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Easter – Drama Is Reborn

Three Marys at the Tomb of Jesus

Three Marys at the Tomb of Jesus

Easter, which for Christians marks the resurrection of Jesus, also resurrected theatrical drama. The fall and fragmentation of the Roman empire brought Roman stage plays, and their Greek predecessors, to an end. Theatrical production ceased, fell out of memory, and there were no stage dramas as Europe entered the Middle Ages. There was pageantry, yes, but not theatrical dramas and plays  as we know them today. Much of the Medieval Christian Mass was — in addition to its sacred ritual — an occasion of  pageantry, and the church knew the uses of such displays.

Quem Quaeritis

Quem Quaeritis – Bodleian Library

Sometime in the 10th century, certain Easter services began to incorporate a bit of drama.The plot was simple:On the third day after the crucifixion of Jesus, the three Marys go to the tomb in search of the body of Jesus and find there an angel who asks who they are looking for. (You can see them in the Medieval illustration at the top of this post.) They say they’re looking for Jesus Christ who was crucified. The angel replies that Jesus has risen, as he had foretold he would. Go an announce that he has risen from the grave.

Here in Latin and English are the alternating questions and answers by the angel and the three Marys. The angel speaks first, asking the Marys who they are looking for:

 Quem quaeritis in sepulchro, o Christicolae? Whom do you seek in the grave, o followers of Christ?
Jesum Nazarenum crucifixum, o caelicolae.
Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, o heavenly one.
Non est hic; surrexit, sicut praedixerat. Ite, nuntiate quia surrexit de sepulchro.  He is not here. He has risen, as he foretold. Go out and   announce that he has risen from the grave.

No one can say whether it began by having a single speaker, a priest or cantor, ask the question “Who do you seek?” and other speaker, or singer, replying, or whether it was a whole chorus. In any case, the little exchange became more elaborate and other crucial turns in the life of Jesus were dramatized. Soon these little plays, or skits, were performed outside the church and eventually scenes from the old testament were added. The dramas were originally intended as lessons from the Bible, but they soon became enjoyable plays that were mounted on wheeled platforms — carts that could be taken from town to town and arranged in a circle so the spectators could move easily from one skit to another. Eventually, the playhouse was born, drama as we know it today was born. It all began at Easter.

Intellectual Property Day

Obama's list for creativity and innovation

President Obama’s List

April 26 was Intellectual Property Day. World Wide! It got right by you, right? That’s understandable, I suppose. It got past President Obama, too. Of course, he has the excuse of being really, really busy these days. And you’ve probably forgotten about WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization of the United Nations. Or maybe you never even heard of it. Well, now you know.

If you were a member of the Authors Guild, as I am, you’d have received an invitation to jot down a list celebrating “the creativity and innovation of the American people.” I scribbled out my list a couple of days ago. Barack Obama got around to jotting down his list today and it includes, among other things, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Thomas Edison’s electric light bulb, and for innovative sports team, the Chicago Bulls — no surprise there.

The theme for Intellectual Property Day this year is Digital Creativity: Culture Reimagined. The Director General of WIPO, Francis Gurry, observed that the internet provides a great opportunity for creators to interact with their audiences. “Now, with the Internet, the audience has become potentially the whole world. That is an enormous creative opportunity. It’s an enormous cultural opportunity. And it’s an enormous economic opportunity,” That’s certainly true.

Unfortunately, it’s also true that digital media, especially the internet and most especially the World Wide Web, provide a great opportunity for theft of intellectual property.The movement to legitimize theft of intellectual property loves the phrase “Knowledge Wants to be Free!” That’s a great slogan if knowledge refers to such things as the French Language, the location of Los Angeles, the shape of a maple leaf, or the atomic composition of water, but it’s not so smart when it refers to a recently composed song or novel. Our slogan is Stamp Out Starving Writers, Buy Their Books!

Probably the most notorious example of theft of intellectual property is Google’s wholesale copying of copyrighted books. It does this for “the public good.” Which is admirable. But Google also gets revenue which it would not get if it didn’t display the books to get readers to the Google web site — and, of course, the authors of those books get no money at all from Google.

Some people — usually not authors — will point out that being accessible on Google makes the work more likely to sell, and raises the writer’s profile. That’s certainly possible. Writers and other artists sometimes do present their work, or some part of it, free to the public, but as the creator of those works the artist wants to be in charge of what is offered free and when. As Google turns a profit from making the books available online, the writer wants a slice of that, too.

In October 2015, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that Google’s use of the books without compensation was “fair,” because the search engine’s “primary intended beneficiary is the public.” To many of us, the primary intended beneficiary of whatever Google does is Google — that’s the way capitalism works. The public does benefit, but that’s secondary — Google isn’t incorporated to serve the public good.

Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, has pointed out that “Authors are already among the most poorly paid workers in America; if tomorrow’s authors cannot make a living from their work, only the independently wealthy or the subsidized will be able to pursue a career in writing, and America’s intellectual and artistic soul will be impoverished.”

Yes, we’re grumpy about that.

Time is Money, Money is Time

The saying goes that time is money. On the other hand, you’ve probably heard that rich people live longer than poor people. So we can turn the old saying around and say that money is time. A few years ago, a movie with premise that time and money are interchangeable came out. The action-adventure sci-fi thriller was called In Time and starred Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.

Amanda Seyfried:  In Time

Amanda Seyfried: In Time

The movie takes place in an alternate present where everyone’s diminishing 25-year life expectancy is visible in luminescent numbers on their forearm. The body-clock stops at age 25, after which you have a year in which to buy more time, if you have the money. If you don’t, you can gamble for it, beg for it, steal it — or give up and die. The premise is very interesting, but the film is disappointingly commonplace with the usual smooth talking rich villains, the lower strata of relentless killers, and the dashing heroic lovers who steal from the idle time-rich to give to the desperate time-poor.

The most interesting scenes are simple visuals where Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried — he with a shaved head and not-quite-shaved cheeks, she in a high-heels and tight miniskirt — run as fast as they can to escape thugs and the time police. The pair are good runners even when holding hands. It’s too bad everything else is so lame, because a movie in which more money means more time alive dramatizes an essential fact of life in the US today.

Nowadays, men in the top 1 percent can look forward to celebrating their 87th birthday, which is about 15 more birthdays than those poor guys in the bottom 1 percent. As a matter of fact, really rich men in the USA can look forward to living longer than men anywhere on the planet. Those other guys down in the bottom 1 percent of in the United States, can expect to live as briefly as men in Sudan.

Raj Chetty

Raj Chetty

These sad facts come from an investigation into wealth and life expectancy by Stanford University economist Raj Chetty and seven other researchers. The surprising news in this news is that for the poor, where they live will help determine how long they live. The rich do well in any city, but the poor – while generally living more abbreviated lives – live longer if they reside in, say, San Francisco or New York city rather than in Detroit or Tampa. According to the researchers, it helps if the place where you live has an abundance of affluent smart people and social policies which encourage a healthy lifestyle. To be specific, if a municipality reduces the areas where you can smoke cigarettes and increases the areas for bicycling and other healthful activities, all people will benefit.

Another effect of wealth is that it tends to even out the differences in life expectancy between men and women. Poor women tend to live 6 or 7 years longer than poor men, but as men and women rise in wealth, the difference in their life expectancy shrinks and at the top, women can expect only 3 or so more years than men.

Of course the movie is, as we tell our frightened children, only make believe. In real life a phone call doesn’t cost you a minute off your life, and breakfast in a really good restaurant won’t chop eight-and-a-half weeks from your lifespan. One of the In Time characters says, “Many must die so that a few can live forever.” The relationship of wealth to life expectancy in the United States isn’t that bad.  Not yet, anyway.

The Downside of Democracy

Charlie Hebdo - survivors edition. Cartoon of Muhammad with a tear in his eye appeared beneath this.

Charlie Hebdo – survivors edition. Cartoon of Muhammad with a tear in his eye appeared beneath this.

In the aftermath of the slaughter in Paris our instinct is to condemn the killers and mourn their victims and to defend — defend to the death, as some have said — the right of editors and cartoonists to write and draw what they please. If they want to satirize Moses or the Pope or Jesus or Mohammed, fine, let them do it.

The offices of Charlie Hebdo had been firebombed in the past by Islamic extremists, so the editors and cartoonists there knew what they were doing. Workers on the magazine weren’t constrained by prudence or the unwritten rules of ordinary decent behavior, such as civility, politeness, and live and let live. They were, as their publication says of itself, irresponsible. We know that.

We also know that safe speech that offends no one, and safe cartooning that ridicules only the conventionally ridiculous, doesn’t maintain or test the limits of free speech. People on the social margin — anarchistic, pornographic, outrageous and disobedient — people working at the disreputable edge, they’re the ones who keep the mainstream free. We have no qualms or quibbles, no questions about any of that.

But we do question whether they had the right target when they lampooned Muhammad. Every nation engaged in fighting Islamic extremists has said over and over again that it is not at war with Islam — it’s at war with Islamic extremists. French President François Hollande has distinctly and emphatically said it many times this past week. About 18 percent of the French population is Muslim. Those Muslims aren’t visitors; they are citizens of France, they are French.

Satirists have generally aimed their barbs at the rich and powerful, at the people in charge who lord it over the poor and downtrodden. But in creating cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, Charlie Hebdo offended all French Muslims — a group made up, by and large, of poor and marginalized citizens. Yes, yes, the cartoons were visual statements against Muslim extremists and terrorists. But extremists and terrorists don’t change their behavior by being bashed in a low circulation satirical magazine. Charlie Hebdo’s broad brush cartoons injured the religious sensibilities of all Muslims.

In France, as in the United Sates, there aren’t laws prohibiting the publication of magazines such as Charlie Hebdo. Open, pluralistic, democratic societies don’t pass laws against publishing satirical cartoons, no matter how offensive, nor do they punish editors for adolescent rebelliousness or gross misjudgment. They don’t even pass laws against cartoonists for being offensive simply for the sake of offending.  An open and democratic society puts up with a lot. It’s worth it.

 

Free! Almost, But Not Quite

Grumpy grammarian!

Grumpy grammarian!

We linguistic grumps at Critical Pages received an email from Amazon the other day. It was about Amazon Prime and FREE unlimited two-day shipping.  They said, “We thought you’d like to know that for just $79 a year, you can take advantage of unlimited FREE Two-Day Shipping with Amazon Prime.”  Now, we don’t want to be seen as old-fashioned, out-of-touch, mossback  reactionaries, but we’re pretty sure that if the two-day shipping is really FREE we shouldn’t have to pay $79 for it.  No, sir! We weren’t born yesterday.

 

And No One’s To Blame?

Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam is pissed.

Who’s to blame for the government shutdown? The news analysts on radio and TV say, “There’s lots of finger pointing and plenty of blame to go around.”

Radio and TV people like to use phrases like  “lots of finger pointing” and “plenty of blame to go around.” The phrases don’t help us understand what’s going on, but we hear them just about every day. And it isn’t  sharp and insightful when news analysts call the current bitter dispute between Republicans and Democrats “bickering.”  Now they’re beginning to say that “both sides are digging in their heels” and “both sides refuse to compromise.” That doesn’t shed much light either.

Using those and similar phrases is intended to show that the media is even-handed and not taking sides, not saying that one side or the other is to blame for the shutdown. Honest media people strive for objectivity, and they really want to be even handed and balanced as they report what’s going on. But being balanced doesn’t mean reporting that both sides are equal in responsibility for shutting down the government. Being honest  in analyzing the situation  means saying who is responsible if, in fact, one side is responsible.

This current conflict between Republicans and Democrats has arisen because the Republican members in the House of Representatives want to defund the Affordable Care act – the law commonly called Obamacare. Republicans may be right or wrong about Obama care, but that’s beside the point – they don’t like it and want to kill it by starving it. House Republicans have sent more than 40 bills to the Senate, each one designed to kill Obama care. Each one has been flatly rejected by the Senate’s Democratic majority.

Ordinarily, when you’re outvoted — well,  you’re outvoted, so you move on. Or, when it comes to sending bills between the House and the Senate, if your bill is rejected, you try to modify it enough to get it accepted, or you move on to other matters. That’s not happening now.

What’s new here is that House Republicans have said that if they don’t get their way, if the Democrats in the Senate won’t agree with them, and if the Democrat in the White House won’t sign their bill into law, they won’t fund anything and the government will stay shut down. President Obama has called that legislative maneuver extortion and blackmail. Maybe the media can’t find words to substitute for “extortion” and “blackmail,” and maybe that’s why they can’t quite fix the blame.

Dr. Gupta and the Weed

Dr. Sanjy Gupta

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one of the most visible and popular medical doctors in the United States, a popular face on television, has just announced that up to now he’s been wrong about marijuana. He’s discovered that marijuana isn’t the terrible destructive drug he had previously said it was. And now he has a CNN special, called “Weed,”to  explain why he’s changed his mind.

Back in 2009 Dr. Gupta wrote in Time magazine about the perils of marijuana. Back then he opposed prescribing marijuana even for severe medical problems where it would have provided relief. Because back then he was being misled. But it turns out that Dr. Gupta recently did some research on the subject.  Better late than never.

Well, he didn’t actually do the research, but he read a lot of articles and medical papers about it by others who did the research, and it turns out he had been misled.  He doesn’t say so, but we think maybe he also researched the election returns and discovered that public opinion and laws about usage of marijuana have begun to change and some states have already legalized the weed.

Marijuana leaf

Marijuana leaf

Writing on CNN.com on August 8, 2013, he said,  “We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that. “

That’s a very interesting sentence. When Dr. Gupta says “we” he seems to be including himself among the people who have been mislead, but in the second half of the sentence he apologizes “for my own role in that.” For his own role in what? His role in being misled? Being  misled doesn’t require an apology unless, of course, you were willfully blind to all the easily available articles giving an alternative view of marijuana. Maybe he’s apologizing for his role in misleading us.  Because he did mislead.

We can’t judge Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s smarts as a doctor, but we do know he’s  a media savvy TV personality. We find it hard to believe that this highly educated doctor, who is himself part of our popular culture,  didn’t know the other side of the marijuana story.  In his article on CNN.com he says, “I hope this article and upcoming documentary will help set the record straight.” We hope so, too.

Take Your Camera To The Bank

Bank vault 470Let’s have some fun with privacy.  But first of all, let’s be reasonable. We don’t expect privacy when we take a walk down town or drive into the city. That’s important, because a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is often the basis for judicial decisions on privacy.

But do reasonable people expect to be followed continuously by a policeman?  That’s what happens whether you’re a pedestrian on the sidewalk or a driver in a car. Police departments have access to municipal cameras posted all over town and they can follow a person or a vehicle quite nicely. And don’t think you’ll escape surveillance because they’ll fall asleep from boredom. They have excellent software that takes the drudgery out of finding and trailing you.  Furthermore, they can make arrangements to be connected to commercially owned cameras positioned in stores or outside or in parking lots.They have you covered.

But the invasion of privacy is all in one direction. Have you noticed? Your government and the commercial enterprises that surround you, such as your bank,  are permitted take your photograph and invade your privacy, but you’re not supposed to  invade theirs in return.

The next time you go to the bank, take a camera with you and photograph the employees and the interior of the bank. After all, the bank is run by reasonable people who don’t expect their customers to be blind and not able to see their surrounding. So take a camera along and start taking photographs. If you take photos with your smartphone, you’ll be able to upload them! Work fast.

Adopt-A-Cat Month

Bucky, the catJune is Adopt-A-Cat month. Maybe we were absent from school the day they taught about that. Or maybe Adopt-A-Cat month wasn’t created until recently and we’re getting the news late. No one around here knew about it until a week and a half of June had gone by. Although we at Critical Pages don’t plan to adopt a cat, we’ll certainly appreciate all month long anyone who does. The feline pictured here is from the comic strip, Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley. The cat’s name is Bucky,  a clever but often annoyed animal who enjoys insulting his amiable,  simple and non-confrontational housemate, a dog named Satchel, and his owner,  Rob. We nominate Bucky as the iconic figure for  Adopt-A-Cat month because he’s not cute.

Print Books versus E-books

Joyland bookcoverStephen King has decided to publish his forthcoming book as a print publication, not an e-book. This is news in the book biz. It’s news because e-books are surging and publishers are wondering out loud whether the old fashioned books — you known, the kind that are printed on paper and bound in covers, sometimes in real cloth covers — are going the way of the quill pen. Furthermore, and most important,  Stephen King was one of the first best selling authors to sell a fresh work as an e-book.

Stephen King has sufficient star power to make those kinds of decisions. Usually, it’s the mega-publisher who decides which way to send a book to market, but King is a mega-mega-author. Way back in 2000, when e-books were a new phenomenon, King let Riding the Bullet  come out as the first mass e-book. It was so popular, the servers hosting the book crashed. In fact, it was so successful that he released his next book from his own website and let his readers pay on the honor system. Not all his readers were honorable. King is big enough to sustain that kind of hazard.

And now Stephen King is releasing Joyland exclusively in print  as a $12.95 paperback. Does this signal a change of heart about e-books on the part of the writer? Probably  not. The new Joyland  is  an old-fashioned, hard-boiled mystery novel and he choose to publish it through Hard Case Crime, which has been publishing hard-boiled crime stories since 2004, issuing them in retro covers. It’s the kind of book that you’d want to publish the old-fashioned retro way, without intending to make a statement about e-books and the future of publishing.

More Notes


Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.