Sunday, November 30, 2008

Joni Mitchell's Urge for Going; Jamie Boyle's Public Domain

Red Oak in fall color, Austin, Texas 2008

It's a beautiful sunny, cool fall day in Austin. The fall color is the most spectacular it has been in decades -- no exaggeration. The weather folks said it would be windy today but by 10:00 it was still calm and clear. Then, just now, a gust whistled through the windowsills, leaves fell all around like big snowflakes, and I heard (in my head) "the warriors of winter give a cold triumphant shout; all that stays is dying, all that lives is getting out."

I hear the singer, I hear the guitar notes. Who wrote that? Who sang it? What were the rest of the lyrics? I always think of that song this time of year.

So I Googled it: warriors winter give cold triumphant shout

Up popped 61,000 pages satisfying my search terms. The first one contained the entire set of lyrics, author (Joni Mitchell). The rest of that verse, the last in the song goes like this:

Flameleaf Sumac in fall color, Austin, Texas 2008

Now the warriors of winter give a cold triumphant shout
All that stays is dying, all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight
Flapping and a-racing off before the snow
They got the urge for going and they've got the wings to go ...
And I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
And the summertime is falling down
And winter's closing in

But the first couple of pages say it was performed by Crosby and Nash. Not as I recall. It was a single male voice and acoustic guitar. A little deeper into the list, below the fold, let's see... Tom Rush. That sounds more like it. Let's see if I can listen to a bit of a recording of him playing and singing it... Ah, yes, iTunes has it playing within a few seconds of entering the store. From an album released a long time ago, recently remastered and re-released. That's it. Wow.

My husband thinks I am so stupid for being constantly amazed at the Internet. "I just did that yesterday, so what?" he says when I tell him about this little foray into the information treasure-trove we have at our fingertips, 24/7. THIS IS INCREDIBLE. No it isn't. It's just normal day-to-day. Ah, yes. That's why it's incredible.

So, all this in the middle of reading Jamie Boyle's new book, The Public Domain -- Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. Fantastic read. God he is so clever and witty and has such a great sense of humor. And he is not giving up and he is making a difference. Go, Jamie.

He says early on in Ch. 1, p. 13 to be exact, that the Internet is an "existence proof" that for a lot of information (a lot as in billions and billions of pages of information), copyright isn't necessary to its production. In his words:

The Internet is an existence proof of the remarkable information processing power of a decentralized network of hobbyists, amateurs, universities, businesses, volunteer groups, professionals, and retired experts and who knows what else. It is a network that produces useful information and services. Frequently, it does so at no cost to the user and without anyone guiding it. Imagine that energy, that decentralized and idiosyncratically dispersed pattern of interests, turned loose on the cultural artifacts of the twentieth century. Then imagine it coupled to the efforts of the great state archives and private museums who themselves would be free to do the same thing. Think of the people who would work on Buster Keaton, or the literary classics of the 1930s, or the films of the Second World War, or footage on the daily lives of African-Americans during segregation, or the music of the Great Depression, or theremin recordings, or the best of vaudeville. Imagine your Google search in such a world. Imagine that Library of Congress.

Theremin recordings? Was that a typo? No. Google it.

Any other word in Jamie's incredibly rich vocabulary you don't know? Google it. Ah, I hear Phil's admonition to stay away from general-purpose dictionaries in graduate school, to use only specialized dictionaries for the field of study. Some day, maybe.

So, I am reading his book in both Adobe Acrobat and in Stanza, my nifty screen reader that works on the iPhone as well as on the Mac. An experiment to compare functionalities. So, really, any word, I'm already at the computer, I just Google it. I came across one earlier today: p. 38, "a tessellated map." Now, granted, I understood the meaning from the context within a few seconds, but honestly, I don't think I have ever heard that word before (thank you Jamie). Instead of just glossing over it, I Googled it: 198,000 pages respond to "what is tessellated." Top of the list? You guessed it: Wikipedia. You know, this is a word I really ought to know. But I ask Dennis. He doesn't know either and he's an artist and the word comes from the Latin tessella, a small cubical clay, stone or glass piece used to make mosaics. Well, after that very interesting adventure, I don't think I'll forget what tessellated means.

Well, I have to say, I love this book. It is really readable, brings together many of his past writings with other authors I've read (many thanks to Phil), but focuses on the dire implications of our current trajectory. He is determined that the law has to change. As I've said many times, I've given up on that. I want to hope, but the underlying process seems so irretrievably lost to money, or so I believe. He, and I have to admit, lots and lots of other people along with him, are not convinced lawmakers can't be persuaded to turn things around. What evidence is there that anyone other than the Disneys and RIAAs have any ability to persuade? Does he imagine that his arguments will persuade them to back off their demands for more and longer and stronger? I have never thought that was possible. They are like programmed robots whose programming can't be changed. And their programming includes paying whatever it takes to lawmakers to be sure the lawmakers don't threaten the status quo. (Keep in mind that whether this assertion is true or not, the very fact that I believe it is true is the basis for mine and many other people's loss of confidence in the Congressional part of our democratic system of governance, so, it matters even that we think it is so!) So where does this hope come from?

I'm going to keep reading. Maybe he explains his hope as well as he explains history, economics and philosophy. I could use some encouragement about now.

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