Category Archives: Culture and Society

European Parliament Votes on Copyright Term Extension Tomorrow

Tomorrow, the European Parliament will vote on the issue of copyright term extension for sound recordings, known in Parliamentese as “the Crowley Report (A6-0070/2009) on the Term of protection of copyright and related rights” (Mr Brian Crowley is the rapporteur for this report and a strong supporter of the extension).

Extending term would be a tragic mistake and a blatant example of special-interest lobbying winning out of the interests of society as a whole.

Let us therefore hope that the proposal is rejected.

That’s the line being by some right-thinking MEPs including Eva Lichtenberger, Greens, Sharon Bowles, ALDE, Andrew Duff, ALDE, Zuzana Roithova, EPP, Christofer Fjellner, EPP, Guy Bono, PSE who have put forward a rejection amendment (see their excellent justification below). But they need all the support they can get and remember: it is never too late to act.

Rejection Amendment Justification

The draft Directive is poorly conceived and disproportionate. The Commission claims that the measure is needed in order to benefit poor performers. However, the proposed regulation and procedure is complicated and over-bureaucratic. The biggest beneficiaries will be the four largest record companies. Individual performers will only receive very small amounts each.

Performers could be helped much more effectively by regulating copyright contracts and collecting societies, by setting up appropriate social security and insurance schemes, and by reconsidering remuneration rights and license tariffs.

The draft Directive leaves a large number of questions unanswered. Additional impact assessments are needed to see which measures are best suited to help those performers really in need, to limit the negative impact on consumers and jobs, and to establish if regulation is best done at state or EU level. In these circumstances, it is not wise to proceed to make the long-term permanent changes proposed.

Some of the particular problems are:

The extension of copyright to 95 or even 70 years will increase the revenue of trust funds of deceased performers instead of living performers.

Many performers cannot produce proof for the performances they participated in during the past decades. It then becomes difficult to assess their rights to payments.

The proposed regulation could cause legal uncertainty for all existing audiovisual productions as it will be unclear if the material used is subject to sound copyright.

There is a risk that all material that is not commercially viable will not be marketed by the copyright owners and will become inaccessible for public use.

Small record companies currently publishing copyright-free material risk going bankrupt.

Cannibalism and the Common Law by A Simpson

7/10. Cannibalism and the Common Law: The Story of the Tragic Last Voyage of the Mignonette and the Strange Legal Proceedings to Which It Gave Rise by A Simpson, University of Chicago Press, 1984. More history than legal analysis. Interesting throughout but meandering slightly towards the end. One quote I wish to memorialize, which though rather apart from the main thrust of my book, made me wonder once again about the general tension between ‘definiteness’ (assertiveness/simplicity) and ‘correctness’, especially in the arena of public policy and democratic politics. Is it always necessary, as the quote suggests, for successful campaigns to simplify and exaggerate in order to obtain an effect?

In the period immediately before the case of the Mignonette [1884], controversies over the protection of sailors and passengers had been inflamed by the activities of the radical MP for Derby (1868-80), Samuel Plimsoll, ‘the sailor’s friend’, whose approach to the problem favoured prior intervention [i.e. regulation] … He [Plimsoll] concentrated first simply on unseaworth ships as a cause fo mortality and started a campaign to amend the law with a resolution in the House of Commons in July 1870. His most effective appeal was to public opinion through the publication of Our Seamen in 1872, attacking the ship-owners of the over-insured, overloaded “coffin ships”, which caught the public imagination. Plimsoll was no doubt careless with his facts, ill-informed, and sometimes violent in his language; but perhaps successful campaigns require devils, conspiracies and simple solutions. [emph added] In reality ships were lost for a variety of reasons, and unseaworthiness was only one of them.

Teen Pregnancy and the Effects of ‘Welfare’ Benefits

From, Sexuality: A Biopsychosocial Approach by Chess Denman, p. 54:

Politicians and the press have created an image of a tidal wave of teen parenthood, caused by young women’s unregulated sexual behaviour and poor women sponging off the state, even though this is unwarranted. In America, for example, teen motherhood cannot be said to have grown as a consequence of welfare because the value of welfare has reduced (Schwartz and Rutter 1998). Interviews with teens who are pregnant do not indicate the kind of planning and forethought necessary for their pregnancy to be a thought-out monetary strategy. Indeed, being able to see a future for oneself is actually associated with abstaining from sex or using contraception (Pipher 1994, in Schwartz and Rutter 1998). In fact, teen pregnancy themselves have not increased at all. Instead they have declined along with the general decline in pregnancy rates but, because they have not declined as much as pregnancy rates in other age ranges, they form a rising proportion of the figures.

However, this may not be all the story, as shown by the following quote taken from the this article on Teenage pregnancy on the UK’s Department for Education and Skills website:

In the 1970s, Britain had similar teenage pregnancy rates to the rest of Europe. But while other countries got theirs down in the 1980s and 1990s, Britain’s rate stayed high. The latest available figures show that Britain’s teenage birth rate is five times that in Holland, three times higher than in France and double the rate in Germany. Other English-speaking countries such as Canada and New Zealand have teenage birth rates higher than ours. In the United States the rate is more than double that in the UK.

In 1999 the Government published a Teenage Pregnancy Report from its Social Exclusion Unit. It acknowledged there was no single cause, but pointed out three major factors: first, that many young people think they will end up on benefit anyway so they see no reason not to get pregnant. Second, that teenagers don’t know enough about contraception and about what becoming a parent will involve. Third, that young people are bombarded with sexual images in the media but feel they can’t talk about sex to their parents and teachers. [emphasis added]

The Joyless Market Economy

From Robert E. Lane’s essay, The Joyless Market Economy p. 484:

Durkheim asks: “Even from a purely utilitarian point of view, what is the use of increasing abundance, if it does not succeed in calming the desires of the greatest number, but, on the contrary, only serves to increase their impatience. [emphasis added] It is forgotten that economic functions are not their own justification. … Society has no raison d’etre if it does not bring men a little peace, peace in their hearts and peace in their mutual relations”1 Deprived of its original utilitarian raison d’etre, does the market society now reflect something like Kroeber’s exhaustion of a cultural configuration in which the old, material civilization has exhausted the possibilities of that particular pattern? The offerings of the market no longer satisfy, not because the payoff is not large enough but because it is denominated in the wrong currency.


  1. Durkheim’s quote is cited as: Emile Durkheim, Professional Ethics and Civic Morals. Trans. C. Brookfield. Routledge and Kegan Paul (1957) p.16 (via Steven Lukes, Emile Durkheim: His Life and Work, Allen Lane/Penguin (1973) p. 267). 

At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-1968

8/10. I have just finished the final volume of Taylor Branch’s monumental trilogy America in the King Years. A fitting end to an incredible effort — though to my mind the first volume remains the best. This work covers the more difficult years faced by King following the major successes of the Civil Rights movement culminating in the Selma March and the passage of the1965 Voting Rights Act (which occurs at the start of this volume). Venturing in to the more rocky waters of poverty and the Vietnam War, and caught between the increasing radicalisation and its corresponding conservative backlash, King stuck tenaciously to his non-violent principles only to be shot down outside his Memphis motel room on April 4 1968. It is perhaps for the very reason that these years were more troubled, with success more elusive and direction less sure, that it is this book which most increased for admiration for King as a man. Though contending with endless difficulties, self-doubt, persecution and perpetual internal dissension he struggled endlessly to retain his humility, his conscience and his commitment to nonviolent discipline. And it is his very humanity, evidenced, for example, by his incessant extra-marital affairs, that compels us to see in him some kind of latter-day saint.

2007 Clare Hall Ashby Lecture: Richard Layard on Happiness and Values

Today I attended the the Clare Hall Ashby Lecture which was given by Richard Layard on the subject of Happiness and Values.

Notes

Four main explanatory variables for level of happiness:

  • Perceived trustworthiness of individuals
  • Perceived trustworthiness of governments
  • … [one i missed]
  • Divorce rate

“Tsunnami of individualism washing across the Atlantic and hitting Britain first.”

Thesis: Individualism is the problem because the statement “You should do the best you can” becomes “You should do better than others” (otherwise you cannot be doing your best). This gives us a zero-sum game. To get to away from a zero sum game want to have increased caring for others (compassion).

Mentions an unnamed famous French Monk who pointed out you need to do a lot of practice to be good at anything — and this applies to being happy too.

Main way we can get this kind of practice is through the school system (“Main institution under social control”).

Seligmann “positive psychology” thinking. 11 studies, one unsuccessful, average reduction in depression of a half, reduction in delinquency by 1/3.

Got to get education onto the same scientific basis as other areas including psychological therary (now have proper double-blind evaluations etc). [ed: a little sceptical here as the data I've seen is still pretty inconclusive].

Silent reflection: “What am I like when I most like myself”. “What makes me happy and what makes other happy”.

4 principles:

  1. Moral education in schools. Should be in schools and should not be abstract. Train up emotional reactions more than intellectual evaluation.
  2. Should be taught in secondary schools by experts. Need a single dedicated member of staff to deal with this.
  3. “Will not succeed unless grounded in scientifically grounded truths. Values education has been thought of as ‘woolly’, even as ‘hot air’.” Science is a powerful instrument for persuading people, especially young people, that this is important.
  4. Curriculum. Managing your feelings. Loving and servings others. (Service is not common nowadays but need to reinvent). Work and Money. Sex and Parenting. …

Questions

Various. In response to one Layard mentions recent survey which shows people are less likely to say something if they are given too much change.

My question:

  • Most interactions are more anonymous because of increasing social and technological complexity of society.
  • We generally trust strangers less than those we know well and have more social and empathetic connection with those in our immediate community than a large multinational.
  • But then many of these changes in trust (and happiness) may not be a result of changing values but indirect results of the changing systems of production and exchange.
  • That is values are changed by these systems not the other way round.
  • Won’t these changes involve some fairly radical reorientation of the economics and social systems of the modern world — more localized production and interaction.

John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed 1883-1920 by Robert Skidelsky

This is Skidelsky’s first volume (1983) in his monumental trilogy charting the life and times of the economist-statesman John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946). It is an excellent work, not overlong, willing to state judgements but always judicious in doing so, full of surrounding detail but never wandering far from its central theme and, perhaps most importantly, with a fine suppleness of prose that becomes, on occasion, almost aphoristic. While I, personally, would have liked greater detail on, and discussion of, the economics this is, after all, a biography for the general reader so this can hardly be a criticism.

Moore’s Principia Ethica

Skidelsky summarizes:

As we have seen the Apostles were looking for an ethic which could direct attention to ends other than the duties set before the Victorian gentleman. This Moore provided for them. He unshackled contemporary ethics from its connection with social utility and conventional morality by locating its ultimate ends in goods which stood apart from the Victorian scheme of life, and by making ‘ought’ correlative with these goods. By dropping Hedonism and by proclaiming as intrinsically valuable dispositions and states of mind which Mill and Sidgwick had been forced to treat instrumentally he had evaded the problems which wrecked their attempt at coherence. No one serious about achieving Moore’s goods could take Victorian morality entirely seriously again. What Moore had not solved was the problem of how to relate his goods to the practical business of life, most of which had no connection with them. It turned out that Sidgwick’s difficulty of effecting a harmony between the private and public sphere, between the good life and the useful life, had not been overcome by Moore: it had merely been restated in a new way. [pp. 140-141. Emphasis added]

And then returns to the theme:

Leavis’s remarks draw attention to a point already made — that Moore’s philosophy was very much a product of time and place. Two things helped to produce it. The first was the change in circumstances. By the 1890s the Victorian reform movement had run out of steam without making political reaction any more reputable. At the same time recovery from the economic depression of the 1880s and early 1890s had taken the edge of social stress without relieving the emotional stress of Victorian life. The times, as Harrod observed, seemed ripe for new experiments in living rather than new experiments in social order. The second impulse arose out of the dilemmas of moral philosophy itself; specifically from Sidgwick’s failure to reconcile public and private ends, my own good with the world’s. Moore abolished the problem by abolishing the set of ethical goods connected with public life. But anyone whose temperament and upbring was such as to make him take both Moore’s ends (good states of mind) and Sidgwick’s end (general happiness) seriously was bound, sooner or later, to discover that Mooore had not solved Sidgwick’s problem; that the problem of bring them into a logical relation was, in fact, insoluble with the intellectual tools available. Moore’s philosophy was imply a temporary halting-post on the road to the complete disintegration of a unified world view. [Emphasis added]

Keynes’ Early Beliefs

p. 157

He was as timid about his expectations of realising good states of mind on a large scale as he was bold in his expectations about the amount of happiness or utility a government could deliver. In both sides of his moral thinking he gave priority to immediate goals over future ones, reinforced in this by his theory of probability: rational actions were the best possible in the circumstances. The duty of the state was to realise happiness and not ultimate goods, though the latter might follow as an indirect consequence of the former. He was thus both an aesthete and a manager. But he rejected the role of therapist, believing that truth took priority over expediency.

Keynes on Starting Economics

Keynes to Lytton Strachey on 15 November 1905, quoted p. 165:

I find economics increasingly satisfactory, and I think I am rather good at it. I want to manage a railway or organise a Trust or at least swindle the investing public. It is so easy and fascinating to master the principle of these things.

One imagines this still provides a fairly accurate summary of the reasons for studying economics — at least for the majority of students. This quote also provides a fine example of Harrod’s bowdlerisation as, according to Skidelsky, he cut out the statement on ‘swindling the investing public’.

Marshall on mathematics

From a letter to statistician A. L. Bowley (27 Nov 1906) quoted in a fn p. 223 with source A. C. Pigou (ed.), Memorials of Alfred Marshall (1925), p.427.

I had a growing feeling in the later years of my work at the subject that a good mathematical theorem dealing with economic hypotheses was very unlikely to be good economics; and I went more and more on the rules — (1) Use mathematics to be a shorthand language, rather than as an engine of enquiry. (2) Keep to them till you have done. (3) Translate into English. (4) Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life. (5) Burn the mathematics. (6) If you can’t succeed in 4, burn 3. This last I often did.

Bloomsbury

Bloomsbury was particular expression of, and gave direction to, the ‘revolt against the Victorians’. The rejection of conventional sexual morality was one facet, but only one, of the revolt against ‘false values’ in the name of which Victorians had sacrificed the possibility of leading a good life. … They [the members of the Bloomsbury group] were not sexual anarchists but rather creators of anew kind of sexual order inherent in a proper concept of the good life. That is why Bloomsbury was able to undertake the frequent rearrangement of its emotional affairs while remaining so (comparatively) free from sexual jealously.

In these ways, Bloomsberries were cultural and sexual revolutionaries. In other ways they remained rooted in the assumptions of their times. Indeed, the particular form of their ‘revolt against the Victorians’ depended on other aspects of Victorian life remaining in place. Culture was not regarded as a force to reshape social relations, but to reorient the elite to ‘what is good’. … Bloomsbury’s cultural artefacts were highbrow; its propaganda aimed entirely at the (highly) educated middle classes. There was a clearly tension between its cultural ideals and democratic sentiment: civilisation, as Clive Bell put it, always rested on having someone to do the dirty work. Maynard Keynes, as we shall see, attempted to go beyond this contradiction; but it cannot be claimed he got very far. And he, like the rest of the Bloomsberries, depended completely on domestic servants to sustain their own lives [cf. Peter Clarke's comments in Liberals and Social Democrats]. Bloomsbury was rooted in the class assumptions of the Victorians. Their revision of the Victorian scheme of life tended to take them back to the eighteenth century idea of a cultured aristocracy [1] rather than towards the ideal of a civilized democracy; … [pp. 248-250]

[1] This suggests an interesting parallel with Tietjens inclinations towards a similar vision of the Eighteenth century in Ford Maddox’s Ford Parade’s End.

Reasons for the influence of Bloomsbury and Keynes’ role:

The cultural influence which Bloomsbury eventually acquired was based on the clarity of its vision of its publicists and the mutually supporting achievements of its members. But two further ingredients must be added: its relative financial independence and its power of patronage. Bloomsberries were not rich. But they were never forced into dependence on institutions alien to their spirit. There was just enough inherited wealth to go round to enable them to lead their preferred lives until their own talents could give them an earned independence. … But it [these various factors some of which I have omitted] were not enough [to make Bloomsbury have the influence it did]. Financial backing was needed. Here the role of Maynard Keynes became crucial. He came to give Bloomsbury financial muscle, not just by making money a great deal of money himself, which he spent lavishly on Bloomsbury causes, but by his ability to organise financial backing for their enterprises. [p. 250]

Keynes and Food Rationing

The proximate cause for this gloomy epistle [JMK to his mother at Christmas 1917] was the government’s announcement of food rationing. Like other less reflective members of the middle classess Keynes tended to equate social order with the continuance of his own customary standard of comfort, and take an exaggerated view of the consequences of any diminution of it. To Florence his Christmas visions suggested communal kitchens and the drying of the supply of domestic servants. Maynard’s incipient bolshevism [a reference to a joke in his letter] stopped well short of food rationing, which filled him with horror. … In fact, [contrary to Keynes prognostications] food rationing worked perfectly well in both world wars, and posed no permanent threat to the social order. [p. 346]

The Long Littleness’ of life

[following a dispute over rooms in 46 Gordon Square between Keynes and Bell] But there was still friction. Maynard had commandeered Clive’s bed, substituting one that felt ‘more like the seat of a third-class railway carriage’. As the war’s end approached, Clive wrote to Maynard, ‘I must have my bed back … Nothing could be more easy for you than to get a new one for yourself.’ [Maynard by this point was on 1000 pounds a year] Since Maynard proved in no hurry to oblige, Clive had his own bed moved upstairs. ‘Dear Maynard,’ he wrote from Garsington, ‘I had no notion of leaving you to sleep on the floor.’ He was sending down his third-class railway carriage. ‘As you appear to fuck less than I do it may serve well enough.’ [Maynard had long been without any kind of permanent lover since his separate from Duncan Grant years earlier]

Skidelsky inserts a fascinating footnote here which reads:

Maynard’s was not the only character to wilt under the strain of war. Clive Bell withheld from his parents the knowledge that he was a conscientious objector, preferring them to believe that he was medically unfit, in order, as he put it to Vanessa, ‘to preserve our lien on the Bell millions.’ Vanessa tried to hush up the fact that the daughter she had in 1919 was by Duncan and not Clive, probably for the same reason. Honesty had its limitations for everyone.

The uses of poetry: Rebellion and the Praise of Murderers

I was struck by this comment of Charles Simic in a review of Pablo Neruda’s poems [NYR Sept 25 2003 p.43]: Rebellion may be one of poetry’s traditions, but so is eulogizing the goodwill and godlike wisdom of some murderer.

The context for this comment was Simic’s discussion of Neruda’s devout Communism which resulted in the penning of lines such as:

In three rooms of the old Kremlin
lives a man named Joseph Stalin
His bedroom light is turned off late.
The world and his country allow him no rest

Guns and the American Psyche

The gun lobby, oh my peaceful friends, you may hate, but first you had better understand that it is a religion, only secondarily connected to the bill of Rights. The thick-headed, sometimes even close to tearful, gaze you get when chatting with one of its partisans emanates from the view that they’re holding a piece of God. There is no persuading them otherwise, even by a genius, because a life without guns implies the end of the known world to them. Any connection they make to our ‘pioneer’ past is also a fraud, a wistful apology. Folks love a gun for what it can do. A murderer always thinks it was an accident, he says as if a religious episode had passed over him.

Source: Bats out of Hell, Barry Hannah, [Houghton Mifflin, 1993] p.83

Second Life as Metaverse

Second Life is a massively-multiplayer world developed by Linden Labs. Unlike many other MMGs there is no particular aim, rather the intent is to live in the world and add to it. Thus importantly it is the game’s participants that create and develop the universe they inhabit (its creators explicitly invoke the Metaverse of Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash as a model).

MMG (massively multiplayer games) solve the central problem that current computer technology faces in creating interesting games: namely no decent AI. Without AI all the interesting parts of a ‘world’ have to lovingly crafted by hand. Thus while we can draw some lots of pretty stuff we are a) we are severely limited in the size and variety of the world’s artifacts and geography b) /very/ limited in the other entities that we can interact with.

Standard MMRPGs such as EverQuest address problem (b) in a limited way by using the games participants to populate their world. However one is still restricted by the fact that such participants must remain within the contours of the plot and the surrounding reality as well as by the need to provide backup computer generated entities (be it for the dull occupations in this online world or until the strong law of large numbers kicks in). Moreover this type of games fails to leverage the games own /participants/ to help create/extend the world (much). A game such as Second Life (there are several others that have gone down that route) takes this logical next step and allows both (a) and (b) to be addressed. The final step would be to integrate some kind of incentive mechanism though it should be noted that Second Life appears to demonstrate that is not strictly necessary to get the participants to contribute.