Wednesday, August 22, 2012


This article originally appeared in the 8.23.12 issue of Metroland

Unless you’ve been sequestered under a boulder somewhere or watch Fox “News” 24/7, you know that the members of the Russian grrrl band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in a Rooskie slammer for flash-performing an anti-Vladmir Putin song in a Moscow cathedral.  The Russian Orthodox Church has “forgiven” Pussy Riot for whatever they did that was so wrong, but the government steamrolled the predictably spineless court anyway.  Everybody’s pooh-poohing Vladmir Putin (the surly x-spy chump-ass punk whose soul George W. Bush claimed to look into and who placates his manhood issues by posing shirtless, pretending to be some kind of martial arts expert, and hunting, Dick Cheney-like, at “game farms” where the “help” brings pre-ordered farm-raised “wild animals” over to where the hunter is hanging out and lets the hunter shoot ‘em) for his barbaric transgression of the freedom of speech.  And sure, Putin deserves it.  But really, things are better here only by degree, and not that many degrees.  The First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of speech is a delicate thing, and most people will happily throw it overboard when somebody they don’t like says something they don’t like.  It can happen here. It does happen here.

            The Berkshire Eagle recently sat mute when a local blogger was ordered by a local judge not to write anything about a politician’s daughter who may or may not have gotten preferential treatment after a hit-and-run.  The local blogger is often extremely critical of the Berkshire Eagle, kind of like how I am being right now.  The dunderheaded ruling, as legitimate a rape of the First Amendment as you’ll ever see, was reported nationally on free-speech blogs, but all was quiet on the Pittsfield front. It was only after an appellate court reversed the ruling (while covering the lower-court judge’s ass by telling the blogger he was really, really close to crossing some “line,” undefined and ominous) that the beleaguered “journalists” at the ever-shrinking Berkshire Eagle, wrote begrudgingly that the reversal was probably correct but warned about the dangers (again, undefined) of those uncleansed and untethered bloggers who “can invite court actions that might shake the First Amendment.”

            Bloggers who “shake the First Amendment.”   That one made me do a Danny Thomas coffee spit-take across the breakfast nook.  Makes one wonder what the Berkshire Eagle’s understanding of the First Amendment actually is.  A couple of years ago it wrote, for some reason, an editorial critical of some little company in Idaho or some damn place that was buying DVDs of popular movies, editing out the naughty bits, and renting the sanitized movies to its mouth-breathing evangelical customers.  The Eagle thought this was some horrible violation of the First Amendment, when it was just a private company tending to its customers’ pathetic needs.  No, Einstein, it would instead be a violation of the First Amendment if the government barred the company from editing the movies it had bought.  The First Amendment protects the people from the government, not the people from themselves.  Duh.

            More recently, the Berkshire Eagle branded the defeat of the speech-killing and corporate-control-ceding SOPA/PIPA bills as some hideous organized plot by the very scary Big Internet Companies and the “information wants to be free crowd” to continue their pillaging of everything that makes this country great.  Like, presumably, the Berkshire Eagle.  It read like the MPAA’s talking points on steroids, and it was factually wrong, insipid, and frankly, embarrassing.

            Then, just last week, it was a rant about violent movies.  Sigh.  What year is this?

            Newspapers used to be the vanguard, the line of defense against any incursions to the freedom of speech.  Or at least they pretended to be.  They printed stuff they weren’t supposed to, they challenged authority and corporate power, they called out politicians who lied. Newspapers had our back.  No more.

            Now, newspapers dutifully and uncritically cover Julian Assange’s trial, his extradition, his asylum, all while forgetting to tell us that the cat liberated tons of information, information that wasn’t harmful, but that was embarrassing to governments around the world.  Information, in other words, that had no business being classified.  Newspapers report uncritically each political candidate’s statements, and then report the claims from one candidate that the other is lying, then report a couple of political operatives’ soundbytes... then on to the next story, leaving us to do the fact-checking on our own.  Or maybe they report what some fact-checking website says.  Because facts are, like, who’s to say?  Truthiness rules.  Newspapers can’t provide critical analysis anymore (unless it’s from syndicated “pundits”) because declaring one side is right, even when that side is unquestionably, absolutely, empirically right, will lead to accusations of bias, and we just can’t have accusations of bias, even if they’re total bullshit, can we? People might believe we’re biased and not like us.  Maybe some will even cancel their subscriptions! And go get their news from...from the internet! Or Fox!  So we’ll just keep our heads down here in the newsroom.  It’s every man for himself.   Ignorance is Strength.

            Getting back to the Pussy Riot thing, one great aspect of it, as my friend Bert pointed out, is that it forces every newscaster on your teevee to say “Pussy Riot” over and over and over.  And that’s a beautiful thing.

Paul Rapp is a Western Massachusetts IP lawyer who tries to be a good American every day and who, by the time you read this, will have some internets in his house for the first time in two months.  You can reach him through

Thursday, August 09, 2012


This article originally ran in the 8.9.12 issue of Metroland

            For many years, I’ve been Mr. Online.  Friends joke that when they send me an email, no matter what time of day or night, they get a response instantaneously.  It’s not an addiction, I swear.  I work online, all day, almost everyday, unless I’m out meeting a client, running an errand, or going to court.  It all happens on my laptop, my writing, research, correspondence, my music library... I deal mainly with federal courts, the Copyright Office, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, all of which are totally wired, and accept filings online and send out all their decisions, rulings, and the like via email.  When I teach classes I send out assignments via email.  I don’t shop much, but when I do, I prefer online.  News, sports, weather.  And then there’s Facebook. Click.

            Then, a month and a half ago, I did something weird.  I bought a house that had no internet.  Not, like, it just didn’t have it --  this house couldn’t get it.  I’m 2 1/2 miles up a dirt mountain road, bordered by state forest on two sides. There’s no cable, no DSL, not even any cell service except at the end of the driveway, where there’s one bar of AT&T’s crappy old Edge network.  I now have a patio chair where I can sometimes have a telephone conversation if it’s not raining or the bugs aren’t too bad.  My old iPhone and the one bar crappy Edge network aren’t quite up to delivering email or Facebook to me at the end of the driveway.  Oh, and no TV.  And I refuse to surrender and get a landline phone. Never again.

            Before buying the house, I had both a satellite guy and a tree guy tell me that with some moderate tree trimming, I’d get satellite internet and TV no problemo.  My mistake was (and pay attention now if you think you might ever buy a house in a forest in the middle of goddamn nowhere) that I didn’t have the satellite guy and the tree guy come out at the same time and make an ensemble no problemo assessment.  Nope, they came out on different days, waived their arms around, said no problemo, and split.

            Then, the day after I closed on my dream house, the satellite and tree guys met for the first time, on the roof of my new home.  After some harrumphing and passing little magic scopes back and forth, they told me that the satellite internet and TV outlook had been upgraded from no problemo to something nearing SOL.  OMFG!  But then they walked around and figured if I put the dishes (one for internet, and one for TV) on poles in the ground away from the house, I’d have a pretty good shot at service.  But first I’d have to cut down several big trees that were in the way of the line of sight.

            OK, whew.  But these trees were within 100 feet of a stream that runs behind the house, which meant that I had to get permission from the town to cut down the trees.  So I went to Town Hall with my application and was told I’d just missed the deadline for the July meeting, so I needed to wait until mid-August to have my request considered.

            So here I am.  It’s been interesting.  Mornings are great.  No more grabbing a 6 AM coffee and logging on to see what came in overnight, a process that often started a chain of online events that could last past 9.  Nope, I read the paper, take the dog for a spin on the nearby Appalachian Trail, have breakfast, and then figure out where the hell I’m gonna go get internet today.  I’ve been to libraries (and benches outside libraries), coffee shops, friends’ businesses and studios, any place I can grab me some wifi.  I do everything I need to do online, download what I think I’ll need to work offline, and head home.  At night I read books; I’ve read five in the last month, which is more than I read the last two years.  It’s not ideal, but it sure doesn’t suck.

           This all changes next week, hopefully, when I get permission to cut down a couple trees and get satellite internet, which everyone tells me does suck.  Not as bad as dial-up, but not great.  I hear there’s cell towers going up nearby sometime soon, so maybe I’ll get phone, too.  Yay.  And I just read about some screaming internet fiber going in someday down on the main road, part of some state “Internet To The Boonies” program.  But I’m 2 ½ miles up the mountain.  I’m not holding my breath.

Paul Rapp is an intrepid IP lawyer in Western MA who is looking forward to next week’s WordxWord Festival in Pittsfield.  You can try to reaching him through his website, which needs some serious updating. 

Thursday, August 02, 2012


This article originally appeared in the 8.2.12 issue of Metroland

For the past five years, the New York new music group Bang On A Can’s residency-ending Marathon at Mass Moca has been a personal blissfest, a highlight of my summer, the one thing I block out as soon as it’s announced and won’t miss unless there’s a damn serious act of God happening.  I needed it bad this year and didn’t get what I needed.  Some important ju-ju was missing.

            It started great enough, with powerful soprano Mehgan Ihnen singing into the guts of a miked grand piano at the top of George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children.  The effect of the resonating strings over her voice and the small percussion-heavy ensemble was—as it was supposed to be—surreal and beautiful.  And things kicked up a notch at the end when Christopher Howard, a young, tow-headed boy soprano, joined her singing into the piano.  The piece was marred only by a persistent and annoying low hum that permeated the room and was quite noticeable on the quieter works throughout the day.  This was one of the several things didn't work right.

            Another was that the raised stadium seating was missing; instead the seats were laid out on the flat floor.  This made watching the 16 pieces by 16 different ensembles a lot less enjoyable—there were inevitably heads and music stands in the way and the bird’s eye view from the risers is infinitely superior to looking up. 

            So it made it hard to see who was doing what during, for example,  Lou Harrison’s Violin Concerto, a work for violin and five percussionists.  Every one, that is, but the great Todd Reynolds, who does what he does, which is to play brilliant, heroic violin, full of grace and bravado.  But the percussionists, who were all working overtime, were heard more than seen.

            About halfway through I realized that the program was strangely straight for a BOAC Marathon.  There were no laptops onstage, no newly-invented instruments, nothing amplified much except for the occasional electric guitar.  And no exotic foreign musicians with unpronounceable names rocking out on strange indigenous instruments with unpronounceable names.  There was a total lack of the silliness and fun, stuff that punctuated past Marathons.  The whole 6 hours was disappointingly redolent of new music orthodoxy.

            Not that it wasn’t a great and wonderfully played show, honoring the  composer Steve Reich, who was hanging out all day around the soundboard in his trademark khaki work clothes.  The show just lacked the wonder and joy of the other Marathons.  And those occasional leaps into the strange and funny and flippant serves an important purpose—they give the brain an opportunity to decompress and rejuvenate after trying to process the typically demanding and challenging works.  An hour of this stuff can be rough.  Six hours can be devastating.

            Asking around, I learned that BOAC regulars Mark Stewart and Evan Ziporyn had other commitments and couldn’t make this year’s Marathon.  Ziporyn usually supplies the exotica and Stewart is the pied piper into the realm of play.  Then, the Eastern European musicians that turned up turned out to be classically trained string players!  D'oh!   There was no conscious effort to ramp down the program, I was told, it just sort of happened.  Oh, and the floor seating was done to accommodate Wilco, who were arriving the next day.

            Thank you, Jeebus.  Already counting the days until next year.