Saturday, April 08, 2006

Our society is rotting, and it's up to us

as christians to be salt and light to slow down the decay. Are we up to it?

By "rotting" I mean that our society is showing the effects of too much focus on material wealth. This extends from operators of franchises (ibid.) to drug pushers to adware/spyware, intellectual property law (DMCA, the copyright extension act, etc.), and yes, individual career choices made by people like you and me.
Let me rant a bit about copyright and the DMCA. I won't even talk about the folly of software patents, or even worse, "business method" patents. Gaaaa!

It doesn't take much research (or googling) to determine that the original objective of the intellectual property laws was to encourage creativity by granting the inventor (or author) exclusive use of an idea (for patents) or expression (for copyrights), for a limited time. Tht "exclusive use" was so that "content creators" (I can't believe I'm using that phrase) could get paid for their efforts, and the "limited time" was so that society could exploit and extend the invention or expression. The effect of "limited time" is that after some years, patents and copyrights expire, and "content" goes into the public domain. When a chamber group plays a Bach trio sonata, no royalties or license fees are due, because Bach's music is in the public domain. When the Walt Disney Company recorded music from "Steamboat Bill" in the opening scene of the cartoon feature "Steamboat Willie", no royalties were due because that music was in the public domain.

I am no Disney fan, but I've seen parts of "Steamboat Willie" and it is entertaining. It is a Good Thing that the music was available for them to use freely, so that we could enjoy it.

And it is a Good Thing that Disney can make money from movies for some period of time, because if people could legally copy them all day long, Disney wouldn't be able to afford to make as many movies as it does. (Note to self - this is a bad example, as many Disney movies shouldn't ever have been made.)

What is Bad, though, is that the balance of public interest versus private profit has tilted, no, has completely fallen over to the benefit of "private profit." Mickey Mouse was set to go into the public domain in 2004, until Congress (the congresscritter is your friend, and I have a bridge to sell you) decided to extend copyright terms by twenty years. I'm sorry, but this is greed and corruption. It's unjust and unreasonable. The creators of the "Steamboat Willie" cartoon feature were sufficiently compensated long ago! I don't think they would have been more motivated to know that their work would be "protected" long after their deaths. You can be sure that the corporation wouldn't pay them any more because of that!

It's not just the length of the copyright terms, though. Consider that a great documentary film on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. cannot be legally shown today in the United States. Why not? There is a scene in the film -- King's birthday -- when a copyrighted song is sung. You know it... "Happy Birthday". The film's producers couldn't afford to pay for the rights to "perform" that song (by showing the film) in perpetuity. Of course there are other copyright holders who would have standing to sue anybody showing the film. If you make a movie showing a day in the life (your favorite city here), and a song is heard in the background, you can be sure that the RIAA, BMI and/or ASCAP will want their share. This is explained much more eloquently, and in more detail, in Bound by Law (you can buy it too).

And about the DMCA -- try searching on "dmca felten intimidation" (no quotes). The DMCA is a very very bad law, but money spoke and our congress listened.

My point isn't that money has become powerful. It's always been powerful -- "You cannot serve both God and Mammon." What seems to be changing is the extent to which money informs decision-making in both the public and the private sector. "We have the best Government money can buy" used to be funny, sorta. It isn't any more.

And how about me? Or you? How important is money to us? Is it more important than it should be? If you're reading this, you probably have more material resources available to you than 95% or more of anyone who ever lived on this planet.

Why am I in my line of work? Because I enjoy coding and solving problems, and because I'm well paid. Is that a good enough reason? We want to send the kids where they want to go for college. Health coverage, including access to counseling, is really nice to have. And let's face it, the family has got used to having a certain amount of money available -- as have I.

So what must we do? Society is decaying, the government is like a shell corporation. What is salt here? What is light?

I suppose light might include investigative reporting. Researching and publishing results of such research -- exposing some of what's going on.

But salt... is it as simple as helping the poor, giving time and effort to activities that produce no economic advantage for myself?

Or is this all just idle speculation, a cheap way to avoid installing those lights in the front yard?

I'll let you know if I figure it out. Meanwhile: "Brethren, pray for us." Thanks!

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