Lawrence Lessig and Aaron Swartz 2001
This article originally appeared in the 1.24.13 issue of Metroland
internet is abuzz at the moment on whether Beyonce lip-synched the national
anthem at the inaugural. I watched it
live and was stunned at the performance—it was understated, controlled, and
when the somewhat impressionistic arrangement straightened out for the final
stanza and Beyonce started belting, I was stunned. I wondered briefly if it was lip-synched
while it was happening, but when she finished, Beyonce was staring straight
ahead, motionless; then she blinked and shuddered slightly, like coming out of
a trance. No way, I thought, she sang
that thing. Well.
Tuesday, somebody with the Marine band (who had accompanied her) said that at the
last minute Beyonce decided to go with a recorded track. Then it was revealed that it was the Marine Band’s
recorded track was broadcast, but maybe Beyonce sang and maybe she didn’t. As I write this, Beyonce just released a photo
of her in a recording studio holding the sheet music to the Star Spangled
Banner. Which looks like an admission
debate rages on: was this a scandal? Is
anybody surprised? Does it matter
anymore? We’ve talked about lip-synching
here before; last time I opined that in huge production concerts like, say
Britney Spears, boy bands, or even Gaga, the vocals are such a small part of
the whole thing, what with the sets, the lights, the dancers, the props, the projections, that it really
doesn't matter much whether the acts were pantomiming to tracks. For shows like this people aren’t coming for
the singing, they’re coming for the total experience.
sure I feel the same way about the national anthem, where the performer does
nothing but stand there and sing. The
vocal isn’t just an important thing—it’s just about the only thing. Apparently, most big league national anthem
performers pre-record the song just in case they lose their voice, or there’s a
technical glitch, or the weather gets weird.
Some just lip-synch as a matter of course. Whitney Houston’s iconic version at the 1991
Superbowl was lip-synched, something I didn’t know until yesterday.
Most of the
commentary from Beyonce's fellow singers has been understanding; it was cold out, not
great singing weather, she could have damaged her voice, she wanted the best
vocal performance possible, she hadn’t rehearsed with the Marine Band, etc. and
so on. But then, Kelly Clarkson and James
Taylor both really sang. Beyonce didn't. This doesn’t
Call me old
fashioned, but I think it does matter. I
wish Beyonce had sung it live, I wish I didn’t feel conned by her acting
skills. But I hope she releases the
recording, because no matter what, it’s one of the finest versions of the Star
Spangled Banner I’ve ever heard.
on. I don’t have enough room here to
talk at any length about Aaron Swartz, the 24 year-old internet genius who
committed suicide just weeks before a scheduled federal trial for computer
hacking or something, but here goes anyway. Swartz
got access to an MIT network and downloaded millions of academic articles from
the subscription site JSTOR (these articles available to anyone on the MIT network for
free), apparently with the goal of “liberating” these fonts of knowledge from things like subscriptions, paywalls, etc. He was
caught and apparently turned over all of the purloined articles, and JSTOR
declined to press charges. MIT, though,
encouraged the US Attorneys’ office in Boston to indict Swartz, and they did,
charging him with various felonies that had maximum penalties of 50 years in
jail and some huge fines. The
prosecutors leaned on Swartz to plead out, telling him that if they went to
trial they’d go to the wall to put him away.
Both MIT and DOJ knew that Swartz struggled with depression, but they
pressed on anyway.
Swartz’s suicide, MIT immediately said it was going to re-evaluate how it
handles situations like this. Good, because they're complicit in the death of a genius. The US
Attorneys Office, however, has refused to acknowledge that it has done anything
hysterical that Republicans Rep. Darryl Issa and Sen. John Cronyn are calling
for an investigation into the DoJ. What opportunist dicks. Last
I checked, these were serious law and order guys, from the party that
constantly ups criminal penalties, and passes new criminal laws that are so
vague that any of us could get indicted anytime for almost anything. This is the stuff that enabled the US
Attorney to stick it to Swartz so heavily. And they want to hang it all on Obama.
good there’s going to be an investigation, and it’s good that there is now a
serious public conversation about prosecutorial overreach, where indictments
are stacked with such severe penalties that something like 97% of all federal
cases plead out before going to trial. It's not a new thing. For a couple decades, Blacks and Hispanics have been marched off to jail
for fairly minor drug offenses for which the prosecution often had weak cases
but ginned up indictments. It’s sad but telling that it
takes the death of a white geek genius to bring some sanity to the justice system.
Paul Rapp is a local
IP lawyer who likes cold weather, but not this cold.