Thursday, December 04, 2008


This review originally appeared in the 12/3/08 issue of Metroland.


Mahaiwe Theater

November 28, 2008

Since this was listed as a “Christmas show” I was mighty worried that Aaron would be wearing a red tousled hat and shaking jingle bells while riding a sleigh back and forth with fake snow falling while soulless session musicians and an out-of-tune children’s chorus vamped on “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Not to worry; this was an Aaron-centric Neville Brothers show without Cyril and Art with some Christmas songs thrown in. It was loose, it was funky, and it was a blast. Aaron was wearing his Christmas finest, the tight denim vest over the tight black t-shirt, the tight jeans, the boots; with his cinder-block physique, tats, brim, and laconic demeanor, he is still, at 69, the very embodiment of badass. And then he starts to sing.

This show went right down the middle of the road, starting with a weird thing where the band riffed and Neville sang the first line of various 50’s-60’s songs, not a medley, exactly, but close enough for a little discomfort. The set relied mostly on covers, reliable crowd-pleasing warhourses like “Use Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” “Crazy Love,” “Bird on a Wire,” “Everybody Plays the Fool.” Safe, sure, but oh so tasty. Christmas songs dropped in and out, clearly unrehearsed, as everybody was glued to their sheet music on this first date of the Christmas tour. For some reason, this wasn’t the least bit offensive; it sounded great, Aaron was singing his ass off, Charles Neville, on sax, was laughing his ass off. And besides first, who exactly is going to tell Aaron Neville he needs to rehearse? Me? Look at me, man! Wrong!!! And besides second, his original holiday tune, the child-like “A Christmas Prayer”, was charming, and his soulful “Oh Holy Night” was devastating.

He even played some country tunes, passionately aping George Jones on “The Grand Tour” while his band, all Neville Brothers sidemen, played with that high-elbowed stiffness soul guys sometimes get when they have to dumb down to country music. Aaron was killin’; the band got through it.

Then the hammer came down, with a torrid jamming-down “Yellow Moon”, Aaron’s 1966 #1 hit “Tell It Like It Is,” and a roof-raising “Amazing Grace.” And just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any heavier, the show ended with a song Aaron recorded for “Stay Awake”, the brilliant 1988 collection of Disney movie songs: “The Mickey Mouse Club March.” It was time to say goodbye.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

12.2.08 Lori Drew

This article was originally published in the 12/3/08 issue of Metroland.

The CRUMBS Night Out Concert / Lecture Series at the Linda last month was fabulous, with a good crowd, a killer set of music and a (so I’m told) compelling and interesting panel discussion about music licensing. We’re back again next week, Thursday December 11, with The Ramblin’ Jugstompers and an expert panel discussion about selling music in the digital age. So, if you like your music crusty and your information crisp; if you like your music really, really old and your business strategy modern as tomorrow; if you like your music moribund and your knowledge cutting edge; well, git yer lil’ butt down to the Linda Norris Auditorium next Thursday at 7.

The old adage “hard cases make bad law” refers to situations in which a court struggles to find a just solution but, given some some hole in the law or a quirk in the facts (which make it a “hard case”), the court mangles logic and precedent to come up with a result that might make a little sense for the case before it, but also sets in motion dangerous unintended consequences for future cases (which make it “bad law”).

This has nowhere been more true than in the case of Lori Drew, the Missouri lady who helped her teenage daughter and some friends set up a fake MySpace page for a fake hunky teenage boy, and then perpetuated a fake MySpace romance with a 13-year old neighbor girl they didn’t like. After heating up the ether with puppy love for a couple of weeks, Drew and her crew had their fake dreamboat dump the girl, cruelly, telling her that the “world would be better off without her.” Crushed, the neighbor girl committed suicide.

Could it get worse than this? No! Is Lori Drew reprehensible? Yes! Isn’t there a law that deals with situations like this?

Well, no, apparently there’s not. Criminal prosecutors (and, to be sure, criminal defense lawyers, too) secretly love cases like this, because the pinhead press goes ga-ga: you’ve got teenage romance, an evil Mom, suicide, and that awful, awful internet! Nancy Grace is holding, please pick up! But try as they might, and as much as they would have loved the national media spotlight, Missouri state prosecutors couldn’t find an indictable criminal offense in Lori Drew’s cruel hoax.

Like a sage Colonie cop told me once when I wanted to press charges against somebody who was being a complete idiot to me: “there’s no law against being an idiot.”

But wait, an enterprising young Federal prosecutor in Los Angeles figured if he could twist a federal computer hacking law just enough, maybe he could go for the gold. And he did. He grabbed a federal anti-hacking law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which makes “intentionally accessing a computer without authority” in order obtain things like national security data or information from a protected computer across state lines a criminal offense, and then somehow convinced a California grand jury that the law applied to Lori Drew.

The theory apparently was that by creating this fake boy and tormenting the poor 13-year old girl, Drew had violated the MySpace terms of service, and therefore Drew’s use of MySpace’s computer servers constituted “intentionally accessing” MySpace’s computers “without authorization” and a criminal offense under the CFAA. And MySpace’s computer servers are sitting in Los Angeles, so that’s why Lori Drew was charged there—it was the “scene of the crime.”

Does this sound right to you? Well, Lori Drew was convicted last week of misdemeanor counts under CFAA, as the jury rejected several more serious felony counts, but she’s still facing some serious jail time and fines. The headlines yesterday were blasting that the poor mom of the 13-year old girl wants Drew to get the max. And typically, there is virtually no critical analysis in the mainstream media of the idiocy, the charade-like nature of the whole proceeding. Why screw up a good blood-lust story with the truth?

Don’t get me wrong. If it was my 13-year old who’d died I’d be screaming for Lori Drew’s head, too, and I wouldn’t give a good goddamn how I got it. And the general idea of Lori Drew going to jail for what she did strikes me as just.

But not this way. This is a monumental abuse of the legal process. As some commentators have pointed out, the same logic used to prosecute Drew, based on her violation of a computer site’s click-through terms of service, would support a criminal conviction if you simply looked at a website that had terms of service that you had to give the website owner a beer, and you didn’t. If the website prohibited people named Ralph, and your name was Ralph. Off to jail for you!

Expect Drew’s conviction to be overturned, correctly. And then expect the mainstream media and Nancy Graces of the world to go berserk about lenient judges. Uh-huh. Whatever.

12.2.02 Here Comes Tomorrow

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of The Artful Mind

With the seismically historic election of Barack Obama, we’re all exhaling and awaiting a return to sanity from our federal government. After being subjected to eight years of arrogant, ignorant and destructive neo-conservative policies, it’s clear that there will be huge top-down corrections in how we approach international relations, human rights, science and the truth.

Gee, that sounds good, doesn’t it? And how will the new administration approach policies relevant to artists and creativity?

Good question.

Generally, one would hope that Obama’s demonstrated thoughtful approach to everything will redound to the arts and the creative economy. He will place qualified people at the National Endowment for the Arts, for example, unlike his predecessor, who just gave the absurdly jingoist country singer Lee Greenwood (“God Bless the Red, White, and Blue”) a seat on the board that determines what artists and art institutions get from the fairly meager funds the federal government doles out every year. I’m surprised Larry the Cable Guy isn’t the Poet Lauriat.

By the same token, Obama can be expected to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will take more expansive views of civil rights, especially as regards things like expression and other individual rights. The same goes for appointments to the FCC, which increasingly has become a facilitator for Big Media corporate interests and the Christianista right.

A week before the election I was on a panel discussing the presidential candidates’ specific positions on tech and intellectual property issues. There wasn’t a whole lot of information out there to talk about. Position papers on the candidates’ websites were pretty thin, and filled more with meaningless platitudes than concrete proposals. I had to rely on anecdotal information and the educated guesses of media / blogosphere “experts”, who didn’t know much more than me, that is to say, almost nothing. IP stuff has never been on any presidential top-ten list, and especially not this year, what with a couple ground wars, various constitutional crises, and the world economy in collapse. And these issues can’t be reduced to slogans and tag-lines, so the pinhead mainstream media isn’t interested.

Since most of the interesting intellectual property issues today have to do with digital media and the internet, one indicia of where we’re headed is Obama’s relationship with the internet. And that’s encouraging. His campaign and especially his astonishing fundraising effort was all about the web. At the peak of the campaign I was getting several messages a day, and they were generally welcome and informative, and occasionally goaded me into logging in and throwing O’s campaign a few more dollars.

Not surprisingly, Obama’s a crackberry addict, an obsessive texter. He’s also a dad with young kids who presumably are tech-aware, and so he’s confronted with all the issues all parents face with kids and the web. These are all good things. He’s our first President who is of the present and conversant in matters regarding the internet. Consider the alternative-—John McCain reportedly didn’t use email and told a reporter that his wife Cindy helped him with “a Google” once or twice. Yikes...

Obama’s few policy statements about this stuff are even more encouraging. He’s on record as being in favor of net neutrality, that is, regulations that insure that the internet stays non-discriminatory and that internet access and operability are the same for everyone. Major internet providers are apparently itching to provide multi-tiered service, where premium customers get better and faster service and the rest of us get what’s left. The argument against tiered service (and for net neutrality) is that it would give substantial commercial advantage to the big, the entrenched, and the wealthy, and discourage access and innovation by the little guys who’ve driven innovation on the web since day one. The Facebooks and eBays of the world were started with good ideas, a little code, and unlimited access to the web. Net neutrality ensures that the next Facebooks and eBays will continue to have the same unlimited access to the web.

Opponents to net neutrality say that it requires government regulations, and of course regulation in all forms is bad bad bad! Or it least it was was was until Wall Street fell apart. We’re a civil society, not a Darwinian experiment, for crying out loud. Regulations supporting net neutrality are a very good thing.

Similarly, and of critical importance to us here in the Berkshires, Obama’s on record for legislated universal service for “true” broadband internet. He’s in favor of hooking everybody up with cable / fiber based broadband (presumably “true” broadband doesn’t included telephony-based DSL, but I could be wrong here). How’s he gonna do that? The same way we all got electricity and telephone during the last century, by government programs that mandate that everybody who wants broadband gets it. Of course this is being met with insane charges that universal service represents “socialism” and worse from the lunatic right, who presumably would prefer that half of the country not have internet, or phone, or electricity. Their argument, that the “market” will miraculously provide high-speed internet service to all is absurd on its face and is absolutely disproved by our local experience. I’m sure those of you reading this in your dial-up internet Berkshire homes will readily agree.

I wouldn’t be surprised if universal broadband is a central part of Obama’s much-anticipated economic stimulus package. Broadband is a proven economic driver; included in its benefits is that it encourages telecommuting with all the efficiencies and savings that arise from people not having to commute to a central workplace. Pay attention to this one. Write a letter.

How about the meat and potatoes intellectual property stuff? What will Obama do with copyright law? Here there’s really no Obama policy trail, and I have to point out that copyright issues have never followed red state / blue state conservative / liberal lines. We have hideous overly protective copyright laws that bear little relation to the purpose of copyright, which is to encourage creativity. Rather, we have laws that have been stiffened and toughened incrementally for the purpose of protecting the business models of the Big Media companies, at a time when digital media has made these business models largely unsupportable. The disconnect between law and reality is demonstrated nowhere more clear than in the 30,000 or so lawsuits that the music industry has brought against music fans, mostly kids, for downloading and trading music over the internet. That’s disgusting.

We have appropriation art, and what Lawrence Lessig calls “re-mix culture,” hanging in legal limbo, largely at the pleasure of copyright owners and those few brave artists who fight when bullied, and the courts that decide the few random disputes that make it to court, and who are as likely to get it totally wrong as right. The law, as currently constituted and interpreted by the courts, is of little help to what truly is a cultural movement and a sea change on how things get created. It’s scary.

This bad set of circumstances is the fault of Democrats as much as Republicans. Vice President-elect Joe Biden, and most Democrats, has routinely voted in favor of whatever Hollywood and Big Media has wanted. Vermont Senator Pat Leahy has, too, and it may be just coincidence that he’s also had speaking parts in the last couple of Batman films. I mean, who knows?

Congress this year created a cabinet-level “intellectual property czar” at the urging of Big Media. No one else, it seems, thought this post was necessary. In fact, the Bush administration, the Department of Justice, and a mess of screaming-liberal public interest groups all lobbied to kill the position. For the most part, the “czar” was created to provide pro bono legal services to the Big Media companies, who seek the government’s largesse in enforcing their imperial copyrights.

So Obama’s stuck with this IP czar position, like it or not. I think the earliest indication of where he’s headed with real creative economy issues is (1) whether he fills the “intellectual property czar” post; (2) with whom he fills it; and (3) what he allows the “czar” to do.

We’ll know soon enough.