Stealing whiskey vs. stealing art

Here is a fascinating history of international copyright law, occasioned by recent attempts to bolster it even more in light of the new techological “sharing” possibilities. Back in the 19th century, copyright used to extend only within a particular country. That meant that America, Canada, and England used to pirate each other’s authors, printing their work and giving them no royalties. That eventually changed, due to the crusading, among others, of Mark Twain, who would travel to these other nations and ask why someone who stole his bottle of whiskey would get imprisoned but nothing happens to someone who steals his writings.

The article alluded to some people who resist these laws even today, maintaining that copyright restricts education, people’s access, and whatnot. I certainly understand why people download music illegally. But I can’t see how that can be justified in any kind of moral argument. Attempts to say that stealing music or other created products are anything but violations of the commandment seem to be just casuistry (in the sense I explained a few days ago in a comment) so as not to think of oneself as a sinner. Isn’t Twain’s analogy valid? Can any of you think of a moral justification for taking an artist’s property without paying for it?

Literary prizes

Bethany gets the Flannery O’Connor prize in yesterday’s virtual contest. O’Connor writes about the grotesque–often involving the clash between a fierce religion and a clueless secularism–and this case is certainly grotesque. I’m sure she would have a field day with presenting a child with a weird religion, being futilely plied with childish trinkets from a sentimental modernity, who totally thwarts his kind-hearted but soft-headed foster parents by excommunicating his 5 year old brother.

Tickletext was close to the other answer in guessing some Romantic poet. Indeed, it was William Wordsworth. He thought England needed another MILTON! And they sure did, and we sure do now. It’s interesting how the Romantics, so sick of the Enlightenment sensibility, put that Puritan Christian on such a pedestal. I offer the poem, Wordsworth’s sonnet entitled “England, 1802,” for your pleasure and edification:

MILTON! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
O raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

Flannery O’Connor! Thou shouldst be living in this hour.

According to this article, Polygamous Sect’s Children Begin to Return to Parents, the polygamists’ kids who spent two months in foster care were plied with pizza, bicycles, and information about space travel in an attempt to make them “normal.” While the children apparently enjoyed some of those perks of modernity, they were glad to return to their parents, who were required to take “parenting classes” as a condition of getting their kids back. (Doesn’t this bother you?) Also, during the two months that the children were kept from their parents, the older boys took on the task of organizing regular prayer meetings for the young refugees. They also exerted religious discipline, going so far as to excommunicate some five-year-olds for not paying attention (making them sit outside).

[What work am I alluding to in the title to this post? And why am I saying Flannery O'Connor should be writing about all of this?]

Who wrote “Footprints in the Sand”?

You know that “Footprints in the Sand” inspirational tidbit, about walking with the Lord, seeing only one set of footprints, and getting the revelation that “I carried you”? Of course you do. It’s everywhere, on posters, coffee mugs, greeting cards, and quoted in countless sermons. Now three people are suing each other, claiming to be the author, with rights to the gazillions of dollars worth of merchandising the little story can earn. For the rather sad but also rather humorous account of this dispute and these claims, see Search to Divine Authorship Leads ‘Footprints’ to Court.

Here is my analysis: One of the litigators claim that his mother wrote it decades ago. He found a manuscript in her handwriting that dates from long ago. But the key bit of information is the scholar who traced the story to a sermon preached in the 1880′s. I doubt that even that was original. Sermons promulgate more urban legends, unattributed quotations, and oral traditions than any other art form. I suspect the mother heard the story somewhere, maybe from her preacher, and wrote it down.

Trying to copyright that story after the fact and after its wide publication is surely futile, and no court should allow it. It’s like trying to copyright jokes, sermon illustrations, and internet forwards. If you write something, copyright it BEFORE sending it out on the internet; otherwise, consider it a gift to humanity.

Hillary Agonistes

I’m telling you, it’s all in Milton. (Actually, it’s all in the Bible, but I’m referring to Milton’s having a language for it.) Here is another Milton application from Robert D. Novak, discussing Hillary Clinton’s assassination reference and her other ways:

This recalls Milton’s 17th-century tragic poem “Samson Agonistes” — portraying Samson as a battler. “Eyeless in Gaza” was the poet’s reference not only to physical blindness but also to failure to comprehend reality. As “Hillary Agonistes,” she threatens to bring down the temple of the country’s oldest political party.

Tedious havoc

Bob Myers, in his comment on the “Dean Jones” post identified my “tedious havoc” quotation as coming from “Paradise Lost.” Milton was criticizing epics that are nothing but battles, ignoring the “better fortitude” of patience and heroic martyrdom; that is, internal battles of character. That applies perfectly to today’s action movies. I am finding mere cinematic havoc–fighting, chase scenes, explosions, special effects–to be increasingly tedious. Seriously. I find myself dozing off during the “action” sequences. There was a time when they were impressive but they have become so conventional, so repetitive, so expected, that they do nothing for me. Am I the only one who finds what is supposed to be exciting in movies to be unexciting?