong.

I cannot think of a better way to end this year than by tidying up the historical record about this book. Since this subject — who did what, and when, and how in the writing of this political classic — is only indirectly related to our work-in-progress, this is a good place to correct the record, with this year-end footnote.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 8:02 am

Posted in Books, GOP, Government

Good finding: Nighttime searches are unreasonable

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This is good news. Now if they’ll just get rid of “no-knock” search warrants.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Minnesota reversed Susan Ranae Jackson’s convictions for various drug-related offenses, on the ground that the police search of her home violated both Minnesota law and the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Though the police did obtain a warrant (and indeed, obtained a warrant expressly authorizing a nighttime search), the affidavit supporting the warrant did not contain an adequate basis for concluding that a nighttime search was necessary to avoid the loss of evidence or to protect the police or the public safety. In the absence of such a showing, the court said, the search that took place was not only unlawful as a matter of Minnesota law but “unreasonable” and therefore unconstitutional as a matter of U.S. constitutional law as well.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court has not spoken directly to this issue, the Minnesota ruling properly calls our attention to the special violation that accompanies a search taking place at night.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 7:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

200 Documentaries: free ebook

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This is a PDF book by Kevin Kelly, offered free (so long as bandwidth lasts). You can download the ebook here. Or you can download it here, which doesn’t affect the bandwidth at Cool Tools—so it’s a better link. If you have Netflix, this is an essential companion.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2007 at 7:14 am

Posted in Books, Movies & TV

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