Monthly Archives: June 2005

copyrighted tattoos?

WebIndia has a report about a fight between a tattoo artist and a tattoo recipient. (I found it odd that it was listed in the sports page until I thought, hmm, maybe Beckham is some sort of athlete; then I remembered the soccer flick “Bend It Like Beckham” and suddenly the title made sense, and a search of wikipedia confirmed that indeed David Beckham is indeed the exact sort of athlete that would inspire youthful admiration.)

See also bella online, teen hollywood.com and contactmusic.com. A number of US-written articles seem a bit confused (or maybe they’re confusing me): in a situation involving a UK football star, and a UK tattoo artist, and where the inkwork presumably occurred in the UK — one wonders why bella online and defenestrate are citing to and discussing US law?

but would time travel let us undo the 2004 election?

In yesterday’s NYT article on time travel:

Saving Grandpa

But what about killing your grandfather? In a well-ordered universe, that would be a paradox and shouldn’t be able to happen, everybody agrees.

That was the challenge that Dr. Joe Polchinski, now at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, Calif., issued to Dr. Thorne and his colleagues after their paper was published.

Being a good physicist, Dr. Polchinski phrased the problem in terms of billiard balls. A billiard ball, he suggested, could roll into one end of a time machine, come back out the other end a little earlier and collide with its earlier self, thereby preventing itself from entering the time machine to begin with.

Dr. Thorne and two students, Fernando Echeverria and Gunnar Klinkhammer, concluded after months of mathematical struggle that there was a logically consistent solution to the billiard matricide that Dr. Polchinski had set up. The ball would come back out of the time machine and deliver only a glancing blow to itself, altering its path just enough so that it would still hit the time machine. When it came back out, it would be aimed just so as to deflect itself rather than hitting full on. And so it would go like a movie with a circular plot.

In other words, it’s not a paradox if you go back in time and save your grandfather. And, added Dr. Polchinski, “It’s not a paradox if you try to shoot your grandfather and miss.”

“The conclusion is somewhat satisfying,” Dr. Thorne wrote in his book “Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy.” “It suggests that the laws of physics might accommodate themselves to time machines fairly nicely.”

Dr. Polchinski agreed. “I was making the point that the grandfather paradox had nothing to do with free will, and they found a nifty resolution,” he said in an e-mail message, adding, nevertheless, that his intuition still tells him time machines would lead to paradoxes.

It’s not just intuition. It’s that the paradox is still there: even though the billiard ball didn’t stop itself from entering a time machine, it stopped itself from entering the same time machine. Why do the shoot-your-grandfather paradox folks only consider the most extreme version, in which your grandfather is dead? The fact is that before you entered the time machine, your parent was born of a grandfather without a wound; after you entered & exited the time machine & shot your grandfather, your parent was born of a different grandfather — a grandfather with a wound. Likewise the billiard ball has now had two entrances into the time machine: one clean, and one with a glancing blow that made some impact on the time machine itself — a dent to a minor transferance of energy.

Well, I should read the paper. Maybe they address this! But it seems like this resolution — you don’t actually hit your grandfather, billiard ball (2) doesn’t knock billiard ball (1) completely off its course — resolves nothing. (And it took them months of mathematical struggle to come up with it?) I can only see the shoot-but-miss solution working in two possible ways: (1) the shooting has one and only one possible effect: hitting and killing your grandfather. All the other effects on the world that shooting a gun normally has do not exist. This is logically absurd. Or, (2) It would only work if in the travel to the past you actually can effect absolutely no change whatsoever. But wouldn’t Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle dictate that even if you are present only as an observer you carry the potential to effect change? What if you’re observing something previously unobserved?

I’m assuming that these paradoxes & their potential resolutions exist because the time machine goes in & out of the same universe. If it leaves one universe (Time Stream 1, TS1) and enters another (TS2) or creates another with its entry, then these paradoxes don’t exist. Kill away. But this theory has always struck me as unsatisfying …

Will have to discuss this with physics- and math-minded scientists.

covers & licenses to cover

Slate just ran an article on cover albums (“Copycats – The cover album makes a comeback” by Franklin Bruno, 2005/6/23), which is interesting timing considering that the Register of Copyrights has proposed to eliminate the compulsory cover license. [Lessig covers (ahem) the issue and responds to commentary from Importance of Being Ernest and Joe Gratz].

grokster

well — grokster is out. from the beginning:

We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.

and from the end:

There is substantial evidence in MGM’s favor on all elements of inducement, and summary judgment in favor of Grokster and StreamCast was error. On remand, re-consideration of MGMís motion for summary judgment will be in order.

J. Souter wrote the majority opinion which apparently and not surprisingly developed an “inducement” theory. Breyer concurrence (with Souter & O’Connor) and Ginsburg concurrence (with Rehnquist and Kennedy).

I saw it here [on Joe Hall's NQB2] first.

lots of discussions (confession: i haven’t had time to read them yet; just the opinion; my thoughts on metablog commentaries may come later tonight):

my own quick thoughts:

  • This outcome is no surprise. It seemed obvious that the Court was going to take a middle position that would take some kind of bite out of Sony; the real question was how big a bite.
  • So how big is this bite? The Court established an inducement standard, setting out the facts implicating Grokster et al’s knowledge and intent to have copyrighted files copied. The battle for the next few years or decades will be to expand or constrict this standard to the facts of Grokster.
    • The inducement standard is treated as part of the contributory infringement standard in one place, (p.12), but elsewhere as a third test parallel to contributory and vicarious.
    • The new inducement standard on the one hand might not be horrible, if it is limited to the facts at hand: It was certainly clear that Grokster et al intended to follow in the footsteps of Napster. Modeling your entity after another entity that was successfully characterized as a “bad actor” now looks like not so good an idea.
    • But on the other hand, the evidence cited in some instances is pretty patchy/sparse:
      • The majority opinion cites, for instance, that “Grokster’s name is an apparent derivative of Napster.” p.7, and again at p.21 (“Grokster’s name is apparently derived from Napster…”) If that kind of naming can constitute evidence then every e-business and i-product may someday be in trouble.
      • The majority also cites attempts to capture / buy relevant search engine keywords. (p.7 & p.22)
      • The Court also felt that “the defendants’ failure to develop … filtering tools or other mechanisms to diminish the infringing activity … underscores Grokster’s and StreamCast’s intentional facilitation of their users’ infringement.” I really dislike this and any other pro-network-policing implications.
    • More generally, though, I am still concerned with the dotted line this opinion implicitly draws around design decisions. It should be permissible to design your product around precedents, to avoid clearly unlawful behavior. It can and should be permissible to push that boundary in new directions — new innovation proceeds by pushing old boundaries. In the case of copyright infringement, pushing a boundary too far carries its own risk: that you might fall afoul of that boundary and be found liable for copyright infringement. But here, acknowledging the design decisions is evidence in and of itself of “inducement”. That’s troubling, because it requires that designers adopt a willful blindness attitude very similar to that which Judge Posner decried in Aimster. And it could make it difficult to defend and describe innovations in court.
    • I’m also concerned with the very notion of including an intent-based standard in copyright. Copyright is a strict liability regime. Liability is thus quite broad: any actual infringement creates liability, regardless of intent. Adding an intent-based liability to the further-afield secondary liability broadens copyright even further. The Court did attempt to address this, at p.19:

      We are, of course, mindful of the need to keep from trenching on regular commerce or discouraging the development of technology with lawful and unlawful potential. Accordingly, just as Sony did not find intentional inducement despite the knowledge of the VCR manufacturer that its device could be used to infringe, 464 U. S., at 439, n. 19, mere knowledge of infringing potential or of actual infringing uses would not be enough here to subject a distributor to liability. Nor would ordinary acts incident to product distribution, such as offering customers technical support or product updates, support liability in themselves. The inducement rule, instead, premises liability on purposeful, culpable expression and conduct, and thus does nothing to compromise legitimate commerce or discourage innovation having a lawful promise.

      Yeah, we’ll see. Here’s hoping the Court is right in its optimistic assertion that its new inducement “does nothing to compromise legitimate commerce or discourage innovtaion having a lawful promise”.

    • The Court also played dangerously with the numbers game, citing “the number of infringing downloads that occur every day using StreamCast’s and Grokster’s software” as a “powerful… argument for imposing liability”. At 12. And again at 23: “As the account of the facts indicates, there is evidence of infringement on a gigantic scale, and there is no serious issue of the adequacy of MGM’s showing on this point…. ”

      These lines will certainly appear in content-owners’ briefs and attempts to get courts to consider the quantity and volume of infringement — the very standard rejected in Sony.

    • The Court states that neither of the Sony uses (recording TV off-air, and librarying programs) was “necessarily infringing”. (p.14). So presumably new uses are not “necessarily infringing”. But wouldn’t this have applied to Napster? Personal file sharing, of degraded-quality MP3s, without commercial exchanges — that was a new use, and not a “necessarily infringing” use. Ah, this is going to beef up the market prong of the fair use test, I bet. Like it needs any more beefing.
    • The Court restricts Sony to contributory infringement not vicarious liability. Some courts assumed so anyway, but Posner in Aimster pointed out that it was really unclear. Grokster resolves that unclarity by describing Sony as merely about contributory infringement, not about vicarious liability.

      On those facts, with no evidence of stated or indicated intent to promote infringing uses, the only conceivable basis for imposing liability was on a theory of contributory infringement arising from its sale of VCRs to consumers with knowledge that some would use them to infringe. Id., at 439.

      at 14. And later at 16-17:

      [The Ninth Circuit's] view of Sony, however, was error, converting the case from one about liability resting on imputed intent to one about liability on any theory. Because Sony did not displace other theories of secondary liability …

    • On the other hand, the Court seems to want to leave Sony otherwise untouched:

      Because Sony did not displace other theories of secondary liability, and because we find below that it was error to grant summary judgment to the companies on MGMís inducement claim, we do not revisit Sony further, as MGM requests, to add a more quantified description of the point of balance between protection and commerce when liability rests solely on distribution with knowledge that unlawful use will occur. It is enough to note that the Ninth Circuitís judgment rested on an erroneous understanding of Sony and to leave further consideration of the Sony rule for a day when that may be required.

      at 17.

      Added commentary (6/28):

      The real problem is that while the Court leaving Sony untouched in name only, the Court manipulated the entire environment in which Sony lived. Sony, as it played out in the real world, stood for the generic proposition that secondary liability for developing & distributing a technology accrued only where there were no “substantial noninfringing uses” to the technology. The fact that Sony was vague on the vicarious / contributory distinction was fine — it created a grander position for the Sony standard vis-a-vis secondary liability generally. Technological development ought not be held hostage either to existing business models or to those who seek to get around the existing business models.

      Despite the Court’s intentions, Grokster chips away at Sony in two ways: First, the Court hones down the vagueness and wiggle room in Sony by construing it as a contributory case. Second, the Court opens up an entirely new avenue for secondary liability, one with (as yet) no pro-technology out. So, now technology developers, instead of being able to rely on a general, broad principle of protection for multiple-use technologies, have to watch out for both vicarious liability and the new (to copyright) inducement standard.

      The protection for technological development is gone. So what if Grokster developed its technology intending to foster copyright infringement? Once the technology is out there, it started being used to, yes, share noninfringing materials. And those uses will continue to grow and evolve. On some level, Grokster the company is merely an agent for technological evolution. But this decision is not aimed at the agent; it’s aimed at technological evolution itself. If they had wanted to aim at the agent, then they could have restricted their theory to the inducing acts and words — not to the development and distribution of the technology. How much did Grokster’s ad campaigns actually induce infringement? And how much did the mere capability of the technology “induce” infringement? Unfortunately this decision doesn’t (at first reading anyway) lend itself to focusing on the acts. It looks at the acts, but it targets the technology.

      < / end of added commentary >

    • I don’t like footnote 13:

      It is not only that encouraging a particular consumer to infringe a copyright can give rise to secondary liability for the infringement that results. Inducement liability goes beyond that, and the distribution of a product can itself give rise to liability where evidence shows that the distributor intended and encouraged the product to be used to infringe. In such a case, the culpable act is not merely the encouragement of infringement but also the distribution of the tool intended for infringing use.

  • Concurrences:
    • Breyer/Souter/O’Connor concur with the majority but disagree with Ginsburg’s concurrence (Ginsburg/Rehnquist/Kennedy) evaluating Grokster’s potential liability for “contributory infringement”. Breyer agrees with the inducement carve-out, but separately finds that Grokster meets the Sony test for contributory infringement.

      On the other hand, Breyer regularly cites the quantity in Sony — which suggests that even though he is supporting Grokster in this discussion, he has bought into the quantitative analysis anyway. However Breyer does clearly point out that 10% may not be enough, should not be fixed, and that Aimster was a stricter interpretation of Sony than he would have put forth.

      Breyer’s opinion is ultimately the most thoughtful and most directly engages the policy balances at stake. And, demonstrates the most familiarity with the record.

    • Ginsburg: I really take issue with this concurrence. How can J. Ginsburg say

      Here, there has been no finding of fair use and little beyond anecdotal evidence of noninfringing uses. … These declarations (some of them hearsay) include assertions that number of copyright owners authorize distribution of their works on the Internet and that some public domain material is available through peer-to-peer networks.

      (at 5) The fact that Rick Prelinger and Brewster Kahle have not personally used the P2P networks is used against them! Merely providing content which they authorized for distribution over P2P networks was not enough. Contrast Sony: If Ginsburg had been writing it, apparently Mr. Rogers’ statements that he was happy to have his content copied would not have been sufficient. No, Mr. Rogers would have been required to have actually used VCRs to tape his materials off air.

      Apparently all public domain and permissive filesharing constitutes “anecdotal evidence of noninfringing uses”. But shouldn’t distribution of teachers’ guides, satires, etc., count as fair uses? Oh — someone needs to make the compelling case for fair use filesharing! But I suspect nothing would persuade J. Ginsburg. Even blind orphans from Tanzania who get copies of works not otherwise available in Tanzania may not merit a tear if weighed against the all-important interests of large copyright-holding movie companies and cartels.

      Ginsburg is pushing for a reconsideration of quantitative factors, which apparently will look at the state of infringement at the moment the litigation is filed. Needless to say this would stifle and kill all sorts of technological developments.

“stealing”: billy on jimi

This week’s Boston Phoenix includes an interview with Billy Corgan, of the Smashing Pumpkins, and an excerpt from a 3-year-old Billy Corgan essay on Jimi Hendrix:

[Jimi] was never boring on the guitar, yet he stole from everyone. But like many of the greats, he made others’ songs his own.

No better justification of an improvements culture than Jimi Hendrix need ever be offered.

First Museum of Fake Goods

Novosti reports that the Russian State Institute of Intellectual Property has opened up a museum of fake goods, to “train qualified intellectual property specialists” in recognizing fake goods and “fight[ing]” the fake goods.

Fake goods? Fake goods that fight? Vodka that really isn’t vodka, movies that really aren’t movies — but the fake vodka and movies have some real kung-fu.

Good to see that Russia is following the fine example of the US: while education in actually creating art and music gets fewer and fewer dollars, education in how to police art and music gets more and more dollars.

See, e.g., any of the numerous university “copyright education” websites (Univ. of California); organizations promoting copyright curriculum like Friends of Active Copyright Education (FACE), an initiative of the Copyright Society of the U.S.A. developed to “provide a broad range of resources to foster and support copyright awareness”; and the various incursions ofo copyright curriculum into the schools (Never too young for a copyright lesson, CNet 2005/5/23, about copyright lectures for a 6th grade commencement in Utah).

Compare: Dumbing Down, the Dwindling Funding of the Arts (World Music Central); Music for All Foundation statistical review of music education funding in California public schools.

Act: Copyrightcurriculum.com and Kids Smell Bullshit.

first amendment monopolies for broadcasters

A few months ago (how did I miss this?) CoCo (Constitutional Code in the Realm of Culture) posted about an FCC paper that basically kills the scarcity doctrine, thereby significantly undercutting the rationale for FCC regulation of broadcast airwaves.

CoCo correctly points out that this has both a big potential plus and a big potential minus: (a) first, the plus: the government has less justification for federal obscenity & decency regulations; but (b) the minus: broadcast owners have more justification for trying to ditch things like must-carry rules, the fairness doctrine (if it existed anymore), and other aspects of state regulation in the public interest. (I distinguish between obscenity/decency regulations and the public interest but it must be said that some folks would put both items together, in either the plus or minus columns depending on their politics. I’ll call them both “public policy” regulations, reserving the right to distinguish between good and bad public policy regulations.)

But the so-called First Amendment rights of broadcast corporations stem from the government-granted monopoly they have over particular chunks of the airwaves. So, yes, a dead scarcity doctrine undercuts the rationale for the public policy regulations. But it also undercuts the rationale for the government-granted monopolies in the first place.

So imagine this admittedly unlikely scenario: the FCC gets out of the licensing, as well as the content-regulating, business altogether. Be conservative and leave the FCC the role of standard-setting body, establishing broadcast ranges for this and that type of broadcast. What might the broadcast environment look like? Lots of broadcasters, competing with each other for the airwaves. Encrypted content delivered and decrypted by commercially available equipment. Cooperative groups of content providers? Imagine all the benefits of low power FM, cited by media activists, church groups, union organizers, and the like, but available to all. Sounds pretty good to me. If the FCC isn’t acting as procurer and police for large corporations, handing out and enforcing monopolistic control over chunks of the airwaves, then maybe we don’t have to worry so damn much about the so-called First Amendment rights of large corporate entities.

So, the scarcity doctrine is dead. Long live the age of plenty.

derivative works on intelligent design

two great tastes that taste great together: (critiquing) intelligent design, and derivative works.

Ernie Miller rewrote Pastor Niemöller’s classic work for the modern era of attacks on science:

First they came after biology
and I did not speak out
because I was not a biologist

Then they came after geology
and I did not speak out
because I was not a geologist

Then they came after astronomy
and I did not speak out
because I was not an astronomer

They they came after my discipline
and there was no one left
to speak out for my discipline.

First, I love this; what an excellent point. The sooner all rationalists figure out that ID is an attack on reason, education, and the scientific method, the better.

But I can’t help but note that, viewed in light of the annoying Dr. Seuss case, Prof. Miller’s re-worked version probably falls on the wrong side of the infamous parody/satire distinction. And Siva has republished it! (The original poem seems to have been written in 1938 & so barring complications of international publication, renewal, etc., I presume it is still under copyright.) Clearly the seemingly straight & narrow path of copyright balance leads directly to Flamboyant Copyright Anarchy! Truly, we are all casual copyright infringers now.

global warming: fact or fantasy?

Fafblog! cautions us to go slow until we’re sure — hmm, just like the bush administration, which was recently caught manipulating and distorting scientific reports yet again:

The usual leftist quarters are fired up again, calling for America to join a veritable science jihad, worshiping at the altar of fact when we’ve yet to hear what fiction has to say about the situation.

One can’t be too careful when deliberating over the shifting and byzantine web of confusion and doubt that is so-called “climate” “change.” Whom should we believe: the unruly mob of every reputable climatologist on the planet, or the selfless sages at Exxon-Mobil? Uncertainty abounds, even among higher beings like the Medium Lobster. We must examine all sides of the issue, take input from all corners: from the side of science, and from the side of oil industry whores paid to lie about science. Someday, somehow, between these complex and opposing points of view, we may just find an answer.

boring cybersquatters

The same-sex marriage debates in Canada have taken a new turn: registering the domain name of the MPs and referring them to various websites opposing their position. Seems to be mostly the anti-SSM folks using these tactics. [Toronto Globe & Mail 6/20]

I appreciate a well-designed spoof & sux site as well as the next geek but the tactic of buying a domain name and redirecting it to a different generic website is just so boring. Take their domain names away, already, until they’re willing to actually do something entertaining & content-ful with them.

copying dvds

I have now descended into the blinking flashing pseudonymous off-coast world of DVD copying programs.Short story:

  1. 2 Computer problems: 1 SuperDrive failure & 1 power problem
  2. AppleCare
  3. “Me? I don’t need to pay for a disk backup; there’s no reason for Apple to wipe my HD because the problem is with the power management unit & I know for a 100% fact that the HD is just fine. And if worst comes to worst, I have a HD backup from 2 weeks ago.”
  4. Apple imaged my HD back to virgin state ANYWAY & shipped it back to me sans applications, sans personalized settings & files, sans all data, sans OS upgrades.
  5. I crack open my backup HD & with some effort re-install all the important mail, grieving for 2 weeks + of data (I’m an obsessive librarian / archivist; I keep everything.) This was a considerably more detailed process than it sounds, since this HD is now showing signs of failure and/or my mac is complaining about recognizing it. It involved a new HD enclosure, testing another HD, getting the original HD to mount on my partner’s machine, backing up to the new HD, and mounting the new HD on my machine.
  6. Next day I crack open my mail program (Eudora) & begin the process of reconfiguring my many email accounts & complex set of filters. Only to discover that my backup-to-HD had apparently crashed in the middle of copying the mail files. Now I see that things are much, much worse than two weeks of data — I am missing *all* my professional AND personal mail files, from 1991 to present. [Prior to 1991 I only had mainframe & BBS accounts, and I printed backups.] Yes, there are miscellaneous CD backups — back in California, and buried in a box in a mound of many other boxes of books. No way to ask the in-laws to dig through; those CDs will just have to wait until I get back to California — probably several months from now. And they will certainly be missing the last 7 months of data, and likely incomplete & sporadic before that.
  7. What about optical backups? Before the computer problems, I was in the middle of backing up the HD to DVD, and had successfully backed up almost all of our 80G+ of music files (ripped from our CD collection, also stored back in California), and was working on other data (work files, for instance). So that should have been a good secondary backup, although the backups are from early/mid April — so if it is backed up, I’ll still lose a couple of months’ worth of mail.
  8. The optical backups aren’t complete. My DVD drive failed midway thru the process of backing up some 125G of data, so that set of backups was partial. As it turned out, though, there is a DVD backup disk with mail on it.
  9. But the mail DVD backup disc is one of the scrapped ones, that cancelled out mid-burn. Darwin shows it in /Volumes but won’t mount it. Who knows what’s actually on it, but I should at least try to recover the data from it.
  10. So now I’m spending big chunks of precious & rare time trying to find the kinds of programs that the MPAA is most concerned with — programs that will copy DVDs regardless of how the data is arranged or misarranged or concealed or indexed. And reflecting on the fact that 3-2-1 Studios might have been able to help me with this one had they not been driven into bankruptcy by litigation.
    • Favorite program so far: Mac the Ripper, which makes me think of both Mack the Knife and of course Jack. It has a click-thru agreement at the beginning requiring the user to agree that she is neither a cop nor an MPAA affiliate. But, I don’t think this program is going to help me, because it requires a mounted DVD, and mine won’t mount. So I need some unix-based tool that I can operate out of Darwin, or else something that will recognize an unmounted disc in /Volumes. Sigh.

part 2, july 3, in which many hours are invested, a solution is found, and the magnitude of the loss becomes apparent.

rich, richer, richest

Mickey Kaus @ Slate says who cares how rich someone is? If we care about “(attainable) social equality rather than (unattainable) income equality” then we should look at different fixes than adjusting tax rates. (That’s “if”, because apparently moral imperatives about social equality are so yesterday.)

Kaus is ranting about one of the NYT pieces on class, that talks about the rich getting richer & the tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich. This is his pet peeve, I guess: “Tax cuts don’t make people rich!” Well, duh. Nobody needs Mickey Kaus to tell them that tax cuts are not the source of wealth. Nobody says so! (Except in documented instances of exceptionally obvious payola / government corruption which ain’t what we’re talking about here.) Indeed, even the NYT piece that Kaus complained about didn’t say that tax cuts make people rich.

What a straw red herring: “Tax cuts don’t make people rich, you stupid liberals! Get over the tax cut thing.”

The reason that tax cuts for the rich is notable is not because we or the NYT editors “just vaguely assume that all economic inequality comes from tax cuts”. It’s because, yes, we should be “outraged that the ‘hyper-rich’ are getting tax cuts at all”. Why? Because a) the hyper-rich don’t need the friggin’ tax cuts; b) social services for the poor are hurting; and c) if the rich are getting richer it’s because of some sort of market failure, which a progressive tax system can help to remedy. Indeed, Kaus almost gets the problem in the market, although he may not see it as a problem:

When I looked at this question in the early 90s, the answer was pretty clear: the rich were growing richer due to changes in the underlying economy (e.g. greater rewards for skills) that affected their pretax income, not changes in the tax code that affected how much of that income they got to keep.

(emphasis in original)

Yes, Virginia, it’s changes in the “underlying economy”. Consider your example, the underlying economy providing “greater reward for skills”. Unpack that a little: Executive compensation packages have risen to enormous levels in this country, while working class wages have remained virtually stagnant. At the same time most of the basic living expenses which consume the majority of working & middle-class incomes (housing, healthcare, education) have increased while the cost of luxury goods really hasn’t. These basic living expenses are the ones which are amenable to subsidy by a government social safety net, a net which has been historically underfunded in this country and which continues to be simultaneously privatized (Social Security; higher & for that matter lower ed), plundered (Medicare prescription drug benefits & big Pharma), and impoverished (housing, healthcare generally, support for the unemployed & impoverished).

That’s what “greater reward for skills” in the “underlying economy” looks like, and it’s a good illustration of why tax policy has a role to play in dealing with these “underlying economy” issues. Kaus acknowledges that “Tax cuts at the top almost certainly ‘help’ widen the gap.” But although Kaus thinks the tax cut contribution is a tiny amount, he nevertheless thinks it’s important for the NYT series to talk even more about the tax cuts — “The interesting question is how much” — and suspects that they don’t because “they rightly fear the answer would be highly discouraging to liberals who don’t like rising income inequality, because it would indicate ‘progressive’ tax changes can’t hope to reverse that trend.” (emphasis in original.)

The NYT series is about class, but the NYT is hardly a radical social journal that’s going to lay out solutions that might involve fundamentally restructuring the economy or property rights. The whole tax cut thing is just the NYT taking the opportunity to get in a little dig & record-setting-straight on the Bush Administration’s lies about its tax cuts (a couple of years too late, I might add).

Kaus just doesn’t care about the tax cuts for the rich, and frankly doesn’t care if the rich get richer — indeed, a view held by many centrists as the NYT points out in its series.

But why make the rich even richer, Drum asks. That’s certainly not a good thing in itself. But it’s also not nearly as important a phenomenon as traditional liberals make it out to be. At some point, who cares if David Geffen has $1 billion or $4 billion–except Michael Eisner? He’s rich, OK? If our goal is (attainable) social equality rather than (unattainable) income equality–as I think it should be–there are more efficient, direct ways to achieve it than by raising Geffen’s taxes.

… and now officially straying from the topic:

Indeed there are more efficient, direct ways to achieve social equality (not counting Dr. Guillotin’s method) but for some reason Kaus linked that text to an LA Times article about the long-fought-battle for public access through portions of David Geffen’s beach estate to the beach. What’s a link typo? A linko? He must have meant to link this to “David Geffen” since it’s not so much an efficient means of achieving social equality as evidence of creepy beach surveillance:

Geffen had installed video security cameras that scanned the paved path off Pacific Coast Highway and every inch of beachfront in front of his house. The cameras were watching for “trespassers” stepping out of the public right of way and onto his private sand.

And “private sand” neatly brings us right back where we started from — huge freakin’ social inequality that has a lot to do with the current prevailing model of access to & control over resources — “property” — of which unequal income and tax breaks are just different manifestations. And neither the NYT’s series on class nor Mickey Kaus are aiming that deep.

mozart derived

from Ann Hulbert, 2005/6/1, Slate, “Mozart and Us: What the ur-prodigy has to teach his successors”:

However scholars end up resolving the question of authorship, it highlights a side of Wolfgang his father preferred to gloss over and popular legend tends to ignore: The boy genius, for all his originality, was also an impressionable imitator. Either he availed himself of a score by an elder and rearranged it somewhat (as he did with some early concertos), or, if the work is shown to be his, he was composing derivative music that experts could mistake for that of a mediocre adult contemporary. In other words, young Mozart was not simply a little boy who was visited by inspirational bolts from the blue. He was an industrious student inundated by contemporaneous influences.

The full article discusses the myth/legend/history of Mozart’s youthful creativity, placing it, and him, in his context: an environment rich with other works from which to draw, embellish, alter, and derive. Mozart was known for these variations, as alluded to in “Amadeus” by his easy & pointed re-working of Salieri’s piece.

(Hulbert draws a different conclusion from Mozart’s access to & use of other current popular works: that Mozart’s forced rapid exposure by his father-promoter to a huge number of popular works ultimately fostered his ability to assert his own creative independence and genius.

If Mozart is actually proof of anything, it may be that resilience cultivated in the face of overbearing influence and enforced dependence is one important secret to fulfilling rare genius.

Hulbert has her own axe to grind with this point, about how to raise children & so-called child prodigies, and that’s interesting too, and I probably agree with the critique of adult pressure on children to be geniuses. I don’t find that the Mozart material particularly well supports the “resilience to influence leads to genius” idea, but that seems to be a toss-away line to try to tie the stories together.)