The Sound of Their Voices

 

A documentary retrospective called Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice has been making the rounds of film festivals this summer, most recently at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was a popular offering. Linda Ronstadt came to prominence in the 1970s covering songs in a style so distinctively her own that listeners could be forgiven for thinking the songs originated with her. Her first big hit, for example, was “Different Drum”, which she recorded in 1967 with the Stone Poneys. The song was first recorded by the Greenbriar Boys in 1966, and it was written in 1965 by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees.

 

An interesting twist to the story of “Different Drum” being written by Michael Nesmith is that most of the Monkees own hit songs were written by the Brill Building songwriting team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. One hit for the Monkees, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, was written by another Brill Building songwriting team, Carole King and her husband at the time, Gerry Goffin. Those two wrote many hit songs for various artists during the 1960s, and after their divorce in 1969 Ms. King went on to a distinguished solo career singing her own songs.

CaroleKingHWOFDec2012
Carole King at the ceremony to receive her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 2012. Photo by Angela George.

Her 1971 album, Tapestry, became an enormous success, enjoyed by both men and women, but it made its greatest connection with women who came of age in the 1960s, and in the 1970s were staking claims to have their voices acknowledged and heard independently of men. The female singer-songwriters of the 1970s enjoyed popular and critical success in a music industry dominated by men, and despite the obstacles, such as male promoters encouraging them to push their sexual allure ahead of their singing and songwriting talents, they persevered and became strong, independent voices.

In this 1974 episode of the television show The Midnight Special, Melissa Manchester performed “Midnight Blue”, a song she co-wrote with Carole Bayer Sager, an alumna of the Brill Building. Ms. Manchester released an album including “Midnight Blue” the following year, and the song became her first hit. It takes skill and artistry to sustain intensity and interest in a slow song, as Ms. Manchester did beautifully in this rendition.

The list of women who made indelible marks in the popular music of the 1970s is long and would inevitably leave out some names. Not all of them wrote the majority of the songs they made famous, but in the song choices they made they exhibited an independent spirit. Linda Ronstadt, for instance, as she expanded her repertoire to include the Great American Songbook, chose songs that reflected character, strength, and respect. Melissa Manchester, who learned songwriting in a course taught in the early 1970s at New York University by another Brill Building alumnus, Paul Simon, had several hits with songs she co-wrote, and has also been a song stylist like Ms. Ronstadt and has followed a similar path since the 1970s and ’80s with distinctive renditions of standards.

Carole King’s Tapestry, with its well-known cover photo of her, barefooted and wild-haired, on a window seat with her cat, started out a decade of great music from female singer-songwriters with songs that eventually became standards themselves, covered dozens of times by other artists, male and female. Incidentally, that famous cover photo was taken by Jim McCrary at Ms. King’s home in Laurel Canyon, outside Los Angeles, and in the 1970s Laurel Canyon became the locus of much musical talent, and especially singer-songwriters.

In a 1993 concert at Bushnell Hall in Hartford, Connecticut, Carole King performed “You’ve Got a Friend”, one of the several hit songs from her 1971 album, Tapestry.

The decade closed with Linda Ronstadt, another inhabitant of Laurel Canyon in the ’70s, as the most successful female rock and pop singer of the time. Singing out throughout the time in between, and whether coming from the cramped quarters of the Brill Building in New York City or the openness of sunny southern California in Laurel Canyon, were Melissa Manchester and dozens of others every bit as talented, and all with new and interesting statements to make, creating music that expressed their unique times and has lasted beyond, affirmation of their skill and artistry in giving voice to their experience.


— Vita


A story from a February 2019 edition of the television magazine show CBS Sunday Morning.

 

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We Gotcha

 

Anyone who uses the internet regularly has likely encountered a CAPTCHA or reCAPTCHA gatekeeper at a website requiring a login, and the puzzles they present to the user are meant to distinguish human visitors from bots, which is a good idea. Another good idea from the standpoint of Google, or Alphabet or whatever they’re calling themselves these days, is the use of unpaid labor from solvers of the puzzles to train artificial intelligence for tasks such as digitizing books or driving cars.

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A Waymo self-driving car on the road in Mountain View, California, headquarters of Google, or Alphabet or whatever they’re calling themselves these days. Waymo is a division within the technology behemoth, and logically it would be filed under “W”. Photo by Grendelkhan.

 

Ten years ago, internet users mostly encountered CAPTCHAs, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. CAPTCHAs were text-based puzzles, and Google put people to work solving them in the interests of both internet security and of training artificial intelligence to recognize letters and numbers in all sorts of peculiar configurations, such as might be found in all the books Google was digitizing. Now reCAPTCHAs are more common, and they are handy for training self-driving cars because they are image-based, and the images are most often of street scenes.

No doubt the engineers and executives at Google count themselves as quite clever for employing digital security puzzles to help amass the enormous amount of data necessary to train artificial intelligence without spending a penny, at least for labor. It’s a good bet most internet users are unaware of their exploitation at the hands of that technology behemoth or of other ones, like Facebook, which uses photographs uploaded by its users to train facial recognition software. Of those who are aware of what’s going on, some may not care. The technology companies, in that case, have little concern for the possibility of a public outcry over their exploitative practices; people are so eager to hand over their personal data for purposes they perceive as benefiting themselves that they don’t notice or don’t care how the companies are using the mountains of freely given information.

Artificial intelligence requires so much data to be effective that not even all the free data sneakily gleaned from internet users is enough, and therefore the technology companies have to pay some laborers, however poorly, to do the monotonous tasks necessary to train artificial intelligence for every imaginable scenario. The weakness of artificial intelligence, being nothing more than an extremely powerful computer, is its incapability of imagining scenarios outside of logic, or of imagining anything at all. Powerful as it is, it is still only a number cruncher.



John Cleese in conversation with Appian CEO Matt Calkins at a technology conference in 2018. In another video, John Cleese demonstrates the leaps of imagination and intuition that set the human brain apart from artificial intelligence.

 

Google’s reCAPTCHA sometimes gets the wrong message from its images, for example by insisting a diagonally striped no parking zone is a pedestrian crosswalk. There is no arguing with it. All the internet user can do in order to move on then is play along with the error or try reloading a different image. One has to wonder if training one’s replacement for free is not enough of an indignity without also suffering the insult of having to humor an insufficiently intelligent automaton that is nonetheless a humorless and dully unimaginative know-it-all.
— Techly

 

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Enough Already

 

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

It’s been 154 years since the Civil War ended and still Southern white supremacists expect everyone else in the country to walk on eggshells around them so as not to upset their mythology or the chips on their shoulders. Yesterday, July 13, was Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee, a holiday there since 1931, when it seemed like a good idea to commemorate a Confederate general who murdered captive black Union soldiers during the war, and after it became the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Now it’s 2019, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee‘s lame excuse for continuing the practice is that it is what’s expected of him under the law, even though he could push to have the law changed if he had the political will and courage.


All this hiding behind the disingenuous mantra of “heritage, not hate” is for the purpose of upholding monuments to and celebrations of Confederate leaders whose actions and beliefs, however much they deluded themselves and others in their own times into feeling were noble and righteous, have in the past 154 years proven to be in the service of one overriding principle – white supremacy. Dress up evil however you want, turn somersaults in logic if you like – in the end it’s still evil. Once state and local governments withdraw their sponsorship of these Confederate monuments and celebrations, individuals are still free to honor them in private if they are so inclined. No one is infringing their First Amendment free speech rights in speaking out on behalf of their Confederate idols in the public square; it’s just that everyone else no longer has to be subject to the constant looming presence of publicly sponsored monuments and celebrations reminding them to know their place, particularly if they are the descendants of slaves.

Birth of a Nation theatrical poster
Theater poster for the 1915 D.W. Griffith film The Birth of a Nation. The movie glorified the KKK and set the stage for the organization’s resurgence shortly afterward.

In the past two and a half years, because of the tone set by the White Supremacist-in-Chief occupying the Oval Office (proving not all white supremacists are Southerners, by any means), more awful people have crept from the shadows into the light than many decent people were aware existed. As the specter of awful behavior grows, it is not enough for decent people to shun it and the awful people who afflict society with their malevolent derangement; decent people need to confront it, preferably without violence, but by speaking out forcefully and often in public, because otherwise a bully will always take silence to mean assent, even approval.

A clip from an August 2017 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert which aired shortly after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

After a generation has passed, will we erect monuments to the malignant culture that has grown within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol? Will we celebrate the concentration camps for brown-skinned immigrants at “detention sites” from Texas to California and elsewhere around the country? Stopping the cancerous growth of white supremacy will require more decent white people standing up to it and saying “enough already”, an outspoken attitude of noble and righteous indignation that is long past overdue, as evidenced by a state still celebrating in 2019 the hateful heritage of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
— Vita

 

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None So Blind

 

“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:”
Jeremiah 5:21, from the King James Version of the Bible.

With the release of the redacted Mueller Report last week by the presidential administration’s stooge at the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr, Democrats should finally let go of one of the beliefs they have clung to since Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, namely that the other campaign colluded with the Russians in meddling with the election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team found it was not through lack of trying on the part of Republican campaign officials that collusion did not occur, but due to their bumbling incompetence.


Ms. Clinton is apparently still in denial about her loss in 2016. As we move further away from 2016 and closer to 2020, she becomes increasingly irrelevant unless – please no! – she throws her hat in the ring again. Mainstream Democrats have to get over the loss by first admitting one undeniable fact: The Republican candidate didn’t win the election as much as Ms. Clinton lost it, largely due to the arrogance and hubris that infected her campaign. The Russians didn’t help him win; she lost. The Democratic National Committee didn’t obstruct her progress; far from it, since the Committee colluded with her to obstruct the progress of her rival in the primaries, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sexism undoubtedly worked against Ms. Clinton, though possibly only among those who weren’t going to vote for her anyway for other reasons.

Tissot The Pharisee and the publican Brooklyn
The Pharisee and the Publican, a painting from between 1886 and 1894 by James Tissot (1836-1902), based on a parable in the Gospel of Luke.

There are many things that would improve elections in this country, among them reforming the system of primaries and abolishing the Electoral College. Those two major improvements are unlikely to happen before 2020. What can and should happen this year and going into 2020 are impeachment proceedings against the president in the House of Representatives. There is enough even in the redacted version of the Mueller Report, as well as in other ongoing investigations, to start impeachment proceedings against this president. While impeachment is an indictment only, and not the entire procedure to eject a president from office, the public proceedings can lay before the public all the president’s misdeeds. If impeachment succeeds, will he be convicted at trial in the Republican controlled Senate? No.

It is important to proceed with impeachment of the president because it is the right thing to do, because the evidence against him mounts every day and the House is therefore obligated by law to proceed, and because no matter what Old Guard Democrats like California Representative Nancy Pelosi and New York Senator Chuck Schumer advise about waiting the president out until November 2020, they are wrong since they underestimate the value of the impeachment proceedings aside from the futility of achieving conviction. The Oval Office Blowhard wants to always make everything about him? Very well, let him have it, with day after day airing of dirty laundry.

One third of the American people are never going to be dissuaded from following this president no matter what comes out in an impeachment. Those people are lost to reason, as the president acknowledged in his notoriously accurate assessment of them when as a candidate he boasted he could shoot somebody in broad daylight and they would let him get away with it. The people who need to have the case against the president laid before them in a way they can’t ignore are the third of the people between the hard core MAGA brigade and the other third of the population, mainstream Democrats.

“Israelites”, a 1968 song by Desmond Dekker & The Aces.

Then see clearly enough to put before the voters a Democratic candidate who generates more widespread enthusiasm than a neoliberal hack such as Hillary Clinton. Give them someone who genuinely speaks for all of them, not just Wall Street while hypocritically mouthing old platitudes about helping the middle and working classes. People don’t want to be sold down the river again, as they were in the Bankers’ Bailouts of 2008 and 2009, and the only ones who could blame them are mainstream, corporatist Democrats who haven’t learned a thing from that time or from the Debacle of 2016.
— Ed.

 

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Look at This Idiot

 

Instagram influencers are multiplying like flies, and their presence is merely annoying to most reasonable people who are not unduly affected by their activities, that is until the influencers started sitting in Joshua trees and trampling fields of California poppies. The young woman who posed for pictures while sitting in a Joshua tree often exhibits outlandish behavior to slake her thirst for attention and to cynically exploit her fans for money, and both outcomes have until now been a sideshow within the larger culture. Plants and animals don’t share any interest in Instagram idiocy, though, and when they are drawn into it and abused, then it’s up to people with common sense and a sense of decency to defend them.

 

Large Blue Joshua-B
A Joshua tree silhouetted by a summer sunset in the California high desert. Photo by Jessie Eastland. This Yucca brevifolia looks quite noble in its own right, and would not be improved by the addition of some attention-seeking nitwit hanging out in its branches.

There appears to be no National Park Service rule explicitly forbidding visitors to Joshua Tree National Park from climbing on and sitting in the fragile trees. Maybe the Park Service assumed people had more sense and more decency than to do those things. Most people do; but rules, like locks, are not made for most people – they are made for the few without any sense or decency. The Park Service does have a rule requiring a permit for commercial photography, which Instagram photos of celebrities surely are, and if the Joshua tree sitter did bother to get a permit, the Park Service must have asked her plans, or should have. If Park Service employees granted her permission anyway, then the rules need to change, even if Joshua trees are not yet on the Endangered Species List.

The fields of wildflowers currently blooming in California are largely under the jurisdiction of California’s park system. California State Parks have rules protecting the wildflowers from being trampled by the thousands of visitors that come to see them. The main rule Instagram influencers appear to violate states that visitors should stay on the trails and not traipse off into the fields. One person going off a trail may not cause much damage, but thousands and tens of thousands doing it causes damage that can take years for nature to repair, if it ever does. Like the National Park Service, California State Parks also have a rule requiring a permit for commercial photography. The Instagram influencers and their photography crews are probably violating rules both by straying off the trails and by not getting a permit, because again, if they sought a permit they might have to be honest about their plans.

As the recent government shutdown demonstrated, the nation’s parks are staffed lightly – a Thin Gray and Green Line, if you will – and it doesn’t take much reduction in staffing to incur a breakdown in order and civility caused by a destructive minority of visitors who sneer at the idea of conservation and whose idea of enjoying nature involves only callous, swaggering domination over it. Park employees, whether at National or State Parks, have always had their hands full keeping that crowd under control so that they don’t destroy the environment along with the peaceful enjoyment of it by other visitors. Now they also have to cope with Instagram influencers, swooping in like flies, and following after them the swarms they have influenced, all bent on twisting nature to their own perverse, fairy tale vision of it. These are the self-absorbed people accidentally plunging to their deaths off cliffs in the Grand Canyon and in Yosemite while foolishly trying to take unsafe selfies.

Presumably no poppies were harmed in overlaying Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky”, from their 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon, on this scene from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The original editions of both survive intact and can be enjoyed by themselves. It is possible to create without trampling and destroying in a pathetic attempt to call attention to oneself.

If people want to behave foolishly and others want to watch them do it, that’s their own business. Most of it is relatively harmless, even when influencers have taken to extorting hotel and restaurant owners for free lodging and food and drinks. They’re not doing anything journalists haven’t always done. It’s just that since it is easier to declare oneself an Instagram or YouTube influencer than it is to gain employment with an organization churning out reputable journalism, there are now hordes of them, descending like ravenous flies on resorts worldwide. Even the shallow influencer whose parents bought her way into a university she was supremely unqualified to enter, even she is harmless in most ways other than as any kind of role model, because in addition to her other selfish behavior, she has displayed a dearth of moral character by throwing her parents under the bus soon after the scandal made news. It is when these influencers trespass on nature that reasonable people have to object and draw a line, warning them they have gone too far and disturbed what really matters in the world. As for that fickle portion of the public, the easily influenced, they might consider how altering the title of this post applies to them, as in “Look at this, Idiot!”
— Izzy

 

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Know Your Privileges

 

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees have been detaining journalists and immigration lawyers at checkpoints in Arizona and Texas and questioning them about their political beliefs. These are nothing more than intimidation tactics by government employees who don’t appear overly concerned that they work for all citizens of the United States, not merely the current presidential administration and its far right supporters.

 

CBP has long had too broad an authority, and particularly after World War II when Congress passed laws giving the agency the ability to regularly trespass on citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. In 1953, without public review, the Justice Department specified the zone within which CBP could operate fast and loose with the Constitution at 100 air miles of the United States border. That’s 100 miles within the United States, all around the perimeter, an area encompassing nearly two thirds of the populace.

Oh America -WomensMarch -WomensMarch2018 -SenecaFalls -NY (38908982905)
A sign at the January 2018 Womens’ March in Seneca Falls, New York. Photo by Marc Nozell.

It’s incredible these laws and rules have stayed on the books as long as they have and have withstood review by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has often interpreted the Constitution with an eye toward sustaining the power of the government over the citizen, however, despite the recent miraculous lapse in its ruling on Timbs v. Indiana, which rescinded civil asset forfeiture, also known as cops’ legalized stealing of citizens’ property. That ruling can best be considered an anomaly, at least from the Court’s five conservative justices, who with an even more recent ruling, in Nielsen v. Preap, are back to their usual shoring up of police state encroachments on the Constitution.

George Carlin performing in 2008 in Santa Rosa, California, just months before he died. “You Have No Rights” is the closing bit, and for the album made from this Home Box Office (HBO) special, It’s Bad for Ya, he was awarded a posthumous Grammy. Warning: foul language.

Supposedly these laws are meant to be enforced against illegal immigrants, who after all are not citizens. In practice, their overly broad authority allows enough room for CBP employees with a political agenda to harass and intimidate anyone they care to, citizens and non-citizens alike. The CBP employees can always claim some legal rationale for their capricious actions, and even after offering the flimsiest excuses, they know legal redress of their abuse of power will take years, if it comes at all. This is what happens when fear guides the writing of laws, giving too much authority to law enforcement agencies, and then a lawless presidential administration grasps the reins of all that power. Meanwhile the nation’s courts have too often upheld police prerogatives over citizens’ rights, eroding the meaning of those rights and mocking their supposed inviolability.
— Vita

 

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Meatless Mondays Are Painless

 

Vegetarian or vegan substitutes for meat are not necessarily aimed at people who don’t eat meat, but rather at those who do, because by getting those people to eat less meat the environment will benefit, the animals being raised for meat will certainly benefit, and the meat eaters themselves will be healthier. The problem has been in developing a suitable substitute for meat at a reasonable cost and without creating a Frankenmeat with all sorts of nightmarish unintended consequences. Reading the reviews coming from the latest Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, it appears the company founded by Stanford University biochemistry professor Patrick O. Brown, Impossible Foods Inc., has gotten the formula right with the latest iteration of their Impossible Burger.

 

Other meat substitutes, such as the Boca Burger, have been geared toward vegetarians who wanted to retain some of the meat eating experience, and they were and are pathetic imitations. Attending a backyard cookout where everyone else was eating real beef burgers and then making do oneself with a Boca Burger or equivalent was an experience similar to being relegated to the kids’ table, with miniature versions of the adults’ dinnerware. Why bother? There are a multitude of vegetarian and vegan recipes available for real dishes, making it unnecessary to have to settle for dry, grasping imitations of what the grown-ups are eating.

Amy's Drive-Thru Vegan Fast Food Burger (28409157713)
The vegan Amy Burger at Amy’s Drive-Thru in Rohnert Park, California. Photo by Tony Webster. Amy’s Kitchen started in 1987 making organic and vegetarian frozen and convenience foods for sale in supermarkets around the country, and in 2105 opened the Rohnert Park restaurant, their first.

The point of the Impossible Burger is not to satisfy vegetarians or vegans who miss eating meat, but to replace meat in the much larger percentage of the population who are committed carnivores. Those people might have tried one of the previous meat substitutes out of curiosity, and they were right to scorn them as alternatives they could never embrace and still satisfy their nutritional and taste requirements for meat as well as a more nebulous, deep psychological need satisfied by eating meat. Professor Brown and his Impossible Foods colleagues intend their meat substitute to fulfill all those needs, and apparently they are well on their way to succeeding.

Replacing meat in the diet of the world’s people is enormously important, and probably the biggest single step toward ameliorating climate change other than reducing fossil fuel use, which would incidentally also be a byproduct of reducing livestock farming. Animal suffering would also be greatly relieved, because the situation now is horrific and getting worse as Americans and other Western peoples eat meat at least once a day, and in some places for every meal, and hundreds of millions people more in China and India aspire to the same relatively affluent lifestyles of Westerners. Factory farming of animals will become a larger industry still as the demand for meat goes up worldwide.

A scene from the 2002 film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, directed by Joel Zwick and written by Nia Vardalos, who also portrays the bride, with John Corbett as the groom. Eating meat is such an ingrained part of personal identity and social custom that most people give it little thought. Anyone who has ever been vegetarian or vegan, however, soon becomes aware of how others react to that news with bafflement or acceptance or, oddly, hostility, because refusal to eat meat is to such people a repudiation of their hospitality and identity, and possibly an indictment of their morality if the chief reason for not eating meat is because of animal suffering or the environment. It’s interesting that often the best way to smooth the ruffled feathers of meat eaters upset over learning of a vegetarian or vegan in their midst is to tout the health benefits of giving up meat, a reason that will usually gain their understanding and assent.

Consumers want more meat even though it’s not healthy for them. People will also eat more sugar than is good for them if they have the money and the opportunity. These are desires hard wired into human beings, and while some people can overcome them through will power however gained, most cannot, or even have a desire to try. For those people, the majority, give them a meat substitute at a comparable price to real meat, and satisfy their other needs for taste and nutrition and the most difficult need of all, but probably the most crucial, the carnivorous kernel in the brain that is the cause of all the social customs around eating meat or not eating meat, give those people that and the climate and the environment will be better for it, the animals all around the earth will be better for it, and those meat eaters themselves will be better for it, whether they understand and acknowledge it or not.
— Izzy

 

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Happy Public Domain Day

 

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
— Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution

Celebration of the unofficial holiday of Public Domain Day on January 1 is ordinarily bigger in Europe than in the United States except for this year, when extraordinary circumstances brought it into the news. Because of the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) passed by Congress in 1998, there was effectively a 20 year moratorium on works passing into the public domain in the United States, making this January a special occasion because of the backlog of works coming into the public domain all at once.


Public Domain Day poster 2011
A European Public Domain Day poster for 2011 noting the artists and writers whose works would move into the public domain. Poster by derochoaleer.org.

 

Copyright has always been a double-edged sword in that, as the wording in the Constitution states, it protects the rights of authors, but unstated in Clause 8 is the protection for creative rights extended to corporations by later legislation. Those rights have been inferred by lawmakers. This has been a matter of some controversy, as noted in the derogatory nickname for the CTEA as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. It’s hard to parse out the rights of struggling authors from the rights of billionaire corporations that (who?) hire struggling authors and artists and place their works under the corporation’s copyright.

It’s good that writers and artists have their financial interests in their works protected for, as the Constitution states, “limited Times”. Those limited times extend beyond the lives of the creators, continuing to grant returns to the creators’ heirs or designated beneficiaries. But then exclusive rights end, as they should so that the public can more easily benefit from a work that has stood the test of time. The works of William Shakespeare and Mark Twain have certainly widened their circle of beneficiaries among readers and performers due to being in the public domain.

Reagan with Sonny and Mary Bono C51271-19
President Ronald Reagan with his wife, Nancy, greeted upon their arrival in Palm Springs, California, in December 1988 by Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono and his wife, Mary. Photo from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Sonny Bono would later serve in the House of Representatives and, after his death in a skiing accident in 1998, would be succeeded in office by Mary Bono. With her support, Congress named the CTEA after Sonny Bono, even though he hadn’t had an especially strong attachment to the bill, having been merely one of twelve sponsors of a similar bill.

It seems the same rules pertaining to inherited artistic wealth could be and should be applied to inherited financial wealth. Why should the heirs of a monetary fortune be entitled to pad their nests in perpetuity with gains they did not secure themselves, or could not have secured without the advantage of great wealth? Heirs of artistic wealth, though they possess a legacy more worthwhile to the rest of humanity than money, are allowed to coast on it for only a generation or two before legal support is withdrawn and they have to make their own way in the world. Will the rules of inheritance, ingrained in humanity for as long as anyone can remember, ever change to reflect a more practical view of what a person is entitled to by birthright, the way it is in copyright law? Most likely not in the near term, but it’s important for the future to plant a seed now.
— Vita

 

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The Old Guard Problem

 

“And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may think it’s a movement.” — Arlo Guthrie, from his song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”.

Progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, newly elected Representative from New York’s 14th Congressional District, have their work cut out for them even before they take their seats in January as they battle the Old Guard within their own party. The Old Guard of the Democratic Party, led by Nancy Pelosi in the House and Chuck Schumer in the Senate, are working to co-opt, minimize, and undermine the incoming progressives so that business as usual shall continue after January. The Old Guard appears to have little interest in understanding that business as usual by corporate Democrats such as themselves is what brought this country to the precipice of authoritarian rule by the current president and his accomplices in Congress and the judiciary over the past two years.


First Capitol telephone operator still on job. Washington, D.C., July 30. When Miss Harriot Daley was appointed telephone operator at the United States Capitol in 1898 there were only 51 LCCN2016872097
Harriot Daley, standing, was appointed telephone operator at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., in 1898 when there were only 51 stations on the switchboard. On July 30, 1937, when this photo was taken, Miss Daley was Chief Operator and supervised a staff of 37 operators as they answered calls from 1200 extensions. Library of Congress photo by Harris & Ewing.

Corporate Democrats are a better option for leading this country than fascist Republicans in the same way that a kick in the behind is marginally better than a kick in the groin, but that’s hardly a hearty endorsement of their policies and practices. That is not a positive view of the future for young people starting out and raising children of their own into the world. There has to be a better option still, one that is outside the stale choice between the lesser of two evils, both of them more interested in serving corporate interests than those of the people at large. The Old Guard of the Democratic Party will continue trying to scare progressives into backing down from real change by claiming they are splintering the Party and allowing the minority party, the Republicans, to win votes in the House of Representatives and pass their agenda.

There’s truth in their argument, too, particularly since Republicans historically are more likely than Democrats to maintain lock step with their colleagues in the face of opposition and subsume their differences, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that progressives should move to the center and join ranks with the corporate Democrats instead of the other way around. What’s needed to convince corporate Democrats to drop Old Guard methods and beliefs, besides not re-electing them time after time, is pressure from ordinary citizens that builds to a point overpowering their allegiance to corporate money.

Phone calls. E-mails. Snail mails. Attendance and vocal presence at town halls. Boycotts of corporations making large political donations. Taking to the streets. Voting in local elections for school board and county supervisor and city council seats. Knocking on doors to get out the vote and helping people register to vote. Speaking up when someone among your friends, family, or neighbors expresses hateful ideas counter to our democratic principles. Refusal to participate in the national security state by calling for the repeal of the PATRIOT Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and condemning the persecution of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and John Kiriakou.

The presentation in Frank Capra’s 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington probably strikes most people today as corny, but that should not overshadow the principles of good government and citizen participation it espouses and their relevancy today.

Starting and supporting statewide initiatives such as California’s Proposition 11 in 2008 which took legislative district reapportionment away from partisan politicians and gave that power to the people. There are many more ways to convince business as usual Democrats in Congress and across the nation that the future for them and us lies in their scooting over to the left, in the direction this country came from before it swung too far right in the last generation, rather than stubbornly obstructing progressives in order to better serve their corporate masters. Getting up off the couch and making phone calls and doing the other things is the only way to make it happen.
— Ed.

 

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Enough Is Never Enough

 

Amazon.com, the internet’s everything store, recently announced it will be opening two secondary headquarters, one in the New York City borough of Queens, and the other in the Arlington, Virginia, area near Washington, D.C.. City and state officials in both locations offered Amazon enormous benefits at taxpayers’ expense, though the exact amounts are unknown because officials claim they have a competitive advantage by keeping their bids secret.

 

Nonsense. It’s the taxpayers’ money and they have every right to know how officials spend it. The whole nationwide competition for Amazon’s secondary headquarters was a yearlong sham and circus, the kind of municipal debasement and looting that has become far too common as states and cities are pitted against each other for the dubious prize bestowed on them by corporate behemoths relocating or opening new places of business.

Caricature of "Organized Big Business Interests"
Caricature of “Organized Big Business Interests” illustrated by John Miller Baer (1886-1970) for part of the November 17, 1919 cover of The Nonpartisan Leader. Nearly one hundred years later, a caricature of a big business interest is more likely to appear trim and fit, wearing jeans and a turtleneck or other informal clothing.

Amazon is to labor practices and corporate citizenship as an internet business as Walmart is to labor practices and corporate citizenship among brick and mortar stores, which is to say they are leaders in their respective fields in abusing their lowest tier workers and siphoning funds away from local communities. Both Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, and the Walton family at the head of Walmart are obscenely rich. They got that way because of their cleverness at exploiting the properties mentioned above, not because of their own virtuousness and hard work as they would have everyone believe. There are millions upon millions of people who are every bit as virtuous and hard working as Mr. Bezos and the Walton family, probably more so, and they are not obscenely rich, or even well off.

 

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Buy Nothing Day demonstration in San Francisco, California, in November 2000. Photo by Lars Aronsson.

Mr. Bezos and others like him are obscenely rich because they are, among their other qualities in starting and running a business, both good and bad, obscenely greedy. Shoppers visiting the Amazon website cannot be blamed for taking advantage of the low prices and good service. That would be a kind of “blaming the victim”. Besides, it is all too easy for shoppers to forget about or remain ignorant of Amazon’s bad labor practices and exploitative corporate citizenship since it does those things mostly out of sight and therefore out of mind, a benefit it has as an internet company that Walmart does not have as a brick and mortar outfit.

Shoppers might fairly ask themselves, however, that even if they are not entirely complicit in sustaining Mr. Bezos’s greed, perhaps their own much smaller proportion of greed is something worth examining. It is a form of greed that drives most purchases from Amazon. Amazon sells some necessities such as groceries, but then so do stores at neighborhood shopping centers throughout the country. Most of what Amazon sells are not necessities. They are convenient luxuries, great or small, delivered to the shopper’s door. With the enormous emphasis on shopping around Thanksgiving all but swallowing up the holiday and its meaning, people might want to step back from the shopping cart, both real and virtual, and reflect on how their own petty greed feeds the monstrous greed of Jeff Bezos and his fellow billionaires and millionaires, while around the world millions upon millions of decent people go hungry.
— Techly

 

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