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. . . 2002-09-02

(I know I sound like a broken record. Pretty much all records would be broken if we had to wait 95 years to copy them.)
Intellectual Property Duties

William Blake didn't stop writing in 1818. It just looks that way because his antejerusalem manuscripts were destroyed after his death and before his most fervent admirers were born.

Our access to European pre-Christian culture depends largely on copyists' lack of judgment: wild-assed Christians, like wild-assed fundamentalists of other sacred-or-secular stripes, aren't shy about discarding the not-obviously-utilitarian.

A while ago, I picked up a "great young American poets" anthology from 1880 or so. I recognized only two or three names, and them not for their verse. Among the missing: Dickinson, Melville, and Whitman.

They might've stayed missing, too. Whitman developed a cult while he was living, but scandalized heirs could easily have snuffed posthumous printings. And under our current rules, Moby-Dick and The Confidence-Man wouldn't have entered the public domain until 1961, crimping the 1920s Melville revival.

I'm not worried about the Mouse or Gone with the Wind. Where there's money to be made and no insanity in the family, distribution will probably take place, with or without legal encouragement. And it's arguable, case by case, whether copyright hinders creation in the arts or promotes it or leaves it alone. But it inarguably suppresses art (and embarrassing evidence) after its creation.

Current copyright laws discourage copying in favor of hoarding. Art drops and disappears forever (or for 95 years, whichever comes first) into the capacious legal laps of those who are indifferent or passively hostile towards it. The longer the term of "protection," the greater the chance that a work will encounter an unmotivated owner and be removed from circulation.

Under the previous less-but-still-extreme corporate copyright limit of 75 years, the golden age of American pulp magazines would now be passing into the public domain. Instead, it's crumbling for lack of anyone to get definitive permission from. Individuals such as myself may be willing to take the risk of reprinting orphaned work and waiting to see who protests, but cultural institutions (you know, those people who have archives and funding) cannot.

Worst off -- being both most expensive and most fragile -- is the twentieth century's signature medium.

I became a Hong Kong movie fan in 1985, thanks to the NYC Film Forum's King Hu festival. Having been revealed as one of the greatest directors of the 1960s and 1970s, King Hu then seemed to vanish from American theaters. I'm used to Hong Kong studios' disregard for their own achievements -- one of the many crassnesses they share with 1930s Hollywood -- but I always expected another chance for King Hu, who was, after all, a commercial success in his day.

Forget it. Our local film archive tried for weeks to contact the rights holders. No response at all. As so often happens in the corporate world, it simply isn't worth anyone's time to answer: they figure a lawyer taking a half-hour to check the paperwork would cost more than they'll gain by showing the films. Just wait till 2074....

Although admittedly a novice lawmaker, I offer a possible solution:

Make copyright dependent on the active exercise of copyright.
Copyright "protection" has not only been extended beyond recognition: it's also been made completely passive. You no longer need to register or renew work for it to be legally yours.

That may be fair during an individual creator's lifetime. But the combination of passivity and indefinite-extension encourages disappearance rather than publication. Lengthening copyright on a marginal work makes it more likely to be out of print, unviewable, unrestorable, unencountered, unknowable, and lost.

If copyright extension was contingent upon distribution of a work, profitable works would continue to keep uncreative corporations and heirs fat and happy, while unprofitable works could be freed and rescued by scholars, fanatics, and gamblers.

. . . 2002-09-08

"Go on, our glory, go; know better fates."

The last time I saw Marc Laidlaw was when he worked at the law office and I worked at -- jeez, was it Aeneid? ("It's the name of a Greek god," explained the publicist in the neighboring cubicle.) No, it was earlier, because it was around the same time he said, "weird writers form mutual admiration societies in which we can sit around and admire each other's handicaps." During that lunch, though, Laidlaw seemed more interested in the games company he'd covered for Wired and the game he was novelizing.

Yesterday, I caught up with what he's been doing for the past five years:

He spotted a promising path and took it.

Which just sounds like good sense, or a chapter from Everything I Need to Know I Learned in First-Person Shooters. But good sense is a rare thing and few its acolytes.

Q: Do you miss your days as a novelist?
I don't miss the lifestyle that accompanied being a novelist, which can be described as: Work all day as a bored and frustrated administrative assistant or word processor or legal secretary, then come home and try to summon some creativity with the last dregs of my energy, late at night. I miss writing novels, and I'm planning to do more of them. But I think I'd rather be happy all day and not write novels than suffer all day and hope I can funnel my misery into a book.

An art form alive enough to make a living at, rather than one reliant on the sacrifices and squabbles of role-playing volunteers; too new, wet, squirming, and squalling to attract serious critical notice.... Aside from any practical considerations, such a path must hold a special glow for any historian of comics, or pop music, or movies, or pulp genres, such as fiction.

Myself, I'm too much a natural-born critic to join him on it -- as I've had frequent occasion to admit, we only join a party after it ends -- but I'm enough of a historian to appreciate the glow. And I'm heartened by what Laidlaw wants to bring over from his last art form: "mood, character, dramatic rhythm and pacing"; -- and by what he doesn't: "For me, the game design process is already granular enough. I don't want to make plot one of those elements."

'Cause it's not like narrative is a precious waif to be coddled on its sickbed: narrative is something we can't escape. And whenever I've been promised ambitious storytelling in hypertext or interactive multimedia or dynamic websites, whether by a heartwarming NPRish family chronicler or by a pin-cushioned anorexic art-school outlaw, it's always been something cohered only by triteness, like some self-congratulatory version of Stars on 45.

One of the reasons I moved into game design was because I wanted some new tools to play with, and new problems to think about. Sometimes the tools are useful for telling stories; sometimes they're useful for building traps or puzzles or exciting combat sequences. When I can figure out how to do all those things at the same time, it's most gratifying.

I am actually wary of games that promise a compelling story. I figure it's a warning that I might have to look even harder for the fun.

Although two or three years old, this is the cheeriest news I've heard about anyone for a while, so I thought I'd pass it along.

. . . 2002-09-10

Trading a living

The best way I can think of to memorialize last September 11 is to go to work late. That's how all the survivors I know of survived.

(When I worked at WTC myself, I probably tended towards promptness, or worse. It must be some delusion that I'm getting the job over with quicker that way.... But my most vivid memories of the place are simply of waiting for an elevator, joining in the competitive speculation over which would show first and be emptiest.

My most vivid memories that are my own, I mean.)

. . . 2002-09-12

If you can't sleep at night, it isn't the history -- it's the bunk.

Last September 11, I thought about the Blitz. But within the month, and more and more obsessively over the months since, I've been thinking of Frau Witte. "If it's true what they're saying, then things are in an awful state."

On the list of Ashcroft's civil rights reductions, I don't spot one that would have prevented the hijackings -- but each of them reduces the administration's accountability. Now, as on the day itself, and as in the days before and after, our leaders have followed two precepts: First, save your ass. Then cover it.

Who can guess at how the First Amendment gives aid and comfort to wealthy fundamentalist ideologues? The pollsters don't ask essay questions, so the mystery remains. If facts were included, opinions might change, but then it wouldn't be an impartial poll. Politics is sports, and facts must clear the field while opinions have their showdown. There's not even any need to fill in the blanks with propaganda: vague hypotheses are enough to get newsworthy results.

We're in wartime when the dockworkers strike but wartime's nothing that might interfere with vacation, naps, and tee-offs. As for dying, our servants will do that for us.

. . . 2002-09-18

Some days you raise the bar and some days the bar raises you

No party will be dull The life of any party Liven up your next party
Don't let the next party be dullsville
Taylor Gifts 1969 Catalog generously pilfered from Kate Small

. . . 2002-09-19


Now for my favorite part of the weblog: ...what's that say? Reader responses?! Ooghh, this is always death.

OK, someone writes in from somewhere to tell us:

Pumping to protect salmon habitat
Thank you for good question.

And we're delighted that our toast to the computer game industry made someone think of a rock song, because what more can mere prose aspire to?

Two years ago, I solicited suggestions for a new site name and logo. This month, one arrived:
name: Robert Dean
logo: A Retard
It's not clear just which Robert Dean and Retard are meant to suppy our new brand identity, but I'm sure they'll be very nice.

From another browser of the archives:

who are you? and how long have yopu been going to the hotst totsy? I've been a member for 18 years so I demand you identify yourself.
Yes! Thank you for very good question. I've attempted to answer it before, but to summarize:

Ray Davis is in good standing at the University of Life and has completed all graduation requirements except the dissertation.

Hale fellow well met Paul McEnery suggests that we Observe.co.uk:

Interesting sociobiology stuff from Steven Pinker, a man who overstates so drastically it undermines his thesis, which is too bad, because I think about half of it is right

On the plus side (for you) (perhaps), a pinko Darwinian reckons the Y chromosome is on the way out and we'll all be hermaphroditic slugs soon enough.

And around the same time that someone searched this site for "rumsfeld handsome," Beth "Blessed Relief" Rust provided news of a small press dedicated to what really matters:

No, not repentance, for when I thought back I saw no reason to regret any job Id pulled off, and in one case, that of the brute Id lashed for killing the white kitten, I patted myself on my back. Not that at all, but a new sort of view of life, given me in the first place by the Princess on that voyage in the Ning-Wha, and buttressed solidly by this meeting with real, human kindness.
Thank you all for good question!

. . . 2002-09-23


This seems as good a time as any to brush up our reading comprehension skills. Let's have a go at botanist William Bartram's 1791 Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws; Containing An Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians (via Sexual Revolution in Early America) :

Having paid our attention to this useful part of the creation, who, if they are under our dominion, have consequently a right to our protection and favour, we returned to our trusty servants that were regaling themselves in the exuberant sweet pastures and strawberry fields in sight, and mounted again; proceeding on our return to town, continued through part of this high forest skirting on the meadows; began to ascend the hills of a ridge which we were under the necessity of crossing, and having gained its summit, enjoyed a most enchanting view, a vast expanse of green meadows and strawberry fields; a meandering river gliding through, saluting in its various turnings the swelling, green, turfy knolls, embellished with parterres of flowers and fruitful strawberry beds; flocks of turkies strolling about them; herds of deer prancing in the meads or bounding over the hills; companies of young, innocent Cherokee virgins, some busily gathering the rich fragrant fruit, others having already filled their baskets, lay reclined under the shade of floriferous and fragrant native bowers of Magnolia, Azalea, Philadelphus, perfumed Calycanthus, sweet Yellow Jessamine and cerulian Glycine frutescens, disclosing their beauties to the fluttering breeze, and bathing their limbs in the cool fleeting streams; whilst other parties, more gay and libertine, were yet collecting strawberries or wantonly chasing their companions, tantalising them, staining their lips and cheeks with the rich fruit.

This sylvan scene of primitive innocence was enchanting, and perhaps too enticing for hearty young men long to continue idle spectators.

In fine, nature prevailing over reason, we wished at least to have a more active part in their delicious sports. Thus precipitately resolving, we cautiously made our approaches, yet undiscovered, almost to the joyous scene of action. Now, although we meant no other than an innocent frolic with this gay assembly of hamadryades, we shall leave it to the person of feeling and sensibility to form an idea to what lengths our passions might have hurried us, thus warmed and excited, had it not been for the vigilance and care of some envious matrons who lay in ambush, and espying us gave the alarm, time enough for the nymphs to rally and assemble together; we however pursued and gained ground on a group of them, who had incautiously strolled to a greater distance from their guardians, and finding their retreat now like to be cut off, took shelter under cover of a little grove, but on perceiving themselves to be discovered by us, kept their station, peeping through the bushes; when observing our approaches, they confidently discovered themselves and decently advanced to meet us, half unveiling their blooming faces, incarnated with the modest maiden blush, and with native innocence and cheerfulness presented their little baskets, merrily telling us their fruit was ripe and sound.

We accepted a basket, sat down and regaled ourselves on the delicious fruit, encircled by the whole assembly of the innocently jocose sylvan nymphs; by this time the several parties under the conduct of the elder matrons, had disposed themselves in companies on the green, turfy banks.

My young companion, the trader, by concessions and suitable apologies for the bold intrusion, having compromised the matter with them, engaged them to bring their collections to his house at a stipulated price, we parted friendly.

  1. Were you successful in forming an idea to what lengths the protagonists' passions might have hurried them?

  2. Why do you think the narrator described the vigilant matrons as "envious"?

  3. This passage has been described as "sensuously lyrical." How synonymous are those terms with "revealingly coy"?

  4. To feel a sentiment is not the same as speaking sentimentally. To apply rationality is not the same as espousing rationalism. Rationalists claim to fear sentimentality and sentimentalists claim to fear rationalism, but both will shift affinities to avoid an inconvenient marriage of sentiment and rationality. Can you find any examples of such a shift here or in your other readings?

. . . 2002-09-24

The Bright Elusive Button Fly of Love

Two weeks after students return to campus. The Mexican restaurant nearest campus.

Girl and Boy sit at tiny table. Girl is blonde and thin. Boy is a high school football player gone to fraternity seed. They order.


The first course arrives.

BOY: The thing that's amazing about this place is look what you get for six dollars.


They eat. The second course arrives.

BOY: Brian is just not gonna believe it when he hears I actually went out with Cheryl!


They eat. The bill arrives.

GIRL: I can't eat another bite.

BOY: Me either.



. . . 2002-09-30

The Secondary Source Review

Theorizing Backlash, ed. Superson & Cudd

"Theorizing" titles rarely entice. Fin-de-siècle academic mannerisms grow even uglier when synchronized in massed full-dress parade, and their drill sergeants are less convincing than most. Such weird contortions only make sense as a long-winded last-breath defense against otherwise fatally sheering forces.

However, the continuing campaigns against feminism seem complex, real, and fatal enough to require full-out Drunken Mistress technique. And so this particular title hooked me -- but this particular attempt to get a grip on biological research fumbled me back into the water to breed:

"There is either a difference between men and women, or there is not."
Yes, and there is either a difference between a man and another man, or there is not. There is either a difference between a woman and another woman, or there is not. There is either a difference between me at 18 and me at 43, or there is not.

It may be just as well that so many theoryheads spit over their shoulders and cross the street when they see science coming. Jacques's socks! You'd think a postobfuscationist would at least understand the problematic nature of "difference"!

  Compare and contrast

. . . 2002-10-01

The Secondary Source Review

Sexual Revolution in Early America by Richard Godbeer

Having dragged a mature-content filter through pre-1800 American source material, Godbeer sorts his catches by region and period, arranged quasi-dialectically; viz.:

"There hardly passes a court day but four or five are convened for fornication or adultery; and convictions in this nature are very frequent." - "Letter from New England," J. W., 1682, London

"It may be in this case as it is with waters when their streams are stopped or damned up. When they get passage they flow with more violence and make more noise and disturbance than when they are suffered to run quietly in their own channels." - William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647

The conclusion, should conclusions be desired, is that technical and prison terms vary more across time-and-place than sexual behaviors do. But the real point of a book like this is to read the cool bits aloud, and although Godbeer has collected eye-catching material on such topics as bundling, sodomitical pillars of the Puritan community, and Philadelphia prostitution, he seems compelled to interrupt every few lines of quote with a few words of paraphrase. (That awful interference, wrecking your orgasm on the Playboy Channel.) Juliet Clark, star editor, explains this as dissertation house style, but we non-academics would prefer a straightforward anthology: interpretation is rarely needed, and, William Bartram aside, this stuff is hard to find.

Not that Godbeer is a bad writer when there's a need to write. He provides a usefully concise summary of the Thomas Jefferson Situation, for example:

Jefferson's father-in-law, John Wayles, had a long-term relationship with his slave Elizabeth Hemings, who bore him six offspring. On Wayles's death, Hemings and her children came to live with the Jeffersons as favored house servants at Monticello. One of Elizabeth's daughters, Sally Hemings, became Jefferson's lover and gave him several children. None of their offspring remained in slavery as adults; significantly enough, the only slaves whom Jefferson freed were members of the Hemings family. Mary Hemings, another of Elizabeth's daughters, was leased to Thomas Bell in the 1780s, became his lover, and bore him two children. Jefferson later sold Mary and her offspring to Bell; that he did so at her request suggests a mutual affection between Bell and Hemings. They lived together as a couple for the remainder of Bell's life.

If that sounds slightly incestuous, how about this?

Byrd recounted in his commonplace book a story about a West Indies planter who "had an intrigue with an Ethiopian princess, by whom he had a daughter that was a mulatto." The planter sired another child with that daughter and then another with his granddaughter. That great-grand-daughter was "perfectly white and very honorably descended." The planter boasted that "he had washed the blackamoore white."

Ah, good old plantation miscegenation.... It ain't incest if it's livestock breeding; on the other hand, it ain't bestiality if it's human beings. And rather than being a financial burden, the rapist's child becomes money in the bank. Kinda makes a feller proud, don't it?

(As an upcoming review subject points out, this win-win situation was exploited in typically enthusiastic fashion. When they call the American South a "slave-based economy," they don't just mean that slaves did the work. Unlike the industrialists and bankers of the North, the Southern aristocracy derived their wealth from property, and by far their most valuable property was people. That's why our Federal government never had the option of ending slavery by financial compensation, as England did: there simply wasn't enough money. Something to remember the next time you encounter a nostalgic lament over drove-down old Dixie....)

+ + +

Love Hangover

I just returned from a visit to my home town. I'm still digesting the experience and food, but one immediately regrettable result has been a burst of unsolicited comments to such worthwhile sites as Visible Darkness, UFO Breakfast, IMproPRieTies, Wealth Bondage, AKMA, Body and Soul, Making Light, good gawd almighty and more I can't even remember, betraying a thirst for community almost adolescent in its frenzy. Sheer recidivism. As a pacing mangy teenaged trapped tigger, I bombarded zines with letters, and this impulse is similar enough to make me suspect similarly embarrassing results. Presumably I'll calm down as I re-adjust to a diet containing fresh vegetables. In the meantime, I'll try to consolidate my intellectual debts here in a perfectly matched community of two: me and my very own reader, Ivor.

comments: And do leprechauns fart in the middle of the program? "Addendumdum" as in a fig newton? I in a restaurant: CAPN: [SILENCE] AYE, *HONK* *HONK*, ME NAME IS IVOR [he winks].

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2002 Ray Davis.