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A Reality Check for the Recording Industry

For several years now there have been stories in the news about the RIAA suing private individuals who engaged in music file sharing and downloading. Recently ASCAP tried to get into the act with the idea of charging royalties for ringtones and with their demands worded in such a way that it sounded like one would have to pay a royalty for whistling a tune.

What we are seeing are the dying gasps of an obsolete business model and I’d like to point out some realities that should be remembered by all involved.

Music has been a part of humanity for a very long time, thousands of years. The recording industry is a very recent phenomenon that has only existed for the last 100 years, ever since it became possible to record and play music on a machine. The invention of the phonograph made it possible for a business to spring up around the idea of selling pre-recorded music. This business model was viable as long as it was possible to control the means of production of the media. The end of this business model began with the introduction of tape cassettes, the first popular recording medium that made it easy for private individuals to copy music recordings for themselves and also to sell them. But cassettes still involved physical media and themselves cost money. There were also quality issues because a copy was never as good as the original, and successive copies rapidly became worse in quality. With the introduction of digital recording and the Internet, it became possible for private individuals to make copies without limit, with no loss of quality, and to transport copies anywhere in the world instantly, without physical media. This ability signaled the final end for the recording industry that sprang up 100 years ago.

Representatives of the recording industry loudly proclaim that the end of their business means the end of your music. They threaten that if nobody purchases their music, there will be no more good music and they would have you believe that the “recording industry” is music. This is, of course, a bald-faced lie. Representatives of the recording industry hope that people overlook the fact that their business is very young, only 100 years old, and they hope that people overlook the glaringly obviously fact that the greatest music produced by humankind was created before the recording industry even existed.

Music is art, not CDs. The music moguls who have made billions of dollars from selling the work of talented artists do not want to lose their cash cow. It has nothing to do with whether music will be created. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and all the rest did not create their music with the hopes of selling records, going “platinum”, or any of that. They created music because they were inspired, music was in their heart, and they wanted to say something with their music. The recording industry promotes the idea that they are music when in fact they are simply merchants of copies of works created by talented artists.

Whether they want to recognize it or not, the music moguls have lost their cash cow. They have lost it irretrievably because technology has moved past the need to sell physical media whose production and distribution can be controlled. The game is over. The business model is obsolete and dead, and can never be revived. It’s just sad and somewhat sickening to watch the recording industry press their law firms to come up with ever more outrageous attempts to rescue them from their sinking ship.

As we watch the death of the recording industry, bear in mind that the recording industry is not music, it is a particular way of marketing recorded music. Music is not going to go away. Keep a sense of perspective and don’t lose sight of the fact that the recording industry is made up of merchants no different than the fish merchant down the street. The fish merchant did not create the fish, he just sells the fish. The same is true of the recording industry merchants. Don’t be fooled by the hyped threats.

It Appears We’ve Finally Found the Evolutionary Missing Link

Scientists have discovered an exquisitely preserved ancient primate fossil that they believe forms a crucial “missing link” between our own evolutionary branch of life and the rest of the animal kingdom.

The 47 million year old primate – named Ida – has been hailed as the fossil equivalent of a “Rosetta Stone” for understanding the critical early stages of primate evolution.

The top-level international research team, who have studied her in secret for the past two years, believe she is the most complete and best preserved primate fossil ever uncovered. The skeleton is 95% complete and thanks to the unique location where she died, it is possible to see individual hairs covering her body and even the make-up of her final meal – a last vegetarian snack.

“This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of all the mammals; with cows and sheep, and elephants and anteaters,” said Sir David Attenborough who is narrating a BBC documentary on the find. “The more you look at Ida, the more you can see, as it were, the primate in embryo.”

“This will be the one pictured in the textbooks for the next hundred years,” said Dr Jørn Hurum, the palaeontologist from Oslo University’s Natural History Museum who assembled the scientific team to study the fossil. “It tells a part of our evolution that’s been hidden so far. It’s been hidden because the only [other] specimens are so incomplete and so broken there’s nothing almost to study.” The fossil has been formally named Darwinius masillae in honour of Darwin’s 200th birthday year.

It has been shipped across the Atlantic for an unveiling ceremony hosted by the mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg today. There is even talk of Ida being the first non-living thing to feature on the front cover of People magazine.

See more here.

The Torturers’ Manifesto

To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.

Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect – all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.

In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.

These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.

It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Americans Civil Liberties Union deserves credit for suing for the memos’ release. And President Obama deserves credit for overruling his own C.I.A. director and ordering that the memos be made public. It is hard to think of another case in which documents stamped “Top Secret” were released with hardly any deletions.

But this cannot be the end of the scrutiny for these and other decisions by the Bush administration.

Until Americans and their leaders fully understand the rules the Bush administration concocted to justify such abuses – and who set the rules and who approved them – there is no hope of fixing a profoundly broken system of justice and ensuring that that these acts are never repeated.

The abuses and the dangers do not end with the torture memos. Americans still know far too little about President Bush’s decision to illegally eavesdrop on Americans – a program that has since been given legal cover by the Congress.

Last week, The Times reported that the nation’s intelligence agencies have been collecting private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans on a scale that went beyond the broad limits established in legislation last year. The article quoted the Justice Department as saying there had been problems in the surveillance program that had been resolved. But Justice did not say what those problems were or what the resolution was.

That is the heart of the matter: nobody really knows what any of the rules were. Mr. Bush never offered the slightest explanation of what he found lacking in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when he decided to ignore the law after 9/11 and ordered the warrantless wiretapping of Americans’ overseas calls and e-mail. He said he was president and could do what he wanted.

The Bush administration also never explained how it interpreted laws that were later passed to expand the government’s powers to eavesdrop. And the Obama administration argued in a recent court filing that everything associated with electronic eavesdropping, including what is allowed and what is not, is a state secret.

We do not think Mr. Obama will violate Americans’ rights as Mr. Bush did. But if Americans do not know the rules, they cannot judge whether this government or any one that follows is abiding by the rules.

In the case of detainee abuse, Mr. Obama assured C.I.A. operatives that they would not be prosecuted for actions that their superiors told them were legal. We have never been comfortable with the “only following orders” excuse, especially because Americans still do not know what was actually done or who was giving the orders.

After all, as far as Mr. Bush’s lawyers were concerned, it was not really torture unless it involved breaking bones, burning flesh or pulling teeth. That, Mr. Bybee kept noting, was what the Libyan secret police did to one prisoner. The standard for American behavior should be a lot higher than that of the Libyan secret police.

At least Mr. Obama is not following Mr. Bush’s example of showy trials for the small fry – like Lynndie England of Abu Ghraib notoriety. But he has an obligation to pursue what is clear evidence of a government policy sanctioning the torture and abuse of prisoners – in violation of international law and the Constitution.

That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.

These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.

After eight years without transparency or accountability, Mr. Obama promised the American people both. His decision to release these memos was another sign of his commitment to transparency. We are waiting to see an equal commitment to accountability.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/opinion/19sun1.html?th&emc=th

WHO Escalates to Phase 5 on Swine Flu Pandemic

The Geneva-based World Health Organization on Wednesday raised its alert level for the fast-spreading swine flu to its next-to-highest notch, signaling a global pandemic could be imminent. The move came after the virus spread to at least 10 U.S. states from coast to coast and swept deeper into Europe. “It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic,” said WHO Director General Margaret Chan. “We do not have all the answers right now but we will get them.” In the United States, President Barack Obama mourned the first U.S. death, a Mexican toddler who had traveled with his family to Texas. Total American cases surged to nearly 100, and Obama said wider school closings might be necessary. In Mexico, where the flu is believed to have originated, officials said Wednesday the disease is now confirmed or suspected in 159 deaths, and nearly 2,500 illnesses. The WHO said the phase 5 alert means there is sustained human to human spread in at least two countries. It also signals that efforts to produce a vaccine will be ramped up.

Update from the WHO

29 April 2009 — The situation continues to evolve rapidly. As of 18:00 GMT, 29 April 2009, nine countries have officially reported 148 cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 infection. The United States Government has reported 91 laboratory confirmed human cases, with one death. Mexico has reported 26 confirmed human cases of infection including seven deaths. The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths – Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (3), Spain (4) and the United Kingdom (5). Further information on the situation will be available on the WHO website on a regular basis. WHO advises no restriction of regular travel or closure of borders. It is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention, in line with guidance from national authorities. There is also no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products. Individuals are advised to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water on a regular basis and should seek medical attention if they develop any symptoms of influenza-like illness.

WHO Moves from Pandemic Phase 3 to Phase 4 on Swine Flu

The WHO has just raised the pandemic phase on the Swine Flu epidemic from Phase 3 to Phase 4. There are six phases or stages, followed by a post peak phase.

The WHO pandemic phase definitions are as follows:

In nature, influenza viruses circulate continuously among animals, especially birds. Even though such viruses might theoretically develop into pandemic viruses, in Phase 1 no viruses circulating among animals have been reported to cause infections in humans.

In Phase 2 an animal influenza virus circulating among domesticated or wild animals is known to have caused infection in humans, and is therefore considered a potential pandemic threat.

In Phase 3, an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus has caused sporadic cases or small clusters of disease in people, but has not resulted in human-to-human transmission sufficient to sustain community-level outbreaks. Limited human-to-human transmission may occur under some circumstances, for example, when there is close contact between an infected person and an unprotected caregiver. However, limited transmission under such restricted circumstances does not indicate that the virus has gained the level of transmissibility among humans necessary to cause a pandemic.

Phase 4 is characterized by verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.” The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic. Any country that suspects or has verified such an event should urgently consult with WHO so that the situation can be jointly assessed and a decision made by the affected country if implementation of a rapid pandemic containment operation is warranted. Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion.

Phase 5 is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

Phase 6, the pandemic phase, is characterized by community level outbreaks in at least one other country in a different WHO region in addition to the criteria defined in Phase 5. Designation of this phase will indicate that a global pandemic is under way.

During the post-peak period, pandemic disease levels in most countries with adequate surveillance will have dropped below peak observed levels. The post-peak period signifies that pandemic activity appears to be decreasing; however, it is uncertain if additional waves will occur and countries will need to be prepared for a second wave.

Previous pandemics have been characterized by waves of activity spread over months. Once the level of disease activity drops, a critical communications task will be to balance this information with the possibility of another wave. Pandemic waves can be separated by months and an immediate “at-ease” signal may be premature.

In the post-pandemic period, influenza disease activity will have returned to levels normally seen for seasonal influenza. It is expected that the pandemic virus will behave as a seasonal influenza A virus. At this stage, it is important to maintain surveillance and update pandemic preparedness and response plans accordingly. An intensive phase of recovery and evaluation may be required.

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