“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.
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.
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.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
— Hamlet to Horatio in Act I, scene v, of Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.
It’s fair to say most people in the Western world are more or less familiar with the Judeo-Christian Bible and the Ten Commandments in its Old Testament books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, which they honor perhaps more in the breach than in the observance. There is an Eleventh Commandment which is known to few people other than some evangelical Christians, and it addresses how to treat others in what might be considered a reverse or Bizarro Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is common to many religions around the world and is stated many ways, but the formulation probably most familiar to Westerners is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The Bizarro Golden Rule, also known as the Eleventh Commandment, informs adherents to “Be mean-spirited with those you dislike or disagree with, and as spiteful and hateful in your dealings with them as satisfies your shriveled, churlish spirit.” The latest Christian conservative to scrupulously honor the Eleventh Commandment is Briscoe Cain, a Republican state representative in the Texas legislature, who, soon after the death of English physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking on March 14, tweeted the following passive-aggressive remarks: “Stephen Hawking now knows the truth about how the universe was actually made. My condolences to his family.”
Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard, an 1839 painting by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863).
If there was any doubt about the veiled hostility in his tweet, Mr. Cain later took away the veil by elaborating on his dislike for Mr. Hawking’s atheism and supposed mocking of God. As egregious behavior from a mean-spirited Christian conservative, or evangelical, this is small beer. It nevertheless illustrates a mind set that has corroded civil discourse in public life, and how nothing will stop such a person from taking pot shots at perceived or imagined enemies, even the recent death of perhaps the most well-known and generally beloved physicist since Albert Einstein. Stephen Hawking’s atheism was his own concern, something he never forced on others, unlike the behavior of many evangelical Christians like Briscoe Cain. As for mocking God, even if Mr. Hawking did such a thing only in the eyes of Mr. Cain, surely God is big enough to forgive and forget.
That is not the God of Briscoe Cain and others like him, however, who apparently see in God much of what they dimly perceive in themselves: a smallness of spirit, mean, petty, and vindictive, with spite considered a virtue, and charity withheld from anyone deemed Other. One would feel sorry for such small minded people if not for the tremendous damage they do to the rest of society every day. In this material world, Stephen Hawking will be well and fondly remembered by future generations, while Briscoe Cain’s legacy will fade away except for the enduring stain of his negative contributions, may they amount to no more than his snide remarks made at the expense of a person who never did him any harm.
But in Mr. Cain’s view, it could be Mr. Hawking did do him harm by denying his God and, worse, supposedly mocking that God, which to a person with fragile self-esteem is the same as denying him, not just Him, and mocking him, not just Him. For people like that, all their sense of self worth is bound up in their God, and how their God is regarded or disregarded by others is taken personally by them. In the next world, if there is one, perhaps Briscoe Cain and his vindictive and insecure co-religionists will be fortunate and discover a God more beneficent and embracing than the God they envisioned and claimed to embody here on Earth, and inflicted upon everyone else without concern for whether others merited simple human kindness and respect regardless of their religious beliefs.
Legg’d like a man! and his fins like arms! Warm, o’ my troth! I do now let loose my opinion, hold it no longer: this is no fish, but an islander, that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt. [Thunder.] Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine; there is no other shelter hereabout. Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.
After Hurricane Irma tore through Florida earlier this month, some stories surfaced about Florida homeowners with solar panels being unable to use their power in the power grid outages that followed. Like many stories, there was some truth to them, but not the entire truth. Due to intensive lobbying from utility companies, Florida has enacted more obstacles to solar energy than most states, despite the fact that its weather and latitude make it better suited than most to take advantage of solar power. Homeowners with grid-tied solar panel arrays without batteries or transfer switches were legally barred from using their solar power while the grid in their area was off line.
That in itself is not unusual compared to arrangements in other states, and should not have been the source of stories making it sound as if Big Brother was interfering in individual initiative. The problem was the stories focused on that part while at the same time ignoring the real story of how Florida legislators have systematically made business difficult for the solar power industry. It is usual practice to ensure grid-tied systems have safety measures in place such as transfer switches to prevent power from back-feeding on the grid lines and endangering utility workers as they try to restore electrical service. In Florida, however, it appears legislation has been enacted at the behest of the major utilities to go beyond this to ensure that grid-tied solar power systems could not be legally used at any time during a general power outage.
The MGM Tower in Century City, Los Angeles, with solar array atop the adjoining parking garage. Photo by SolarWriter.
So there you are sitting in the dark after Hurricane Irma came through, just like all your neighbors, despite the array of solar panels on your roof. If you had disassociated your solar array from the grid entirely, you might have had better luck, though that would depend on local building codes or homeowners’ association rules. But since you tied into the grid with your solar array out of economic necessity and convenience, you may find out belatedly you signed a bargain with the devil. It’s like that natural gas powered fireplace which turns out to be useless when severe winter weather has cut off all services. Lighting candles won’t do enough to keep you warm.
The invidious corruption of the Florida utility laws, pervaded as they are by money from the Koch Brothers and entrenched fossil fuel interests, has had the unusual effect of forging an unlikely coalition of Tea Party conservatives and environmentalists, known as the “Green Tea” movement. The Tea Partiers are motivated by their distaste for government telling them how they can power their own homes, and tilting the playing field against them should they decide to sell surplus power on the open market, all because of the undue influence of utilities on the government. Environmentalists decry the same government corruption, but see it as unfairly limiting options for homeowners to leave a greener footprint, besides getting in the way of individual exercise of freedom.
The 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, directed by David Lean and edited by Anne V. Coates, had many great moments, and this match cut from flame to sun is one of the most renowned.
Florida is an excellent test case for how we will cope with a warming climate, much as some people don’t want to look at it that way. Florida is hot and humid. Before the invention and widespread use of air conditioning in the twentieth century, Florida was lightly settled precisely because of its challenging climate. Since the middle of the twentieth century, Florida’s population has boomed. Florida’s energy use is 40% higher than the national average, largely because of the extensive use of air conditioning. Look at Puerto Rico now in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. That could be Florida in a worst case scenario, which the state dodged as Hurricane Irma played out, as opposed to how an earlier forecast showed it might work out. Considering all that, it seems making solar power easier for all homeowners to implement rather than more difficult is the sensible option, no matter the arrangement of strange bedfellows.
No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ’tis enough, ’twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’ both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm.
I thought all for the best.
― William Shakespeare,Romeo and Juliet (Act III, Scene i).
From February 23rd to the 26th, the 447 members of the Democratic National Committee will meet to elect a new chairperson to replace Donna Brazile, who has served as interim chair since Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned. The two leading candidates are Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. Ellison is backed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, while Perez is backed by more of the Party establishment. It’s anyone’s guess at this point whether the election of a new chairperson will serve to correct the faults within the Party that led to the 2016 election debacle, but the signs are dubious at best.
DNC chair candidate Sally Boynton Brown of Idaho garnered a lot of publicity for her remarks about serving as a voice for minorities, even if that means suppressing the voices of white people. She no doubt meant well, but her ill-chosen phrasing has only stirred the embers from the last election, when the Clinton campaign’s reliance on identity politics and neglect of working class voters, mostly white, in the Rust Belt states led to a decisive turnout for the opposition. It is now almost three months since the election, and the Democratic Party establishment still has not come to terms with their own complicity in losing a very winnable election. They still seek to blame others, such as the Russians for meddling in the election, for which they have negligible evidence, and the Rust Belt voters who upset their apple cart. The continuing denigration of white working class voters by Democratic Party elitists as ignorant, misogynistic, racist “deplorables” shows they are still incapable of accepting any blame themselves.
According to psychologists, the five stages of grief are 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, and 5) Acceptance. It’s clear from both public and private rhetoric that many Democrats are still in stages 1 and 2. They have every right to feel that way for a time, though in many cases their anger is misdirected. They should be directing their anger at their leaders rather than the working people those leaders have abandoned and ignored over the last forty years while they courted corporate money and the academic and professional classes. In the past, many so-called deplorables were a part of the Franklin D. Roosevelt coalition that ensured a solidly Democratic Party majority in this country through the middle years of the Twentieth Century, before the Democrats lost their way and decided to mimic Republicans in becoming bedfellows with Wall Street plutocrats, while cynically attempting to retain credibility with a portion of their base by throwing them identity politics sops.
Unfortunately, being mired in denial and anger obstructs recovery, which begins with acknowledging there is a problem, as any twelve step program informs us. Until Democratic Party leaders demonstrate a willingness to stop blaming the Russians and others for their own failings, and thereafter attempt to reform the Party by returning it to the left of center FDR coalition that served the majority of its members well for many years, Progressives will need to look outside the Democratic Party and begin working earnestly to make a third Party a force to be reckoned with. Progressives – and maybe some disgusted Republicans, too – will, like the wounded Mercutio, have to say to the two major Parties, “A plague o’ both your houses!” Let’s hope in the meantime that, unlike Mercutio’s wound, the new era of Supreme Leader doesn’t prove fatal.