05 July 2010

Slightly Singed Post-Barbecue Link Sausages

At least the vegetarian didn't crawl out of the marinade this year...

  • Sometimes paintings get altered or misattributed... and that's when galleries' fun begins. It's a problem that is far from unique to painting; consider that entire last scene in Amadeus with the similar "alterations" of the Requiem, or the continuing controversy over "Shakespeare" (hopefully not to be extended in a hundred years to James Patterson or Virginia Andrews...).
  • It appears that there's a "Jewish exception" to Austrian law concerning Nazi looting of art. As unfortunate as it is, it also raises — indirectly, and only implicitly — some questions also raised (also indirectly, also implicitly) by the preceding item about "ownership" of art and culture. Let's look at the opposite spin for a moment: Is "art" that is nonreplicable (such as oil paintings, hand-created sculpture, etc.) a public cultural artifact or a private possession? The problem is that it's both, and the particular dispute involves trying to determine which has a superior legal claim at this time... when, to be honest, none of the claimants is exactly covered in righteousness.

    This leads into a secondary question, raised in part by viewing the Scottish play (Nunn/McKellen/Dench) on DVD again over the weekend: What if the art/cultural event/artifact/whatever is a live performance? I'm thinking in particular of "the next play over." As well-considered as Branagh's probably-definitive-thus-far-for-film version of Hamlet is, it's only — really — a derivative work of the defining-performance-of-this-generation version by the RSC with Mark Rylance as the title character. I was lucky/foresighted enough to see it in 1989 in Stratford, and it was... astounding, I think, is the least one can say. But who owns it? I don't think there's a good answer. Due primarily to backroom politics, I do not believe that the Rylance production was ever satisfactorily recorded, even with a static camera-in-row-seven approach. So all we have is Branagh's derivative work (and, I reemphasize, it's a fine one on its own merits), which is "owned" by Castle Rock Entertainment; or perhaps — if one accepts the extreme/worst of French auteur theory — by Branagh himself, as both the director and the star; or perhaps by Shakespeare; or perhaps by the vast ghostly body of English professors who have ensured that this play — of all of Shakespeare's plays — is both studied and performed (constantly; perhaps too constantly).

    But, returning to the initial question, concerning these particular pieces of art: Can't we just all agree that there is no right here, and that we're fighting over who is least objectionable, instead of trying to pretend that there is an undoubted virtuous position? Well, no: That's not what lawyers and politicians do. And it's most particularly not what anyone does as soon as the elephant-in-the-gas-chamber gets acknowledged (and denial is a form of acknowledgement).

  • On the meaning of fairness. And justice. And meaning. Sometimes, we're still separated by a common language — and not just across the Pond, but even across state lines. Language is not a product just of culture, but of education, as anyone who has served as a military officer could tell you after trying to communicate with politicians who haven't.
  • Just like Mark Twain, the demise of the book has been greatly exaggerated, even if a Chinese consortium has announced that it intends to overtake the PDF format for e-books. The problem with all of these prognostications has been simple: None of the people involved in "replacing paper books" have been voracious readers (let alone proprietors of homes for wayward books).

    Every single e-reader device, program, format, etc. has been optimized for a relatively narrow set of books. For example, the Kindle (and all of its competitors among the stand-alone e-readers I've tried) simply doesn't handle documents set in multiple threads, and/or multiple type sizes, very well at all; and that means I can't read anything that has footnotes, whether a law review article or Swift's "The Battle of the Books". In short, I can't read on a dedicated reader as a scholar, and in particular I can't reference as a scholar (with pinpoint citations to page and note numbers, etc.). Conversely, the imitate-the-paper-layout systems, like PDF, don't scale well to other devices. The less said about how illustrations (thus far) — whether we're talking technical diagrams or fine art — get handled, the better.

    And then there's battery life, thanks at least in part to the awl bidness's acquisition of patents from the space program in the 1970s and subsequent refusal to allow research (let alone competition) on those enabling patents; the poor design of electronic readers for those with even moderate visual impairments (some people can't get Lasik, or prefer glasses, let alone wear bifocals); the crap that passes for content so often; the hand-waving/behind-the-scenes tracking capability built into all of the readers...

  • As Professor Rebecca Tushnet notes, some of my fears about how Dastar will actually be interpreted are turning into reality: A court "followed" Dastar to dismiss an apparently meritorious Lanham Act claim (as she puts it, " A defendant’s misrepresentations that it was the author/creator of some good/service are not actionable under the Lanham Act," which is clearly wrong both in theory and after actually reading Dastar).
  • As Professor Dorf points out in commemoration of an event in Philadelphia a couple of centuries ago, the Brits have plundered "our" seas. That said, yesterday was not America's "birthday" any more than declaring "mission accomplished" avoided the years of following struggle. The nation's "birthday" is not the declaration that we were separate from that moment. That's like celebrating one's birthday at conception; I can name a couple of dozen miscarried declarations of independence (anyone remember Biafra?). The birthday is 17 September, when the United States began to become a nation instead of a squabbling baronial holdings led by the nouveau riche without titles of nobility.