Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mark R. Levin: "Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto"

Author: Mark R. Levin
Title: "Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto."
Publication and description: New York: Threshold, 2009. ISBN 1-4165-6285-0. 240 pages, hardcover.

Well, first, I have to chuckle at the use of the word “manifesto” in the title. My 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell” book was called colloquially “The Manifesto” and at least one person wrote that in the comments field in a check to me. I’m afraid that some rants by some rather notorious people have been called “manifestos”.

Webster calls a manifesto “a public declaration of motives and intentions by a government or by a person or by a group regarded as having some public importance.” Wikipedia adds that the declaration may involve “life stance.”

Whereas I was bold enough to propose a constitutional amendment in my last chapter, Levin lady chapter, itself called “A Conservative Manifesto” lays out some general guidelines. Some of them make real sense: a flat tax, which all persons pay and without withholding so that everyone has a stake in reducing it. He wants to eliminate tenure for teachers and hold them to standards in kids’ performance (no problem there). He wants judges to go by original intent. He warns us about the demographics of entitlements by wavers on saying, cut them off.

The book is a best seller, and it is pretty high level, and rather short. I looked up Andrew Sullivan’s notion of conservatism just now (The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back: Harper Collins, 2006), and I don’t think that Levin would share Sullivan’s formulation including skepticism and doubt, even if part of the territory of personal responsibility.

Levin sees two opposite poles in the political world: freedom, and “statism”. Now healthy freedom rests on certain postulates, but it’s useful to get at what he disapproves of first, which is attempts by large “special interests” to impose on the entire population to enforce moral agendas that he considers unrealistic or contrived. The biggest fiction is that we can force “equality” without bringing back totalitarianism. Well, right: revolutions often come out of the gaps between the rich and poor, but as we know from Communism, revolutions wind up putting totalitarian governments in place, and starting the cycle of repression all over again. He makes the valuable point that the free market owes no loyalty to anything above it. He goes on to unravel the self-serving nature of the government “bailouts” after the financial crisis last year. Particularly interesting is his criticism (p 55). He’s right that the Federal Register is bloated and gets things wrong (as I found out on the job in 1989 when I rescued a small consulting business from the effects of one of the errors in a simulation model). But most interesting of all is his notice of FDR’s 1944 “state of the union” message (link) where FDR lists a proposed “Bill of Rights 2” including:

“The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries, or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
“The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
“The right of (every) farmers to raise and sell their (his) products at a return which will give them (him) and their (his) families (family) a decent living;
“The right of every business man, large and small , to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
“The right of every family to a decent home;
“The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
“The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, and sickness, and accident and unemployment;
“And finally, the right to a good education.”

The address also proposes national service (the draft was, of course, in effect). Remember, also, FDR's "Four Freedoms."

The “problem”, of course (as every libertarian knows), is that no one can guarantee these “social rights” (as opposed to “fundamental rights” or even “original rights”) without playing robin hood and using coercion. (I’m going to recommend my own “fundamental rights slide show” (1999) here.

He trashes all the “inconvenient truth” talk of the Gore crowd (and, I’m afraid, ignores all the “real” evidence), going so far as to copy from pp 139-143, of the “list” of harms that global warming has caused, as listed by James Brignell from the University of Southampton in Britain. Online you can find this here or even at the humorous “Church of Global Warming” here (“over 500 things caused by global warming).

Of course, individual freedom has to be anchored in some principles, and he talks early in the book about civil society as the generator. On p 3 he writes:

“In a civil society the individual has a duty to respect the unalienable rights of others and the values, customs and traditions, tried and tested over time and passed from one generation to the next, that established society’s cultural identity. He is responsible for attending to his own well-being and that of his family. And he has a duty to contribute voluntarily to the welfare of his community through good works.”

I wondered, when he mentions “family”, does he just mean one’s own kids if one “chooses” to have them, or does he mean “loyalty to blood” even when one doesn’t have them. Many people see a moral justification for “prosperity” (relative to that of others) in terms of sexual morality, designed as to encourage generativity and homage to social, hierarchal structures. Honor to family is, in a sense, ultimately a kind of "fairness". But we know where that can lead. Yet, we know that social traditions become necessary because there are so many problems beyond the control of individuals.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Legal thriller novelist John Grisham appeals for Southern Poverty Law Center

Novelist (attorney, and baseball field entrepreneur) John Grisham has mailed out an appeal to support the work of Morris Dees, an Alabama lawyer who still fights dangerous hate groups.

Grisham’s letter mentions a documentary by Ted Koppel on a verdict won by Morris against a group called United Klans. Apparently this film was aired in October 2008 on the Discovery Channel (I missed it) and it was called “The Last Lynching”. There is a story by Mike Brantley on the documentary in the Alabama Press Register, “Ted Koppel Looks Back at 1980s Lynching in Mobile,” here. which it looks like I reviewed on Oct. 13, 2008 on the TV blog here.

Grisham also writes that Morris has also won a $2.5 million verdict against the Imperial Klans of America.

Morris’s main organization is the well-known Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, AL, link here.

John Grisham is well known for a number of legal thriller novels with social and political themes, several of which have become major motion pictures. Many of them warn about undercover conspiracies and about how easy it is for an “average person” to stumble into trouble. My own involvement in dealing with the military gay ban has taken on some Grisham-like twists.

My favorite of these novels is “The Firm,” in which a young lawyer joins a Memphis law firm and finds it a front for the Maifa. Grisham coined the terms “goons and fibbies” in the novel. It became a high-profile motion picture from Paramount with Tom Cruise in 1993. A major scene was shot near the Washington Monument the day after the 1993 March blizzard.

Another favorite was “The Rainmaker”, written in first person, where an idealistic young lawyer helps an impoverished family fighting an insurance company for denying medical claims, and uncovers a well-entrenched plot to deny claims. In the 1997 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Matt Damon plays the lawyer, and Danny De Vito has the great line “everybody goes after insurance companies”. There is a colorful legal impresario named “Bruiser” in the novel.

In “A Time to Kill”, echoing the plot of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, a young lawyer defends a black man accused of murdering two men who had raped his daughter. In Joel Schumacher’s film, Matthew McConaughey plays the lawyer. I remember stopping to see this film on a vacation trip as I passed through Port Angeles, Washington on a summer Sunday night. And a favorite is “The Pelican Brief”, the idea that a mystery document can do so much political damage (sort of like “State of Play”), connected to the assassination of two Supreme Court justices. Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington starred in the film by Alan Pakula.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Harlequin romances make big money during recession

On April 13, ABC Nightline presented a story about the 60th Anniversary of Canadian romance novel publisher Harlequin Enterprises, which sells 130 million individual books a year with 1200 new titles. Earnings were up 32% last year.

Martin Bashir talked to Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes at their powwow in Toronto. When asked how there could be 1200 new love story plots a year, she said that every romance is different, even in real life.

It’s true, Harlequin is the ultimate “genre” book publisher. Some of its authors (usually women) turn out 10 books a year. It sounds like assembly-line writing. Compared to the world of vanity publishing where authors turn out their own quirky works, genre sounds like it is incredibly profitable, sometimes, especially during bad times. One secret, every story has a happy ending.

The books are inexpensive, about 5 bucks a piece, and the genre doesn’t have a good reputation for “creativity” or “literature” among the writing world. Well, one of the pieces of advice, though, is “write what other people want”. Nobody cares about “your opinions”, so the advice goes.

Romance does rise to literary heights. Some people call Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” a bloated "Harlequin" romance, but most of us consider it a classic of literature – a story about privilege and class, and of having it taken away by war, by a demand for redistribution – and then getting it back again, almost.

The ABC News story is by John Berman and Ted Gerstein, is titled “Love Story: Romance Novel Continues to Sell in Down Economy: Harlequin, World's Leading Romance Publisher, Celebrates 60 Years”, link here.

I remember, when I lived in New York City in the 1970s, I knew some people who worked writing porn in the Village and said that it was an assembly line, very regimented process, where they were paid by the word and had to follow specific scripts. It was even more a job of “assembly line writing.” But it was a job, it was a living. It paid for one’s separate “creative life.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Joshua Cooper Ramo: "The Age of the Unthinkable": My take: Pay your dues!

Author: Joshua Cooper Ramo.
Title: "The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It".
Publication and description: New York: Little Brown, 2009. ISBN 978-0-316-11808-8. 279 pages, hardcover.

Fareed Zakaria had the author (Ramo’s own website) on his CNN Global Public Square show today (Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009) and the author spoke only once before the show was cut off by breaking news about the piracy situation off the coast of Somalia. But I suppose the piracy emergency and kidnapping is just one example, perhaps a relatively small one, of the kind of even that Ramo is talking about, something that comes about that we did not anticipate well in the past, and that we don’t have organized “systems” to prevent or handle. (Actually, this particular event turned out well.) Zakaria had recommended the book two weeks ago.

Ramo is managing director of Kissinger Associates. A very quick search finds a very strange idea of “online reputation”, best described here. The company is a global think tank that seems out of the amateur eye, although that observation doesn’t quite mesh with what Ramo says in the book. Ramo is also an accomplished Mandarin speaker and expert on China.

Ramo’s basic thesis is that the world economy and technology grow with such asymmetry and unpredictability that traditional systems of government and business cannot prevent systemic risk and shocks. The most recent example – the financial meltdown in 2008, is but one example, and most of us would be shocked that one insurance company, AIG, could practically take down a global economy. But isn’t really about a company or a political system, it is a kind of mathematical unboundedness or divergence. My own take on the financial crisis, of course, is that all the mathematical models in the world did not replace common sense (with regard to substandard mortgage lending): you can’t get something for nothing (which is why, as a retiree, I turned away phone calls inviting me to become involved.)

There are many other examples of sudden collapse, often related to rapid changes in technology, demographics or modes of living. The oil shocks of the 1970s, the AIDS epidemic, the dot com implosion, the school attacks, OKC, 9/11, the SARS epidemic along with Spanish flu and feared avian influenza pandemic, global warming, Katrina, the tsunami, and widely rumored Internet implosions are just a few (for the "unthinkable", how about a possible EMP attack, a scary idea floated last year by the "right wing"?). One of the largest, I personally think, is demographic: not just social security, but the way the very rapid expansion of lifespan along with lower birthrates in some populations is going to force us to rethink the meaning of “family responsibility.” But actually, these shocks go back into history, even if at higher political levels. World War I and the rise of Hitler provide examples (as do nuclear weapons and Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb in 1945). Most of the time, the changes are traumatic but transformative in the long run. Think about the changes that resulted from the printing press, 500 years before the Internet.

The book’s eleven chapters are divided into two parts: “The Sandpile Effect” and “Deep Security”. The Sandpile Effect, proposed by Danish physicist Per Bak, sounds like more philosophy than physics, but it reflects the notion that most systems inherently turn out to be “houses of cards”: like a kid’s sand castle, add one level too many, and the whole thing suddenly collapses. An associated idea is the “mash-up”: for example, China is a “mashup” of communism and the sudden value of the profit motive (odd bedfellows indeed). I can think of another mash-up: gay rights and libertarianism (even objectivism), a combination that developed in the 1990s, only to stall as the gay marriage movement gained steam. “Deep Security” is connected to a notion that Ramo calls “resilience” (rather than “resistance”). He gives the example of how Hizb’allah has integrated itself into Palestinian and Lebanese society, maintaining its infrastructure (particularly the physical plumbing).

I think an important concept is asymmetry, a notion that says that an individual may have a disproportionate influence on society in comparison to his available capital or even social or political status according to traditional ideas of family or hegemony. The Internet has provided a lot of this (as did instrumentalities like cheap air travel in the generation before), and this is, to my way of thinking, a matter of society developing a second topology: if it’s measurable, it certainly has a much more compact measure, and new ideas of “continuity.” Ramo relates the story of Seattle Internet programmer Dan Kaminsy, who discovered (on his own) a dangerous flaw in the Internet’s DNS (domain name assignment) management system that hackers could have subverted. A voluntary effort involving Microsoft and a number of other major companies, and security experts (even from Finland) got together to put in a major “patch” in July of 2008 – in time for Conficker it seems (hope your own computer got all the necessary updates!) This was done by individuals and private interests – the perfect libertarian-style solution that would have pleased the Cato Institute. (I had written about the DNS security problem last summer, here.) Kaminsky’s self-discipline reminds one of the dilemma faced by Heisenberg and Bohr, who needed to keep their insights quiet and out of Hitler’s hands, as demonstrated in the play by Michael Frayn and the film “Copenhagen” (often shown to AP chemistry and physics classes in high school – especially when I was substitute teaching!) I think that the sudden explosion in "online reputation" problems and the ethical quagmire that they create gives another good example of Ramo's thesis. Another example is Internet "implicit content", relative to the situation of the amateur speaker, particularly relevant with "fiction", discussed in the previous book review posting on this blog (Roy's book).

We get down to “what we can do about it”. A hint comes from Brazilian philosopher Roberto Unger (p 245; italics added):

The universal principle must be established that every able-bodied adult must in the course of his life hold a job in both the production systems and the caring economy and participate in some part of his working life or working year in the responsibility of caring for the old, the young and the infirm beyond the limits of family.”

Ramo adds immediately, “Unger is right.” The concept certain rewrites our modern, hyper-individualist idea of "personal responsibility" and migrates toward the moral thinking of most religious faiths. Imagine (and this is my projection) the way this idea (which sounds a bit like universal national service but is much more profound) meshes with the debate on gay marriage – one realizes that proponents of gay marriage envision the right results but (except for Jonathan Rauch, perhaps) make only superficial, statist arguments.

Ramo likes the productivity of spontaneous, individual innovation and contribution, and says that it generates new “caring economic principles” – with Wikipedia as an example, which he says smooths out the traditional idea of economy of scale. But it’s also important that every individual have legitimate social connections with others, and that’s where it is so testy. No, Ramo provides none of the traditional argumentation about family values (other than some brief mention of Confucian notions of “context”), but it’s obvious that they have to matter, but perhaps have to be much more flexible than today’s. “Without love”, people can create dangerous paradoxes and make enemies it seems, and get out of control, and so can whole countries (as did Germany, with Ramo providing an allegory in discussions of a controversial “narrative” painting by Anselm Keifer). His last chapter is called “The Revolution and You”, and his last sentence is “this age, what does it demand of me?” I could say, “Pay your dues” (not just “pay your bills”) but it’s more than that. It's not about justice so much as it is about community. You could say that it's about "generativity" as a requirement of everyone. Socialization really does matter.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Lucinda Roy's book on the Virginia Tech tragedy: an important contribution to the debate on free speech

Author: Lucinda Roy.
Title: "No Right to Remain Silent: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech".
Publication and Description: New York: Harmony, 2009. 326 pages, indexed, hardcover. ISBN 978-0-307-40963-8.

Lucinda Ray is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she has taught since 1985. She explains her anti-miranda title near the end of the book. After such a horrendous tragedy, no one has a right to play politics or loyalty. Everyone has a responsibility to take public accountability to get to the bottom of what happened.

I could say that about some events in my own life, not tragic but traumatic for me and others. But that leads into the discussion about free speech. In fact, Dave Cullen had reviewed this book in The Washington Post on March 29, 2009, and caught my attention by saying that unstable people signal their “violent inclinations in advance, often in fiction, poetry or other creative outlets.”

Before returning to the subject of Cho Seung-Hui’s writings, it’s important to give a full prespective of the book. It is in three parts “Horror Story”, “Backstory” and “Dialogue”. The first part does relive that cold spring day, April 16, 2007, in Blacksburg, VA. But Dr. Roy sets amplifies all of this with her own resume, which includes a biracial ancestry (like our president now), a period in Sierra Leone, where she saw the same horrors that journalist Sebastian Junger would document, and, later, teaching in Britain, where she learned what is demanded of teachers with less privileged kids. She does have some things to say about the state of education, and of what we expect of teachers (she actually says that subs can be tougher), and, in other areas, about gun control, where she defuses the NRA’s claim that “people kill people” is in fact a canard.

She also gives an interesting perspective on teaching writing and particularly creative writing. I had been surprised that a school like Virginia Tech had significant resources in this area. (Let me add, when I was in high school it was called “VPI” (Virginia Polytechnic Institute) known for its ROTC; my best high school friend went there and applied to no other school.) She provides some incidental discussion of technical aspects of poetry, such as with a sestina published as an appendix.

It seems odd to me that a college student would need a "tutor" for poetry writing, but her last personal contact with Cho was a tutoring event where she helped him write a poem "Seung" about himself. She discusses his "selective mutism", and the impression that he left of an incredible void and emptiness. She mentions his own convenient metaphors (comparing his writings to that the satires of Jonathan Swift)

In the early part of the book, she gives her side of the story (in sometimes tedious detail) about her disagreements with the Virginia Tech administration on how to speak to the press, and she goes into all of the difficult questions about how to decide when students could pose a threat to others and need help.

I can react to much of her discussion with my own experience, having been thrown out of college in 1961 for admitting homosexuality, and then dealing with the psychiatric establishment with its values at the time – the “nothing to be ashamed of” line. Yet even then, the mental health world struggled to deal with the “birds and the bees” about karma: the world is competitive, and expects a lot of people, some of whom will have trouble with what is expected as part of the “price of admission”. They may become resentful and seek out sadistic outlets and, more rarely, outright revenge (as with this tragedy), but underlying this is a preoccupation with one’s own needs (sometimes leading to outright narcissism) and disinclination to connect with and empathize with others. Beyond that, sometimes mental health problems do have biological causes and can be treated with medications. We know that, but it’s unclear if medications could have helped Cho. At a certain existential level one could imagine the point or target of his rage (supposedly expressed in the ranting “manifesto” sent to NBC); but, as Roy points out, most of the victims themselves had worked hard and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps; they were not from the "lazy bourgeoisie". At earlier points in my life, I have been around persons from the radical Left who would think nothing of going out and hunting for “enemies of the People.” And we see plenty of that in world history.

But the most controversial material in the book is the discussion of free speech, and the “ethics” of writing, and of the difficult problem of determining whether a person’s writings can be used to show that he (or she) could represent a danger to others. That material appears in the book’s middle section, in Chapter 9, “Writers and Writing.” Her presentation of this issue meanders somewhat and is ultimately inconclusive. She points out that an early novel by Stephen King, “Rage”, was acted out by Robert Loukaitis in Moses Lake, Washington in 1996. She discusses an earlier “Student A” who, back in 2005, had caused her concern. She mentions Gus Van Sant's grainy and horrific little film "Elephant" (which I have seen).

There are some pointed sentences in the book that summarize her general impression of this matter. On p. 202, she writes "Creative writing isn't simply about self-expression; it's about craft and hard work." On p. 206 she says "Some student-writers use writing as a kind of weapon -- a way to intimidate and provoke." That reminds me of an angry email I got once from an Australian who found by websites snobbish, posturing and unempathetic: "What gives you the right to the idea that you are intellectually above the 'cretins' of the world? Education is a tool, not a weapon to threaten anyone with."

The question is quite troubling to me, and in a world where we have turned people with no capital loose on social networking sites and blogs, it presents a potential conundrum that we never anticipated as our technology for self-expression grew. Roy points out that violent material is well accepted in corporate media, particularly Hollywood and when from established novelists (like King). The same material, however, raises alarm bells when a student writes something like that in the school systems or even in college.

That seems to beg the whole question of context and what some judges now call “implicit content” (a term that got tosses around a bit in the testimony at the COPA trial which I cover elsewhere in my blogs). Content that is placed for free viewing online without significant or any income by someone with no family responsibility might beg the existential question from the reader, “so am I supposed to do something?” Then, the question of enticement might arise, it seems to me. On a school campus, however, the “universe” of possible readers is likely to be perceived as the campus itself, even if the blogger has not used privacy settings. Or, perhaps, as in the cases discussed in Lucinda Roy’s book, a student writes something provocative to make others experience his pain or sense of rejection, and knows that by circulating it in a creative writing class (or perhaps, among adults, in a screenwriting forum) he will achieve that effect. It doesn’t have to be posted online at all. As I recall, after the tragedy, some of Cho’s most violent material was posted online (especially on AOL), but I don’t recall that it had been available online before. (Cho's "screenplays" made me wonder if he had been abused.) Roy discusses another incident at UVa where a student wrote a story that seemed to target the son (a professor) of a particular Supreme Court justice, raising concerns about the possibility of intent. The writer was confronted by police and then expelled. Roy notes that students adamantly defend their First Amendment right to write violent or provocative material for creative writing course work.

Roy does note that teachers today have to face the "equalizing" capability of students to create web sites that rate the teachers, and that these are probably protected by the First Amendment. Roy says she supports the First Amendment, but says that in a modern society it leads to certain conundrums. (That leads to the "mashup" and "unthinkable" concepts in Joshua Ramo's book, reviewed ahead, April 12 on this blog.) She also offers some comparison between the mentalities of those dedicated to the First Amendment, and those concerned with the Second, which tend to be different crowds.

I had an experience like with the public Internet "implicit content" problem as a substitute teacher in 2005, which I discuss on my main blog on the July 27, 2007 entry. I wrote a screenplay (and put it on my own privately hosted domain) in which a substitute teacher is manipulated by a precocious student into a compromising situation and then prosecuted by police; the whole episode starts earlier when the teacher saves the sub’s life with a defibrillator, and then befriends the sub outside of school. In the context of the screenplay, it is supposed to be unclear whether the sub is actually “guilty” but he is aggressively prosecuted (after a bizarre police arrest at school) and winds up in prison, where he dies during surgery, while the student promotes the sub’s classical music and seems to be rewarded by the incident. The story is not violent or explicit in the usual sense, but definitely has some troubling innuendo. But I got in real trouble (I guess a parent found it), because the character resembled me “too much” and raised questions about my fitness. There is a commercial film ("Student Seduction") about a female teacher from LionsGate/Lifetime with a similar plot concept, and I believe that my own work expresses an irony like that of "Dorian Gray". (In fact, the classes during that incident had been reading and comparing to film Richard Connell's provocative and sometimes violent 1920s story "The Most Dangerous Game"!) Again, Hollywood can do things that students and even teachers can’t, it seems (as Roy points out). The whole situation was complicated; I did other work for the school system and eventually taught again and then quit for other reasons. But the incident shows how tricky and unsettling the “implicit content” problem can be.

I think we are headed toward an environment where creative writing is looked at in the context of the writer’s life circumstances for “evidentiary” nature of a propensity for illegal or destructive behavior – following a legal concept (“rebuttable presumption”) familiar from the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military. We’ve seen other examples of public expressive behavior aimed at nothing less than getting others to share one’s “pain” (such as the “false confession” by John Mark Karr, himself a former teacher). However Roy points out that, while introverted writers may enjoy the control they have over the characters on their private artistic stage while they write, there are elements in fiction (or poetry or other narratives) that can help establish artistic legitimacy, even among “amateurs”. In fiction, for example, are the characters varied and real and sufficiently distinct from the “fantasy world” of an introverted author? Does the novel tell a real story driven by the characters, or is it just a ruse for the author’s social agenda? There is plenty of material on “character-driven” fiction and how it should work. Roy does talk a little bit about literary agents, and that’s what they look for. She doesn’t mention the possibility of self-publishing, through print-on-demand companies, of personal material that might not have been well received.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Academics object to Book Settlement on orphaned works, despite probable boon to research

Miguel Helft has an important front page story on the Saturday, April 3, 2009 New York Times, “Some Raise Alarms as Google Resurrects Out of Print Books”, link here.

I see that I covered the Book Settlement on this blog Feb. 3. What is apparent that the number of orphan books that can be scanned and catalogued online, at least for researchers, will be very great, and create a mass of literature and reference material that could change the outcome of many things that we delve into all the time – ranging from blogs like this to Ph.D. dissertations (that will definitely use them). At it seems that no other company, except maybe Microsoft, is close to being able to make competitive counter-effort. Despite the obvious boon of this effort to academic research (especially in humanities, where the standards of proving assertions are a bit Hegelian, at least according to friend I made in Minnesota) it’s academia that worries about a monopoly on the effort.

The orphan works are those for which the copyright ownership has expired or is sometimes unknown.

This story seems to continue.

Update: May 1, 2009

Fred van Lohmann of Electronic Frontier Foundation has an analysis of recent developments. Of particular importance is privacy for readers, which the article points out exists in the off-line world by citing a 2002 case in Colorado where police tried to get the purchasing records from an independent bookseller (Tattered Cover v. Thornton, link). The link is here. The DOJ is looking at the settlement from an anti-trust perspective.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Jack Cafferty: Now or Never (except, not yet!)

Author: Jack Cafferty.
Title: "Now or Never: Getting Down to the Business of Saving Our American Dream."
Publication: New York: Wiley, 2009. ISBN 978-0-470-37230-2, 266 pages, hardcover.

Cafferty is best known for his “Situation Room” and its “Cafferty Files” on CNN.

This book is obviously a sequel to “It’s Getting Ugly Out There” (with a big Roman II) but it really does not give a lot of advice or “moralize” (either at the public policy level or “personal responsibility” level). That is, the book really does not tell us how to save "the American Dream," but it certainly tells us how not to. It traces the meltdown of our financial system and of the credibility of our national security through, first, the 2008 presidential primaries, and then through the presidential election campaign. Cafferty, at several points, interrupts his narrative with some oblique discussion of family values seen through his own experiences, dealing with the bottle earlier in life, and then with the death of his wife at the end.

On page 13, he writes, and says nicely something a lot of people say in private much more crudely:

“Whether W. wants to take credit for it or not, his legacy, beyond ending voter apathy, is actually an African American political progeny named Barack Obama, who owes his astonishing triumph to Bush, Cheney, and the arrogant neocons who loyally served their imperial regime.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but I had always thought of Cafferty as a conservative and a Republican, or perhaps independent, whose message is similar to that of fellow anchor Lou Dobbs, who (himself a conservative with some social progressiveness) says that W. was the most reckless and intellectually incompetent president we had ever had. Cafferty tends to use stronger language sometimes, but his outlook is certainly similar to that of Dobbs (who tends to focus more attention on the hemorrhage of jobs overseas). But many of the problems we have today were building up during the Clinton years (even with Clinton’s surpluses) and go back to earlier times when liberals sold the idea that we could sell people homes that they could not afford or qualify for – that we could keep politicians in office by promising Americans that they could live beyond their means and that the rest of the world could really tolerate it forever. What’s the good word, drill sergeant, today? It’s “sustainability”, folks.

Cafferty does inventory W.’s “crimes” in handling national security, as if they were like “Nicole’s crimes” on “Days of our Lives”. He missed 9/11 when he had clear evidence of immediate danger. But then, he just took on imperial powers, and readily broke the law to avoid disclosure of various communiqu├ęs, and then take on new modes of unsupervised surveillance, which Cafferty thinks was not all that effective. He talks about the quagmire in Afghanistan, which will get us in real trouble if radical Islam gets a hold on Pakistan’s suitcase nukes, and says about our relationship with China (when he talks about the spectacle of the Olympics). On p 65 he writes, “We didn’t just our moral high ground with China. We gave it away.” Later he talks about the possibility of using “end user leverage” with China on dangerous, if slave-labor produced, imported products. Later he calls W. “Howdy Doody”’ I wondered whom he would identify as Mr. Bluster (Cheney, perhaps) and Clarabelle (Karl Rove, of course).

Cafferty doesn't go that much into the personal sacrifice ukase in this sequel book (despite the book's suggestive title); on p 204 he mentions W.'s call for shopping and business as usual, and an unwillingness to face the idea of personal sacrifice. Of course, we all know about the stop-loss in the military (which Obama says he will end), and Cafferty, recall, had argued that the draft should not have been abolished in his first book. My own take on all this still seems inductive.

While I get the impression that Cafferty is personally "OK" on gay issues, he makes the remark that voters didn't care a hoot about gay marriage (as "conservatives" tried to exploit the issue) as they did about the economy. (People who tracked Proposition 8 in California might not agree with him.) I notice the same thing on my own web stats (which cover a lot of ground despite my own personal background). My blog postings about GM's looming failure, possible bankruptcy and pension collapse get traffic, as do my postings about the Conficker Internet worm; my posting on a new court ruling on gay marriage is hardly noticed. The more people who are affected by an issue, the more people care about it.