Should artists who borrow from others be thought of as thieves or as commoners? In asking that question in several posts on this site last summer here, and here I offered some details about Bob Dylan’s debts to musicians and songwriters who came before him.
In November 2004, California voters approved a ten-year, $3 billion (U.S.) stem cell research program to pursue cures for diabetes, Parkinson disease, spinal cord injuries, and other chronic conditions. Campaign organizers also claimed the state would receive royalties from new therapies, economic development in the form of jobs and taxes, and access to cheaper medicines.
The media has an endless fascination with stories out of Canada and Great Britain about long waits for basic health care services. Their national health care systems invariably get blamed. The stories generally revolve around anecdotes about elective surgery that many do not consider elective. The latest, in Sunday’s New York Times, revolves around a private Canadian clinic, operating outside the law, that replaces creaky knees and hips in seniors turned down by the national health care program.
Among the four major medical journals, The British Medical Journal is my favorite. It has the most extensive news coverage of the fight against the infectious diseases that are ravaging the developing world, a subject in which I take a keen interest. And it consistently prints iconoclastic studies that take on the medical establishment.
Immune from reason or shame, the Bush Administration continues its jaw-dropping looting spree of our common assets. In previous administrations, there would be a public uproar once it was learned that the government was giving away, say, the people’s forests. But these days, the government is giving away a dizzying array of prime national assets as a matter of public policy.
In 2003, I accompanied a small business agricultural client on a trip down to East Texas to visit one of his suppliers. East Texas is the site of the largest oil discovery in the lower 48 states. Over nine billion barrels have been extracted from it. We had time to visit an oil museum in the town of Kilgore. Our tour guide told us that in 1932, East Texas crude oil sold for 10 cents a barrel, and water was selling for one dollar per barrel. Imagine, water was ten times more expensive than oil!
It’s pretty easy to blame General Motors for its declining fortunes in the global car market. When gas prices were low, they took the easy path to profits by churning out gas-guzzling SUVs, which escaped the fuel efficiency standards by masquerading as light trucks. They ignored hybrid technology and instead focused their technologists on pie-in-the-sky hydrogen vehicles, which are decades (if ever) away.
Before Elvis, before the Beatles, way before Michael Jordan, there was Willie Mays. Willie was new. He was cool. The face on his baseball card was coltish and fresh, not like the grim old guys of our fathers’ generation. His cap had a cocky peak; the brim curved down past his temples. We curved our little league caps like that. Late into the summer night, we practiced his amazing, back-to-the-plate catch in the 1954 World Series, as he raced into the depths of center field at the Polo Grounds.
There’s ample reason to worry about the 45 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. The uninsured postpone dealing with health problems until they are serious, which means until they are the most difficult and most expensive to treat. Treating the uninsured often takes place in emergency room settings, which is the most expensive way of providing health care.
The Coalition Against Biopiracy is soliciting nominations for its 2006 Captain Hook Awards for the worst acts of biopiracy committed in the last few years. Biopiracy refers to the privatize seizure of genes, seeds and traditional knowledge developed by indigenous peoples and farming communities over the course of centuries. The customary tool for this private plunder is intellectual property law – patents, trademarks and copyrights.
Even as demand for wi-fi and other unlicensed wireless Internet services soars, commercial broadcasters are trying to lock up some prime, unused slices of the public airwaves for themselves. Recall that the broadcasting industry is in the midst of making a transition from analog to digital television transmission – a move that Congress enabled by giving broadcasters two sets of spectrum for free, simultaneous use during the course of the transition, now slated to be completed by February 17, 2009.
It’s easy to agree that productive, popular artists should be properly paid. But should every sort of creativity be legally considered property? The question rears its head, once again, as a number of directors in the theater claim that their stage directions for plays are copyrighted works, and that future directors may not copy them without permission, payment or attribution.
One of the most unmistakable signs that a commons is under siege is the willingness of civic leaders to auction the “naming rights” of some central institutions in our society – schools, parks, sports arenas, and much else. The trend is examined in two pieces that, coincidentally, both appeared yesterday (January 26, 2006).
You would think that the Word of God, by definition, is something that belongs to all of humankind – or at least that the proponents of His Word would want to give it to all of God’s children, as a gift, so that they could follow the right path in life.
The forces of privatization have seized control of schools, jails and water supplies, often with disastrous results. Now the State of Indiana is on the verge of privatizing a 157-mile state toll road that stretches across the northern end of the state. Governor Mitch Daniels hails the proposal as “an unprecedented and probably unrepeatable opportunity.” But critics question the long-term implications of the deal, and worry that it risks tying the hands of the legislature and shortchanging the public. (Thanks, Josh Skov, for passing this item along.)
It is hard to imagine a time in recent history when the federal government has more abjectly failed in its duty to protect our common wealth. The Hurricane Katrina catastrophe may be the most massive and visible failure, but today, as reported by The New York Times in its lead story, the Interior Department was acting as a virtual co-conspirator with the natural gas industry in helping it defraud the public.
An astute observer has raised the issue that Crossroads Mall in Bellevue, Washington, praised in an On the Commons posting of mine, is not truly a public space because, as a private establishment, it has the legal right to exclude people, unlike in a city park or community rec center.
What is it about baseball statistics? The records of no other sport – of nothing period except maybe the stock market –have the same effect. Kids who can’t do long division can tell you Ted Williams’ batting average for every year in his career. Games based on baseball stats have become a teeming subculture. In the Fifties it was All Star Baseball, a board game with a circular card for each famous player. The cards were sectioned off according to that player’s statistics.
From a distance it doesn’t look like a fair fight. On one side are multinational corporations, the World Trade Organization, investment bankers, economics professors, management consultants, and what is generally considered the long sweep of history. Bravely squaring off against them all is Dooney’s Café, a bar and grill near the Bathurst subway station in Toronto.
The debate about whom to trust – Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica – is fascinating because it reveals so much about the changing nature of “authority” in modern culture. Does authority reside in “experts” who can legitimately tell the rest of us what is truth? Or do the smart mobs of the global network constitute the real authority because their sheer numbers are able to verify and debunk with greater ease than a Harvard professor or Nobel scientist? This seems to be a dispute that won’t go away, at least in the eyes of the mainstream media.