28 September 2006


It's been a slow news week in publishing and related legal areas — at least insofar as anything that is actually "news". Sure, there have been the usual manufactured publicity gags, like these complaints about lack of recognition by an illiterate's ghost writer; but the Frankfurt Book Fair has, as usual, delayed anything of real import for a couple of weeks. Thus, we turn to other areas.

For one semi-amusing moment, we had the whole "Chavez/Chomsky debate". Is Bush really the Devil? Some say not, with a much more apparent sense of both humor and irony than any of the participants in that debate. The biggest irony is that a book by a borderline-irrational-left-fringe academic is selling better as a result, yet again demonstrating the short attention-span (and memory) of the American public and publishing industry. Chomsky has been saying the same thing for a quarter of a century — I found almost nothing new in that book, whether in the sense of new content/insight or a new explanation that illuminates issues.

Sony has announced US availability of its DRM-crippled e-book reader using so-called "liquid paper" technology—with a list price of $350 and probable street price of $295. Contrast this with the increasing reliance on downloaded music by classical music listeners (of which I'm one, but all of my stuff is legal). At least part of this is pure economics. I have always been annoyed by the essential refusal to "discount" classical music physical media; even the big-box stores and Amazon sell it at list, and always have, without the excuse (at least most of the time) that they're paying mechanical royalties to the composer. And "size of unit" can't be much of an excuse when comparing a piano soloist or string quartet to midcentury American pop music! Part of the problem, too, is that the classical repetoire consists of a lot more differing lengths of works than does the popular repetoire. It's the very, very rare popular music work of greater than ten minutes or so in length that is viewed as a single whole; no serious listener downloads just one movement of even a relatively obscure (or, at least, unfamous) Beethoven piano sonata, while no serious listener downloads an entire Weird Al Yankovic album to listen to as a whole. OK, you can't be serious and download Weird Al in any form, but you know what I mean. (Ironically, the semiofficial animated video for that piece is available only in nondownloadable form.)

Last, we've got censorship. Censorship on TV, reminding me very much of a line from Apocalypse Now!:

KURTZ: We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes—because it's obscene!

Apparently, neither will the FCC. Nor can we even perform an "updated" 200-year-old opera1 set in Turkey, because that might insult Muslims. That's sort of like insulting Turkey, but worse… because, however misguided the Turkish approach, at least it has a basis in (what passes for) law.

  1. I don't agree with the initial part of this article at all, which betrays more than a bit of both ignorance and Mozart snobbery. I've been struggling against both of those for years, and it's really disheartening to see them both demonstrated in a single paragraph. Too, that article misses an opportunity to point out that Idomeneo, like Figaro, was aimed at politics in Paris: A subject always ripe for satire, parody, and criticism.