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Jason Robert Brown on Copyright

July 5, 2010 Leave a comment

[Photo from Jason Robert Brown website]

Jason Robert Brown is one of the leading musical theater composer-lyricists of our time. I realize that may not be saying much, since so few contemporary musical theater composers are known at all. But they’re out there. Brown is one of them, and he’s marvelous.

Perhaps best known of his songs is Stars and the Moon from the 1995 show Songs for a New World. If you’re not familiar with it, I recommend going to iTunes (or some other legal source) to download one of the many versions. (I have those by Audra McDonald, whom you can see below singing it, and Betty Buckley.)

A tweet from David Pogue this afternoon pointed me to Jason Robert Brown’s blog, where last week he had a fascinating post discussing (and providing) the correspondence he had recently with a teenager regarding the legality and morality of downloading sheet music for free, without the composer’s permission.

I couldn’t possibly do the post justice by quoting from it. You should read it in full. To get you started, here’s how it begins:

I have known for a while that there are websites where you can essentially download sheet music for free, and I am certainly aware that a lot of the sheet music being downloaded in that manner was written by me. While my wife Georgia has written extensively about this problem, I have tended to sit back, certain that anything I do would just be the tiniest drop in a very large bucket. But about a month ago, I was seized by the idea to try an experiment.

I signed on to the website that is most offensive to me, got an account, and typed my name into the Search box. I got 4,000 hits. Four thousand copies of my music were being offered for “trade.” (I put “trade” in quotes because of course it’s not really a trade, since nobody’s giving anything up in exchange for what they get. It’s just making illegal unauthorized copies, and calling it “trade” legitimizes it in an utterly fraudulent way.) I clicked on the most recent addition, and I sent the user who was offering that music an email. This is what I wrote:

Hey there! Can I get you to stop trading my stuff? It’s totally not cool with me. Write me if you have any questions, I’m happy to talk to you about this. jason@jasonrobertbrown.com

Thanks,
J.

Categories: Culture, Law, Music

National Museum of American History

May 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Julia Child's kitchen, National Museum of American History

[Gail Irving]

In yesterday’s post on our Civil War trip, I concluded with our departure from the Gettysburg Friendly’s after lunch (a week ago yesterday) to drive to Washington, D.C. Here I will describe the remainder of the day, featuring a way-too-brief visit to the National Museum of American History. Read more…

Categories: Culture, History, Travel

More on Real Deli

October 7, 2009 Leave a comment

pastrami

[Richard Perry, New York Times]

A month ago, when I was back in New York, I wrote about Ben’s, a deli that started on Long Island but now has additional locations in Queens, Manhattan, and even Boca. As I wrote then, it’s not the greatest, but it’s sure better than anything around here. Today, Joan Nathan has a piece in the food section of the NYT on the lost art of Jewish deli food and the steady disappearance of the delis themselves. Sad reading.

Nathan opens her article by introducing the Brummers.

Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant in downtown Newark may have lost much of its more traditional clientele over the years, but it has held on to tradition. The corned beef and the tongue are cured for 14 days in stainless steel bins in the basement. The salamis hanging on the wall look as if they’ve been drying there, their flavor intensifying, since the Brummer family bought the place in 1962.

Samuel Brummer and his sons, Michael and Marc, even make their own matzo ball soup and potato pancakes.
But in Newark, as in so many cities, holding on has been tough for delis.

“In 1945, there were 12 delis in Newark,” said Samuel Brummer, 86. “Now we are only two.”

Read the article, but also I recommend watching the accompanying video, in which Brummer father and sons talk about the business.

Nathan’s article also introduces us to Save the Deli blogger David Sax*, who observes that “the best delis have a master cutter, not a slicing machine. When you steam a piece of meat for a long time, as with a good piece of pastrami once it has been cured and smoked, it will tear apart if it isn’t cut by hand.” Marc Singer of Irving’s [no relation] Delicatessen in Livingston, New Jersey, adds that “Hebrew National pastramis are a round cut intended for machine slicing at the local deli.”

This got me to thinking of how special Hebrew National once was, before it became part of ConAgra Foods and lost its identity. (See here for its self-provided history.) Growing up on Long Island, I didn’t know there was any kind of salami besides Hebrew National. We would always have the yard-long ones at home. At least I remember them as being about a yard long. Thirty inches at least. My father was in the food business, and Sonny, one of the salesmen in the company, would stop by the Hebrew National plant every week or two to pick up supplies on his way home from the city. Out on the Island, he would make another stop, at our house, appearing at the kitchen door with a box holding our share: a salami or two, maybe a tongue, and a line of franks all curled up like a snake. For years I had the mistaken impression that Sonny was a Hebrew National employee. The idea that Hebrew National delivered straight to our home didn’t yet strike me as odd.

My childhood summers were spent at camp in the Berkshires, close to the Massachusetts-New York state line near West Stockbridge. When my parents came to visit, they would bring a Hebrew National salami. Maybe they brought three, one for each of us. I would share mine with my fellow campers and it would disappear pretty quickly. Camp food wasn’t the greatest. The salami sustained me. (Well, what was great at camp was the corn from the adjacent cornfields. Once a week it would be picked in the morning and we’d eat it at lunch. Just corn. Lots of it. Best corn I ever ate. I learned that corn and salami make for a complete diet, when supplemented by cookies and milk.)

In recent years, I’ve come to find Hebrew National salami a little on the sweet side. I wonder if it always was. What I’d really like to eat right now is some of Hobby’s 14-day-cured corned beef. Too bad I won’t be getting to Newark in the near future.

*I need to give credit to my cousin John for pointing out Sax’s blog in an email this morning before I stumbled on it in my own reading of the NYT.

Categories: Business, Culture, Food, Restaurants

One Detroit House

September 28, 2009 1 comment

detroithouse

[Photos from the Wall Street Journal]

Can a house’s history tell the tale of an entire city? That it can is the premise of a fascinating front page piece in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. (See too the accompanying slide show.)

The city is Detroit; the house is 1626 W. Boston Boulevard. It “has watched almost a century of Detroit’s ups and downs, through industrial brilliance and racial discord, economic decline and financial collapse. Its owners have played a part in it all. There was the engineer whose innovation elevated auto makers into kings; the teacher who watched fellow whites flee to the suburbs; the black plumber who broke the color barrier; the cop driven out by crime. The last individual owner was a subprime borrower, who lost the house when investors foreclosed.”

I’ve written several times about Detroit, first following two trips there last winter and most recently in my post on Paul Clemens’ Made in Detroit: A South of 8-Mile Memoir. I believe that Detroit’s fate will continue to provide important clues about our country’s society. The WSJ article is a good short introduction to where Detroit is today and how it got here.

In the rest of this post, I’ll review some of the highlights of the article. If you have access to the article, skip what follows and read it instead. Read more…

Categories: Culture, History, House

Video Calls

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment

brooksmother

Albert Brooks’ Mother is high on the list of our favorite movies. After watching it years ago, we immediately added one of its phrases to our vocabulary: protective ice. This is the phrase that the Debbie Reynolds character — the mother — uses to describe the crystallized layer of ice on top of the ice cream in an old container that her son — the Albert Brooks character — takes out of her freezer. We remember with equal fondness her failed efforts to use a new video phone. Her performance would convince anyone that however the technology evolves, we won’t be making video calls in the future.

Then came Skype. And iChat. And a variety of other programs to make free video calls via computer — free, that is, once one has a computer and high-speed internet access. Who doesn’t make video calls now?

Well, we didn’t. Our two most likely skype partners, my sister (in Paris) and Joel (in Boston), weren’t too keen to do it. Gail skypes from time to time with our friend Carol in Edinburgh. But my sister and I still use the phone, or email, and Joel prefers regular phone calls or texting. He may figure that the less we see of him, the better.

But that has suddenly changed, now that Joel is in Grenoble. Given the cost of international calls on his iPhone, even after we added the international calling option with AT&T, it just makes more sense to use the internet. As a result, we have had two video conversations with him in the last ten days, using both Skype and Apple’s video iChat.

No big deal, I know. But what interested me in thinking about our chat yesterday was a completely natural occurrence that almost surely wouldn’t have happened in an audio-only call. Joel is living with a host family. Unlike in the standard host model, his family consists of just a single individual, a young man with a two-bedroom home. What happened during yesterday’s chat was that as we talked with Joel, the host’s girlfriend came in, and Joel asked her if she wanted to say hello. She walked closer to his computer and there we were, on screen, saying hi to her. She speaks French, of course. I said a few words in poor French that she may or may not have understood. Then they called her boyfriend (Joel’s host) in, and we met him too. We didn’t say much. They said goodbye after a few moments and left us with Joel.

Can you imagine how weird this would have been if we were on the phone with Joel? Had his host or the girlfriend come in, he wouldn’t have suggested that we say hello. The difference, no doubt, is that people are accustomed to casual hellos and goodbyes in person, with visual cues allowing introductions to be made while minimizing the need for any substantive verbal conversation. That’s how it felt yesterday. Just a normal introduction to new people. On the phone, in contrast, we would have had to rely on words alone, and even without the language barrier, that would have been awkward.

We look forward to seeing our new acquaintances in person next month, when we visit Joel in Grenoble.

Subway Yearbook

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment

In June I had a couple of posts (here and here) about the inspired work of Improv Everywhere. They hadn’t posted any new missions since then, until yesterday. The latest mission may lack the conceptual brilliance of the surprise wedding reception or the JFK welcome, but it more than compensates with its heartwarming results. You can watch the video above. (Go ahead. Stop reading and click the play button.) But then, after watching it, read more about the mission at Improv Everywhere’s website. The still photos of the mission are a good complement to the video. But best of all is the subway yearbook shot. I could say more, but just see for yourself.

There are many wonderful reasons to live in New York. (And, yes, some reasons not to.) But one reason to live there is to have the opportunity to participate, wittingly or not, in Improv Everywhere’s missions.

Categories: Arts, Culture, Transportation, Video

The Republican Vision

September 4, 2009 Leave a comment
Bobby Bowden

Bobby Bowden

The daily sports article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, titled “Why Your Coach Votes Republican” focused on the conservative nature of many NFL and major college football coaches. I’ve been happily ignoring the approach of football season, and ignoring all the more these overpaid preeners, but no more. The college season is upon us, with controversy created already in Boise State’s victory over Oregon. Here in Seattle — I’ll be in New York by then — my own team hosts LSU tomorrow night.

But back to the WSJ, from which we learn that “[s]ome coaches display their largely conservative instincts in non-financial ways. Jack Del Rio of the NFL’s Jaguars led the crowd in the pledge of allegiance at a Sarah Palin rally in Jacksonville last fall. Longtime Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs addressed last summer’s Republican National Convention. Lou Holtz fired up congressional Republicans with a pep talk in 2007 and recently flirted with running for Congress in Florida. Ralph Friedgen, the portly University of Maryland coach, good-naturedly called one of his Canadian players a socialist last fall.”

Let’s dig a little deeper.

[C]ould it be that football coaches, just by the nature of the job, are more comfortable on the right end of the political spectrum?

“I’d say that sounds likely—very likely,” said Bobby Bowden, the longtime Florida State coach and an outspoken Republican.

Mr. Bowden, a 79-year-old native Alabaman, describes himself as a lifelong conservative who—like many white Southerners of his generation—migrated from the Democratic Party to the GOP a few decades ago. There is, he says, a natural connection between his political and coaching philosophies.

“In coaching, you’ve got to have more discipline and you’ve got to be more strict and just conservative, I think. It fits with the Republicans,” he said.

Mr. Holtz, who coached Notre Dame to its last national championship in 1988, draws a parallel between the standards and rules that most coaches set for their players and the Republican vision of how American society ought to operate.

“You aren’t entitled to anything. You don’t inherit anything. You get what you earn—your position on the team,” Mr. Holtz said. “You’re treated like everybody else. You’re held accountable for your actions. You understand that your decisions affect other people on that team…There’s winners, there’s losers, and there’s competitiveness.”

So let’s see. Republicanism correlates with the belief that people should be treated equally — competing on a level playing field and having to earn what they get rather than inheriting it.

Huh?

Perhaps it is worth observing that Bobby Bowden’s son Tommy was head coach at Clemson for a decade, before being fired last October. Here in Seattle, the coach of our NFL Seahawks is Jim Mora, son of another NFL coach, also named Jim Mora (and famous for his “Playoffs?” rant).

And while we’re at it, let’s not under-estimate the role inheritance has played in political success in this country, whatever the party. On the Republican side, need one say more than “Bush”? In what universe would George W. Bush have become president without his father leading the way. For that matter, the same statement applies to George H.W. Bush.

As usual when it comes to just about any issue in politics, Glenn Greenwald says what needs saying better than I ever could. Last Sunday, he wrote about American royalty in response to the news that Jenna Bush Hager had been hired to be a correspondent on NBC’s Today Show.

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it’s really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There’s a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.

Amen.

Categories: Culture, Politics, Sports