23 October 2006

Move Along, Citizens

Nothing really to see here. Just a few miscellaneous items:

  • Over the weekend, the NYT ran a sadly amusing essay on film authorship. The real problem is that egos, money, and copyright law each come to a different conclusion. A film includes critical expression and decisionmaking that is (with very rare exceptions) sufficiently original to be expressive from at least the screenwriter, the director, the actor(s), the provider(s) of soundtrack beyond the actors' voices, and the film editor. Of course, copyright law deals with this rather inelegantly through the WFH doctrine, which even makes the (often capable of standing alone) score part of the "film"'s copyright claim. There's never anything elegant about egos and money.
  • Then there's this completely wrongheaded criticism of the University of Minnesota's purchase of poet Robert Bly's papers. On the one hand, I do have some sympathy for "Kevin-M"'s position; the University of Minnesota is, after all, a public institution, and he's a Minnesota resident. On the other hand, he's also guilty of both ascribing absolute priority to his own taste and an insidious bigotry. "Kevin-M" needs to remember that Sturgeon's Law ("... but then, 90% of everything is crap/dreck/worthless") applies to "serious" writing, too... and that Sturgeon was an optimist.

    I can sympathize with the assertion that the University of Minnesota overpaid for Bly's papers a lot more than I can with "Kevin-M"'s position that no American writer of serious literature merits paying anything for his/her papers. Off the top of my head, I can name at least a couple of dozen current authors whose papers are worth archiving at a university library.

  • Last, and far from least, we have yet more fallout from the Reagan Revolution in antitrust law—that is to say its demise. An article in the LA Times laments the demise of Tower Records while makings some unintentionally hilarious misstatements. To begin with, the author doesn't understand bankruptcy law:

    Two weeks ago, Tower was auctioned off for $134.3 million to a liquidator, which is a tragedy for music and particularly for classical music. The gallingly named Great American Group will go down in infamy. It beat out Trans World Entertainment by $500,000. Trans World promised to keep many of the Tower stores open. Now all the stores will close in a few weeks, after the stock is sold off at discount. "Sometimes the highest bid is not the best bid," the attorney representing Towers' creditors argued unsuccessfully before the bankruptcy court. Instead, the court ruled that one measly increment in the bidding (less than half of 1% of the total) must be valued above the good of culture and society, to say nothing of music.

    Mark Swed, "For Audio Lovers, Yet Another Blow" (22 Oct 2006) (fake paragraphing removed for clarity). This passage simply does not accept that the Bankruptcy Trustee's role is to distribute the bankruptcy estate in the way that maximizes its value. Swed's key assumption is that Trans World Entertainment's bid had a reasonable probability of having greater value to the creditors (by continuing to operate) than did Great American Group's. Ironically enough, the rest of the article demonstrates why that is so unlikely.

    Swed does make the interesting observation that

    Once Apple marketed its cute players as objects of lust, the CDs became prehistoric media. Downloaded music isn't inherently bad. But in its quest to rule the world, or at least become another Microsoft-ish monopoly, Apple can be. Like Amazon, iTunes serves as a useful adjunct to retail CD stores. But with its insufficient catalog and its pop orientation, Apple's download service is a long way from being able to replace them.

    Id. (fake paragraphing removed for clarity). Of course, some of this is simple arrogance in the classical music community. Classical music has never done well at building the "next generation" (or even the current one!), preferring to let parents do that. It would rather have David Helfgott than Alexander DeLarge. (There's an argument to be made somewhere that the classical music hierarchy willingly draws new listeners only from performers, but that's for another time.) Another part of the picture is the historical refusal by the major classical labels to discount their recordings, regardless of format; yet another part is the poor standard of recording technique, combined with trying to project a "concert hall" sound into the small spaces in which most listeners will be.

    In any event, although I also regret the demise of Tower's classical-music sections, Tower hasn't had any real value to me for a quarter of a century: I haven't lived within 50 miles of an otherwise accessible non-mall Tower since 1980. And the mall outlets didn't carry classical music beyond the obligatory two dozen warhorses.