Monday, December 31, 2007

Expect the unexpected


As a project to expand my mind, I have taken on the task of trying to understand some of the sayings of the philosopher Heraclitus. Roger Van Oech, who wrote: A whack on the side of the head, also wrote a nice little book called Expect the unexpected, or you won't find it - a creativity tool based on the ancient wisdom of Heraclitus. I had read the book several years ago, and happened upon it during a reorganization of my library.

The book list 30 sayings attributed to Heraclitus, with small interesting chapters on each. When I picked up the book and skimmed through it, noticing what I had underlined, I had the thought - did Heraclitus actually say what Van Oech claimed?

So I began researching the sayings, and seeking alternative translations. Then working with the translations I tried to `grasp' the idea. I decided to write my observations and thoughts down before rereading the Van Oech chapters again.  It was amazing to see how different our perceptions of the meaning were. (You will have to read the book to see what he came up with. The following is what I came up with:

expect the unexpected or you won't find it

Finding the original , or as close to the original text, I then began searching the internet for translations for that text. Since the language was early Ionian Greek, I knew that subtleties might have been lost, so I wanted to find as many translations as possible. I came upon these offerings:

  • If you do not hope, you will not find that which is not hoped for; since it is difficult to discover and impossible to attain.

  • If it is not expected unexpected one it will not discover, because it
    (then) cannot be investigated and inaccessible remains.

  • If someone does not hope on unexpected, he it will not find, because
    it is then untraceable and inaccessible.

  • Without the hope, you will not find the unhoped-for one who is
    untraceable and inaccessible

  •  If er's does not expect, he will not find the unexpected. Because
    otherwise ist's impenetrably and inaccessible.

  • (Translation from Latin:) If not hopes, unexpected not invenientis quum to come upon not hold and inaccessum he is.

  • If you do not hope, you will not find that which is not hoped for; since it is difficult to discover and impossible to attain.

  • If he won't hope for it, unhoped-for [as he lets it be] he won't discover it -
    being unexplored and inaccessible.

The definition of hope ="hope;" L. volo, velle "to wish, will, desire.

So reversing this idea, might mean that what you hope for, what you will to happen, what you want to happen -even though it seems inpossible, unattainable, begins a process of transformation from first the idea, to the words that explain the idea, to the subconscious mind working on the idea, to eventually the outcome desired.

This is not an unfavored idea, the movie and the best selling book- The Secret, basically says the same thing. The difference though from other `positive mindset' philosophies is in the `logos' or words. The ideas (wishes) begin to take shape when they are translated from the non physical realm of thought, into the physical words. Writing down these words takes it to another step towards its eventuality. Written down it can be `investigated'. And after achieving what is hoped for there will be the traceable path of the causes and effects that started when the hope was turned into words.

Does it happen every time? I think not (said the miserly little man in my head). As an experiment though, I am going to begin listing desires and wishes each day, for as long as I can keep it up, and see.

One of the keys must be the expectation of fulfillment- rather than the doubtful mind- `oh this will never happen'. This will be my greatest challenge for doubt often seems to control me.

When the phone rings and my new mate answers happily - "Honey that was the gallery, they just sold another piece."

I want to smile and say: "I was expecting that."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Barack Obama and Art

The Obama pictures

When Presidential candidate Illinois senator Barack Obamas staff arrived at the gallery to check out the space before an upcoming event, they decided that two of the paintings in the gallery had to go. One was actually removed and the other picture was covered with a tarp. They were hopping not to have Mr. Obama associated with theses pictures, because for them, something was inappropriate about them for the occasion. The occasion was of course Obama speaking in an art gallery where artist works hung on the wall to be appreciated and possibly sold.

What Obamas handlers did not understand was that there is a causal force working in the universe. That means fore every cause there is an effect, and that actually (or should we say possibly) there is no such thing as randomness. Mr. Obama was meant to speak at that art gallery, and the pictures were meant to be associated with him. And that is the outcome which occurred.

The News on the web picked it up

The web site the Smoking Gun with average daily readership of 74,000 picked up the story. They posted two large images of the pictures in question, and the association began.

Then Matt Drudge of the drudge report picked it up from the Smoking Gun and the story went National. Matt Drudge and his Drudge report are powerful. In their 2006 book The Way To Win, Mark Halperin and John Harris report that:

"Drudge, with his droll Dickensian name, was not the only media or political agent whose actions led to John Kerry's defeat. But his role placed him at the center of the game -- a New Media World Order in which Drudge was the most potent player in the process and a personifications of the dynamic that did Kerry in."[17]

In 2006, TIME Magazine named Drudge one of the 100 most influential people in the world,[18] describing the Drudge Report as:

"A ludicrous combination of gossip, political intrigue and extreme weather reports ... still put together mostly by the guy who started out as a convenience-store clerk."

ABC News concluded that the Drudge Report sets the tone for national political coverage.[19] The article states that:

"Republican operatives keep an open line to Drudge, often using him to attack their opponents."

The New York Times wrote that Republican and Democrat presidential candidates were "working harder than ever to get favorable coverage for their candidates — or unfavorable coverage of competitors — onto the Drudge Report’s home page, knowing that television producers, radio talk show hosts and newspaper reporters view it as a bulletin board for the latest news and gossip.

Poor Obama. By his staff trying to disassociate Obama from the art worked actually sealed the association by bringing national news attention to the censorship. The good news for Jamie Boling's the artist is that it brought him national attention.
Look, even months after the incident people are still writing about it. (The incident happened in May 2007.)

The artist response

This picture gives you an idea of the size of the Britney piece.

"I can understand why a politician wouldn't want to be photographed in front of Britney Spears' crotch," says Boling, "but I wish that Obama would have been more fearful of censorship than the possible fallout of an unfortunate photograph. He could have used the whole thing as an opportunity to defend free speech instead of making a move to cover and remove the painting."

One of the pictures, Jamie Boling's 6'x10' Snake Charmer painting, depicts a special moment in Britney Spears' eventful life, was covered up. It has more recently traveled around as part of the "Just Britney" group show of paintings, drawings, and sculpture by 47 artists inspired by Britney Spears.

Link to The show (well worth checking out)

The other picture:

Jamie Boling's web site:

Jamie Boling's Artist Statement

I am a product of contemporary popular culture. I grew up on Star Wars, Jaws, Easy Rider, posters of Farrah Fawcett, and video games. It was through these early mediated visual experiences that I began to engage fiction and encounter the possibilities of representation. The work that I make captures and catalog the profound and fugitive moments of my cultural experience while it serves as an autobiographical survey of my evolving aesthetic. My work emerges from the study and influence of art-historical models and technical traditions as it confronts contemporary fiction and modern visual forms.

At the heart of my work is the belief that physical materials give an image context through their inherent historical, metaphorical, and linguistic implications. Likewise, images carry their own meaning when filtered through the lens of culture and individual experience. My interests reside in this convergence of material and image.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

cirque du soleil -saltimbanco Maddison Wisconsin Sat Nov. 17th

I went to Madison Wisconsin Sat Nov. 17th. and saw this act performed. It's harder to believe in person. Afterward I was able to meet the twin sisters (the Bazaliy sisters Taisiya and Ruslana)who were both beautiful and friendly.

If you get a chance to see cirque du soleil - you should. It goes well beyond expectation.

This act was also mind blowing

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Creative impulse vrs. Copywrite laws - a Talk

What I think was especially interesting about this TED Talk (Inspired talks by the world's greatest thinkers and doers : was his notion that the copy write laws are being broken knowingly by todays youth - mostly because they (the laws) violate common sense. The result though, is that todays youth are becoming 'criminalized' or non-law abiding. And this trait can/will/might carry over from technology theft into other areas (the slippery slope effect.) The end result will/might be a lawless society (the snowball effect.)

Mr. Lawrence Lessig's presentation is also quite enjoyable. (20 minutes)

Why you should listen to him:

No expert has brought as much fresh thinking to the field of contemporary copyright law as has Lawrence Lessig. A Stanford professor and founder of the school’s Center for Internet and Society, this fiery believer foresaw the response a threatened content industry would have to digital technology -- and he came to the aid of the citizenry.

As corporate interests have sought to rein in the forces of Napster and YouTube, Lessig has fought back with argument -- take his recent appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court, fighting the extension of copyright protection from 50 to 70 years -- and with solutions: He chairs Creative Commons, a nuanced, free licensing scheme for individual creators.

Lessig possesses a rare combination of lawerly exactitude and impassioned love of the creative impulse. Applying both with equal dedication, he has become a true hero to artists, authors, scientists, coders and opiners everywhere.

"Lessig has built a reputation as the king of Internet law and as the most important next-wave thinker on intellectual property."

New York Magazine


More about Lessing from Wired Magizine

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Issue 10.10 - Oct 2002

Lawrence Lessig's Supreme Showdown

The Great Liberator Lawrence Lessig helped mount the case against Microsoft. He wrote the book on creative rights in the digital age. Now the cyberlaw star is about to tell the Supreme Court to smash apart the copyright machine.

By Steven Levy

What's left of a dream is stored at the Stanford Law School library in 12 fat green loose-leaf binders and several legal boxes of supporting documents and briefs. They chronicle the 54 days that Lawrence Lessig, the Elvis of cyberlaw, helped Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson with the mother of all tech litigation: Department of Justice v. Microsoft. It was to be Lessig's greatest moment.

Once a "right-wing lunatic," he's become a fire-breathing defender of Net values.

In late 1997, after reading a profile of the super-brainy professor in the Harvard Law Bulletin, Judge Jackson had tapped Lessig to sort out the technical aspects of the case. "He was as knowledgeable as they come," says Jackson, who sits on the US District Court in DC. For the next two months, Lessig and his overqualified clerk, fellow Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain, worked almost nonstop to produce a report. Lessig's time logs, which document the 278 hours he spent on the case (billed at $250 per hour, a bargain rate for someone with his credentials), reveal only one day off: Christmas.

Some days he clocked 11 hours.

What the logs don't show is the quiet transformation Lessig had been undergoing, from a respected constitutional theorist into a fire-breathing defender of Net values. With the Microsoft case, he would be able to make his mark.

On February 3, 1998, Lessig called Microsoft and the government to a public hearing that was to be held in Boston in a few weeks, and flagged the courthouse administrator to prepare for what undoubtedly would be a huge media event. Lessig would use the forum to cut through the self-interested portrayals of the facts on both sides and draw a road map for resolving the thorny questions in cyberspace's grand shootout.

All the while, though, Microsoft had been maneuvering to get Lessig off the case. And that same day, the Federal Court of Appeals had the last word: Lessig was out.

His friends and admirers now view the episode as one that accelerated, by dint of publicity, the most brilliant career in Internet law. Lessig has since published two successful and influential books: The first, Code, is a groundbreaking deconstruction of the digital age. The second, The Future of Ideas, is quickly becoming the bible of intellectual property monkey-wrenchers. Lessig also founded a clinical law center at Stanford Law School, where he now teaches, and has launched Creative Commons, an ambitious project through which he hopes to establish a giant repository of works unfettered by restrictive copyright laws. In the realm of Internet politics and law, no one even approaches Lessig's stature. He is the chief theorist, the most respected mind, the most passionate speechifier. He is cyberlaw.

More than four years after his removal from the Microsoft case, the defeat, if you can call it that, still nags at Lessig. It is the opportunity missed. "Getting the appointment was a charmed thing," he says. "But I missed the chance to write the report. What I really wanted to do was get the right answer."

He had professorship, tenure, prestige. Then he discovered cyberspace.

On October 9, Larry Lessig will again claim a national spotlight.

In Eldred v. Ashcroft, his first argument before the Supreme Court — and only his second appearance before any court, in any venue — Lessig will attempt to convince the justices to overturn the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. To Lessig it is both an opportunity to make up for losing the prize that was snatched from him some four years ago, and a giant step in his crusade to stop a trend he fears may be inevitable: big-media dinosaurs controlling the Internet.

That's why the law professor has declared war on Mickey Mouse.

It is the third of July in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in a few minutes Larry Lessig is going to tell us how bad things are. Outside it is sweltering, but in Langdell Hall, where the Berkman Center of the Harvard Law School is holding a weeklong seminar, it is comfortably air-conditioned. Sitting in the corner of the lecture amphitheater — each seat wired with power plugs and Ethernet ports — he feverishly pecks on his Titanium laptop. He's wearing a checked Gap shirt and his trademark black jeans. Lessig looks like an intellectual. At 41, his face has the soft pallor of a life spent out of the sun. His features gather toward the center of his face, a configuration accentuated by tiny, Rumpole of the Bailey wire-rim glasses that barely cover his eye sockets. But Lessig's most distinctive feature is a startlingly high forehead; it's almost as if, in an attempt to accommodate his brain, the top of his head was pulled up a couple of inches, like an image stretched by Kai's Power Tools.

Normally, Lessig is a private, even shy, person. His students once asked him to tell them something about himself. He responded with one word: No. Before an audience, however, Lessig becomes electric.

"I was blown away," says Harvard Law's Charlie Nesson of the first time he saw Lessig teach. "He had the ethos, the spirit, the logic, and a Zen quality that goes right to the button." At times, Lessig seems more poet than lawyer. He isolates key phrases, repeating them, stretching them out, and luxuriating in their sound. Punctuating his themes are his distinctively styled PowerPoint slides that he creates using an obscure typewriter font downloaded free from a company called P22.

Today, Lessig is talking about the regulation of speech. He considers naive those who believe that the very existence of the Internet ensures free speech. That may have been part of the original Net code, he argues, but regulation may well disable that code. The freedom of the Internet didn't do much for Napster, did it? We may snicker that Congress is clueless, and chortle over the follies of record labels trying to catch up to the digital world. However, their laws and lawsuits have the potential to ruin the most idealistic aspects of the Net. Lessig believes it's already happening.

He is famously pessimistic about this trend. He has even referred to such pessimism as "my brand," joking that his agent has congratulated him for enhancing his brand identity with a perpetually bleak outlook. He calls it as he sees it, and when it comes to the Internet, his vision has proved sharper than anyone's.

It's not just a vision he's promoting — it's a cause. His speech and his slides tell his Harvard audience the story of a valued commons of ideas threatened by big powers. The vast majority of intellectual property used to be in the public domain; now most is available only by permission. He takes particular delight in singling out the Walt Disney Company as the symbol of how the past is using its power to kill the future. The company was a major lobbying force behind the Sonny Bono Act, the law that Lessig is urging the Supreme Court to overturn. The measure was only the latest extension of copyright — which the Constitution explicitly dictates should be "limited" — from an original 14 years to an automatic 70 past the death of the creator. Most notably, the law protects Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, from slipping into the public domain. (Lessig shows a clip of it in his PowerPoint presentation — fair use, one assumes.) The big problem, as Lessig sees it, is that continual extensions of copyright prevent anything new from entering the public domain. This is most ironic, notes Lessig, since Disney dredged the public domain for its most lucrative properties. A PowerPoint slide lists the examples, from Snow White to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Because of the Bono Act, Lessig asserts, "no one can do to Disney as Disney did to the Brothers Grimm."

The Berkman crowd is predictably appreciative, but being lawyers, they don't get as rowdy as, say, the Usenet conference Lessig spoke to a couple of weeks before. "That was the first standing ovation I ever had," marvels the professor. And it wouldn't be the last. As the Eldred case approaches, Lessig has embarked on a sort of barnstorming tour of conferences and seminars around the world, inveighing about Hollywood's "insane rules," upbraiding like-minded geeks for not taking action, and advocating a "million-bit march" on Washington to urge politicians to understand and embrace intellectual property rights. As he neared the end of his tour, Lessig was frustrated. They stand and applaud, he told himself, but why don't they fight?

A couple of weeks earlier, I'd asked Lessig a slightly different question: Why do you fight? The very question propelled Lessig — who seems to casual observers so able and confident that he can resolve even the knottiest dilemma with a built-in Occam's razor — into a surprising bout of self-examination. But for a chronically straight arrow, Larry Lessig has always had a flair for surprise.

Lessig was born in 1961 in South Dakota. His father, Jack, was an engineer, and helped build silos for Minuteman missiles. Within a few years, the family moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where Jack bought a steel-fabricating company. Larry remembers Williamsport as "a tiny town — not tiny in population, but in its understanding of the world." Jack Lessig was doggedly traditional, and moral in a way that would have won Ayn Rand's approval: Once, when he underbid a job, he refused to change the assessment and performed the work at a loss. The family was churchgoing, law-abiding, and above all, faithful to the Grand Old Party. "I grew up a right-wing lunatic Republican," says Lessig.

As early as anyone can remember, Larry Lessig astonished people with his intellect. His sister Leslie (he also has two half-siblings from his mother's first marriage) recalls him as a second grader, running through the list of American presidents backward and forward. Though he engaged in the usual smart-kid stuff — stamp collecting, chemistry sets, a thing for Thomas Edison — his passion was politics. Specifically, the right-wing lunatic brand of his father. In high school, Lessig was an avid member of the National Teen Age Republicans, and he served as the governor of Pennsylvania in the mock government formed by this cadre of future country clubbers. Everybody around him thought young Larry would one day be president. (That was when a correlation existed between the White House and intelligence.) After high school, he planted his foot in the political ring by running the campaign of a would-be state senator. It was the summer of 1980, and Lessig was the youngest member of Pennsylvania's delegation at the Republican Convention that nominated Ronald Reagan. His state senate candidate got creamed. "It was lucky," says Lessig. "If he'd won, I would now be a political hack."

Disillusioned, Lessig entered the University of Pennsylvania, where his father and grandfather had graduated. Thinking he would follow his father into business, he studied economics and management, earning degrees in both. Once he graduated from Penn, his intellectual path was forever altered. He went to Trinity College in Cambridge, England, for what he thought would be an extra year of coursework. He wound up spending three years there studying philosophy. "I just fell in love with the place," he says. "For the first time, I really felt like I was ... serious."

He also latched onto a different sort of politics. It was the height of the Thatcher Revolution, and Lessig found himself siding with the workers. "I remember going to Cambridge as a very strong libertarian theist," he says. "By the time I left I was not a libertarian in that sense, and no longer much of a theist." He was, however, passionate about freedom, and in particular excited about the prospect of liberty emerging in the former Soviet sphere. "I was obsessed with Eastern Europe and Russia," says Lessig, who hitchhiked through the area (and eventually became involved in its intrigues). Certainly, the Larry Lessig who returned from Cambridge was a shock to his family. "He came back a different person," says his sister Leslie. "His views of politics, religion, and his career had totally flipped."

After earning his master's in philosophy, Lessig decided to shift to something more, well, real. Years earlier, another relative of Lessig's, an uncle named Richard Cates, had given him a lecture on the law. Cates had worked as counsel for the House Impeachment Committee, and in the midst of the Watergate furor visited the Lessig household. "Of course, in our house you couldn't talk about impeachment," says Lessig. "But I remember he and I went for a walk and wound up sitting on this cliff, and he told me about what the law was." This is the only place where reason controls power, Cates instructed his nephew. The moment stayed with Lessig, and in 1986 he entered the University of Chicago Law School.

Lessig spent only one year in Chicago, though. His girlfriend at the time got a fellowship at Yale, and so he transferred there, something that was possible only because he'd wowed his profs in first-year law. The shift wasn't just geographical: Chicago is known as a school where lawyers learn law; Yale's rep is more ephemeral, a place where theories are valued more than the dirty work of contracts and litigation. No problem for Lessig. "He stood out as a brilliant, broad-ranging intellect," says Yale's constitutional law guru Bruce Ackerman. "The kind of depth Larry has isn't so common." Lessig particularly fell in love with constitutional law. He decided he wanted to write about it and teach it himself. At Lessig's graduation, Ackerman told a startled Jack Lessig that Larry was going to be a great professor. The father looked like he'd been struck with a two-by-four. ("He doesn't have a lot of respect for academic types," says Lessig. Now, of course, Jack couldn't be prouder of his celebrated son.)

In the postgrad pecking order, Ivy League law school superstars compete for clerkships with federal judges. Then the cream of the cream rises to the elite fraternity of Supreme Court clerks. After Yale, Lessig served Judge Richard Posner, the sharpest legal mind in the country. Says Posner, "He was terrific, a tremendous worker who had a ferocious intensity." The judge now considers Lessig "the most distinguished law professor of his generation." Lessig completed the legal-giant quiniela by clerking for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. "His clerks hated me because I was a liberal," says Lessig.

Bound by the Supreme Court's ironclad omertà against divulging in-chambers skinny, Lessig can't discuss his work on decisions rendered during the 1990 to 1991 term. But he can talk about his participation in one revolution at the high court. For years, he had been a computer nut — after college he actually did some programming for a financial forecasting firm — and, as an aficionado of good computer design, he despised the clunky Atex system then used by the Supreme Court Printing Office. So Lessig joined with a few other clerks to convince the Supremes to stop, in the name of user-friendliness. The high point of this effort was a demonstration for justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Scalia, and David Souter. Using Lessig's own Dell machine, the clerks staged a software shoot-out between Atex terminals and PCs running desktop-publishing software. Lessig and his colleagues won the day. But to implement a new system, complicated adjustments to some of the PC applications were required. Lessig wound up doing the job himself, hacking "extraordinarily complicated macros inside of WordPerfect." (Talk about code being law.)

After his clerkship, Lessig took the bar exam, then decamped to Costa Rica, where he spent a month reading 35 old novels on a beach blanket. He'd already been hired to teach in Chicago. As Ackerman had predicted, Lessig was on track for an incandescent career as a professor. He passed the next few years teaching constitutional law at Chicago and studying the political transitions in Eastern Europe, even helping the Republic of Georgia write its own constitution.

He had his professorship, tenure, and prestige. He was set for life. "I made it," he says. "That was all I wanted to do."

Then he discovered cyberspace.

On a walk in New York's Greenwich Village one afternoon in 1993, Lessig noticed a headline in the The Village Voice: "A RAPE IN CYBERSPACE." It was Julian Dibbell's account of a virtual sexual assault in a MUD. Lessig had recently read Only Words, a book on sexual harassment by Catharine MacKinnon (he'd taken a course with her at Yale), and as he read Dibbell's piece, Lessig was struck by how closely the concerns of the participants in the virtual world (devastated by "only words") resonated with those of MacKinnon, whose radical views (porn isn't protected speech) were generally considered anathema at the Voice. This suggested to Lessig that cyberspace was virgin intellectual territory, where ideas had yet to be boxed in by orthodoxy.

"It was a place where nobody knows their politics," says Lessig. He began thinking about the concept of law in this nonphysical space, and made notes for a course on the subject.

Lessig taught Law and Cyberspace as a visiting professor at Yale in the spring of 1995. That semester he had his first intuition about the relationship between code and the law. In the course of discussing searches and the Fourth Amendment, a student wrote a paper about how Internet worms could search someone's computer and then disappear. It made Lessig wonder how new technologies could shape law. His thoughts led to something that flew in the face of his students' near-drunken optimism about the Internet: Restrictive code, whether embodied in legal regulations or in computer programs, could trump the seemingly unstoppable freedoms delivered by the Internet. At the time, John Gilmore's exultant claim that "the Internet sees censorship as damage and routes around it" was widely accepted as truth. But Lessig began to think that it was less truism than wishful thinking. The right — or wrong — code could indeed implement censorship or surveillance or other injustices. "That insight," says Lessig, "became a central way of organizing the law of cyberspace."

Lessig began to develop his ideas into a book, and when he was offered a fellowship at Harvard in 1996, he decided to write it there. At the time, the law school's Charlie Nesson was beginning to organize the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a branch of the law school devoted to cyberspace issues, and the administrator set his sights on hiring the field's first superstar. "We had to have him," says Nesson, who allocated half the center's $5.4 million initial budget to support Lessig as the Berkman professor. Lessig took the post in the summer of 1997 and was almost finished writing Code when, just before Thanksgiving, he got the call from Judge Jackson.

The formal appointment came on December 11. It was an unusual job — and unusually important. As special master, Lessig was given the power to gather information independently, examine witnesses, and evaluate technical data, all with the authority of the court. Then he would produce his own report and recommendations, which theoretically would provide a blueprint for Judge Jackson's eventual ruling and remedy.

Microsoft objected, claiming there was no legal basis for such a role. "We felt that only a federal judge, appointed by the president, could make such determinations," explains Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith. During the first conference call Lessig organized between the opposing parties, Microsoft's lawyers told the putative special master that they would not be cooperating while his role was under dispute. Lessig politely but firmly informed them that he had a job to do, and would proceed whether or not they argued their side of the facts. Bluff called, Microsoft quickly changed course.

"I like your spirit!" Judge Jackson faxed Lessig after that showdown. "You have the makings of a federal court judge."

Lessig held several more lengthy conference calls between the participants, each time asking for more technical information. Ironically, the same issues he was seeking to resolve — like the effect of removing the Explorer browser from Windows — are items of contention in the current iteration of the lawsuit, almost five years later. Certainly, Microsoft had the opportunity to have a neutral legal observer navigate the complicated technical issues at a depth that a judge could not attempt. Instead, the company chose to use every measure available to block Lessig's participation.

Specifically, it claimed that he was not neutral. The Softie lawyers recast Lessig's various writings about "code" as an anti-Redmond rant. (In one passage, Lessig compared the relatively open Internet Engineering Task Force to the "absolutely closed Microsoft Corporation." Microsoft claimed this was equivalent to calling the company "a threat to political freedom.") Then they introduced what seemed like a smoking gun: an old email Lessig had sent then-Netscape executive Peter Harter, asking if his copy of Internet Explorer was messing up the bookmarks on his Mac. Lessig had made a joke about installing the software, putting a quote in parentheses: "Sold my soul and nothing happened."

"So Microsoft winds up saying I should be kicked off because I use a Macintosh," explains Lessig. "But they're also talking about how my language about code is political — code has values — and they would fill their briefs with this, as if I was some lunatic crazy."

Because Lessig was bound by confidentiality, he couldn't speak out. "This was his professional reputation at stake, and he couldn't respond," says Harvard Law's Zittrain. When Judge Jackson ruled on Microsoft's challenge, he predictably dismissed the company's objections, making it a point to call their attacks on Lessig "defamatory." Microsoft appealed. Lessig filed an affidavit explaining that the "sold my soul" line was actually a riff on a Jill Sobule song. "Its meaning in context was not the confession of some profound 'Faustian bargain,'" he wrote. "It was instead a facetious response to an anticipated tease in an email between friends." Lessig also insisted that the passages in his writings about Microsoft in relation to his theories of "code" were similarly neutral.

For Microsoft, the proceedings were just business, as Tony Soprano says. Nothing personal. Even though the controversy is over, company counsel Smith won't go on the record to say that Microsoft dealt unfairly with Lessig. However, he does allow that Lessig "is a principled intellectual thinker" who does not "have an animus toward anyone or anything." (Meanwhile, Lessig has since developed a friendship with Microsoft chief technical officer Craig Mundie; they're co-chairing a panel on identity and cyberspace.) In theory, when the Court of Appeals removed Lessig from the case, the judges could have added a line to the effect that they looked at Microsoft's claims against Lessig and found them without merit. The fact that they didn't still rankles him.

"You know, the Microsoft case was such a gift, and the problem was so interesting and fun," says Lessig. "Not getting a chance to finish was extraordinarily frustrating. And not getting a chance to finish it in the context where lots of people thought I was kicked off because I was biased was doubly frustrating."

At any rate, the episode helped get Lessig's name out. Code was published in 1999 to wide acclaim. Before the book arrived, cyberlaw was an amorphous collection of ideas and issues that awkwardly transferred current laws and regulations to the supercharged new digital landscape. Lessig gave the field a foundation with his sweeping analysis. He argued that the very architecture of software applications and the Internet comprised a sort of legal system unto itself, one that could be altered by outside forces. "Larry looked at an extant debate and said, 'This is the wrong debate,'" says Zittrain. "Once you hear it, [his theory] is obvious." By providing a framework to look at how law applied to the Internet and new technologies, Lessig had, in effect, lifted cyberlaw from the practice of a disparate group of lawyers, representing hackers or toiling in intellectual property or coping with spectrum regulation, into a coherent field of study.

Lessig had mapped the battlefield. It didn't necessarily follow that he should become a warrior. But he did. "Code was an academic book," he says. "There's an argument about how cyberspace is changing and how commerce will change cyberspace. And there's a frustration with libertarians who are oblivious to the sense in which it's regulatable. But it wasn't yet a movement." Writing Code, though, planted the seeds for an activist approach.

One of the potential consequences of Lessig's architecture-as-reality argument was that code could wind up protecting intellectual property — in theory, even to the detriment of free speech and conventional fair-use protections. Indeed, when viewing developments on the late-1990s Internet through that filter, Lessig saw that copyright holders were implementing such a system — boldly and expeditiously.

"The things I was pessimistic about [in Code] happened more dramatically and quickly than I thought they would," he says. "What turned me into an advocate was seeing how the law was being used [to implement] an extremist conception of intellectual property. It was dishonest, in a certain sense, an overreaching corruption of a political system." The Napster case was a prime example: By shutting down Shawn Fanning's peer-to-peer music distribution network, the record labels had ended an infinitely promising experiment. To Lessig, it was the classic move of a dinosaur using its heft to stifle innovation.

A different dinosaur tactic now occupies Larry Lessig: the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. Because of Disney's role in juicing Congress to pass the bill, some have nicknamed it the Mickey Mouse Preservation Act. To Lessig, the extension was a power grab, particularly troubling in the world of the Internet, where copyright is a bigger club than in the predigital world. (Simply reading something on the Internet involves copying it, and the movement of files can be tracked.) Lessig had originally been excited by the Internet's potential as a vast commons of shared information. The Bono Act was a prime example of how the law could starve that commons. Working with the Berkman Center, Lessig set out to challenge the law.

"Sold my soul," he joked about Microsoft. The email became a smoking gun.

But how would he frame it? The obvious way was to say that with its most recent extension, Congress had finally gone beyond any reasonable interpretation of what the framers could have meant by "limited." That approach hadn't worked in the past, so Lessig constructed a different argument. In Article 1, Section 8, the founding fathers not only instructed Congress what to do regarding copyright — secure "for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries" — but also stated why they should do it ("to promote the progress of science and useful arts"). Of course, Lessig's complaint includes the idea that Congress' continual extensions make a mockery of the word "limited" (one professor called it perpetual ownership "on the installment plan"). But the main thrust of Lessig's argument rests on the fact that, as with previous extensions, the Copyright Term Extension Act not only grants new copyright holders a longer term of exclusivity, it grandfathers in previous works. A retroactive extension of copyright clearly violates the Constitution.

In Lessig's view, the wigheads in Philadelphia had laid out a bargain for creators of intellectual property: We want you to develop original art and science, so we'll give you an incentive — a temporary monopoly on the use of your work. In theory, this means that Walt Disney would lay out the money to make a cartoon knowing that he'd have a certain number of years to collect the royalties. Yet granting Walt (or his heirs) a longer period for works created before most of us were born doesn't promote progress; Steamboat Willie is already here. Obviously, a retroactive extension can't provide an incentive — "Gershwin isn't going to write any more music," notes Lessig. To the contrary, the cause of "art and science" actually suffers under retroactive extensions, because works that otherwise would have been returned to the public are kept in private hands.

Lessig's arguments are controversial. Intellectual property lawyers generally never considered them: The very basis of their universe is the assumption that Congress can do whatever it wants with the copyright clause. "I am a great admirer of Larry Lessig," says Jack Valenti, Hollywood's master lobbyist. "But Congress has the power to say what 'limited' is. It's there, it's unambiguous. Fifty-five men in Philadelphia decided it, and there's no way a court can overrule that." When Lessig went to his colleague Arthur Miller, he heard much the same thing: Of course Congress can do this. (Miller later wrote an amicus brief in defense of the law.)

Lessig's response is fairly unlawyer-like. "This is one of those issues where you're not permitted to disagree," he says. "There are a lot of issues where that's fair. This is not one of them. They're just plain wrong. I believe that if they weren't working for clients who had millions of dollars hanging on it, if we sat down in good faith and talked about it, they'd come around to seeing it my way."

So Lessig and Berkmanites Nesson and Zittrain put together a team to launch the challenge, including corporate attorney

Geoffrey Stewart. Stewart considered Lessig "a genius," but was surprised by his passion. "He wasn't out to make a statement, but wanted to win," he says.

The next step was finding a plaintiff, someone suffering harm by the extended copyright period and the abuse of the Constitution it represented. Actually, several would be needed, each absorbing a different blow from that abuse. Lessig and his team collected a stellar cast. There was Dover Publications, forced to scrap its plans to publish The Prophet and Edna St. Vincent Millay's The Ballad of the Harp Weaver (both prevented by the act from entering the public domain). There was a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving old movies. (Because early films are protected — with copyright often assigned to owners who can't be traced — there's no incentive to save them from the ravages of erosion, and they're literally killed by copyright.) A choir director at an Athens, Georgia, Episcopal church who relied on public-domain sheet music. Two publishers of historical works. But the most important among them would be the lead plaintiff.

The obvious choice was Michael Hart, founder of the Project Gutenberg. For years, Hart had been posting text files of public-domain books on the Internet; his online library was approaching 6,000 titles. When Lessig and his colleagues flew to Hart's hometown of Urbana, Illinois, to explain the case, though, Hart was adamant that the Berkman team's briefs integrate his manifestos attacking the greed of copyright holders. Anything less, he felt, would make him a mere "figurehead." Lessig wouldn't compromise: "Our view was that populist appeals are great, but you've got to frame a constitutional argument." Finally, Hart said, "Enough — you can't use my name."

The Berkman team desperately cast about for another lead plaintiff. The answer was a 59-year-old former Unix administrator named Eric Eldred who publishes HTML-based works in the public domain from his cable modem-equipped house in New Hampshire. He wanted to use some early Robert Frost poems whose copyrights were due to expire — until the Bono Act dictated otherwise. And so Eldred became a name that may one day join Roe, Brown, and other famous plaintiffs in Supreme Court decisions. The complaint was filed in January 1999.

The first round took place in the DC District Court before Judge June Green. As is the custom, Lessig and his team filed their initial complaint and gathered supporting complaints from lawyers who joined the litigation. Kathleen Sullivan, the dean at Stanford Law, advised them on a friend-of-the-court brief charging that the Bono Act violated the First Amendment by restricting access to speech without the special scrutiny required in such circum-stances. The government's brief countered that Congress is free to set whatever term it feels is appropriate, period. In October, Judge Green sided with the government, on the briefs alone. "I wasn't surprised she upheld the statute," says Lessig. "I was just surprised she did it without allowing an argument." Strike one.

The Berkman team took the case to the Court of Appeals later that year. This was the first and only time Lessig appeared in court on behalf of a client. "It was one of the better arguments I've ever seen," says Geoffrey Stewart. "He knew all the cases, and there was no point too grand or too trivial to escape his grasp. At a certain point, the level of questioning changed from a classic appellate argument to a dialog of genuine give-and-take." Lessig himself was pleased: "I was nervous before it started, but once it got going it was great fun," he says. The proof, though, would be in the decision: Since an ultimate victory would come only in the Supreme Court, a favorable ruling wasn't absolutely necessary — yet if the decision unanimously upheld the law, there would be practically no chance the Supreme Court would agree to hear the case.

The verdict was 2 to 1 supporting the government. Strike two. Even so, Lessig got his dissent, from the most conservative judge. When the Berkman team asked the entire circuit to hear the case en banc, the request was denied 7 to 2, but they picked up another dissent, this time from a liberal judge. Those into reading legal tea leaves noted that such range made the case more attractive to the Supreme Court. However, most observers thought that the Supremes would leave it alone — and thus were surprised when the Court granted cert to the case earlier this year.

I catch Larry Lessig for our last interview at his office at Stanford, his home base since leaving Harvard in 2000. (He's still an affiliate at Berkman.) Lessig explains that his wife, lawyer Bettina Neuefeind, wanted to move to the West Coast, and Stanford offered him a chance to promote his brand of activist cyberlaw by starting new initiatives. The beginnings of a mini-empire have sprung up around Lessig at Stanford. First he formed the Center for Internet and Society, a combination think tank and law clinic that handles — and sometimes takes the lead litigating — cases involving civil rights and issues of digital technology. With the Creative Commons, he hopes to provide a technological means through which content creators can publish their work unconstrained by current copyright restrictions.

It's an ambitious project requiring complicated protocols that let authors tag their works as publicly available and help readers locate and reuse those works. "It's a conservancy, like a land trust, where people can get access to content in the public domain that otherwise wouldn't be there," says Lessig. Will people flock in droves to give their work away? It's an interesting question; Lessig, who adores the open source movement, is betting they will. "I think it could be widely used," he says. He plans to spend most of next year getting the organization off the ground.

After the interview, we whiz up Highway 280 from Stanford to San Francisco in Lessig's two-seater Audi TT sports car — purchased with his special master fees — for an informal dinner with his wife. She is a former student (Lessig, ever the picture of probity, assures me there was no funny stuff until three years after her graduation) who works in Oakland representing low-income defendants in housing cases. It's a different kind of lawyering than Lessig's: If she loses a case, her client is on the street.

Which takes us back to the issue of why he fights. Sometimes, in his own dark way, Lessig notes the lack of gritty urgency in his own work, and questions his direction. In an earlier interview I asked him why, of all possible causes, in a world fraught with terrorism, hunger, and oppression, he has chosen to storm the ramparts for the cause of intellectual property. It's something he's asked himself frequently.

"This is the first time I have an answer. There are issues I think are deeply unjust about our legal system, outrageously so. You know, the legal system for the poor is outrageous, and I'm wildly opposed to the death penalty. There are a million things like that — you can't do anything about them. I could go be a politician, but I just could never do something like that. But [cyberspace] was an area where, the more I understood it, the more I felt there was a right answer. The law does give a right answer."

Since that conversation, however, he's been working over the question and he's having doubts. Compared with his wife's involvement in the high drama of real life, what impact is he really making?

It's interesting that he's taking the question so seriously — but totally consistent with his glass-half-empty approach to life. From the outside, it seems that Larry Lessig's existence has been privileged. Nice upbringing. Ivy League education, then Cambridge and top law schools. The best clerkships. Tenured law professor. And now an acclaimed author, speaker, and, ultimately, Supreme Court litigator. Yet he doesn't see it that way at all. "I always feel I should have been better at each of those steps. I bring to it this expectation that there's a lot more somebody else could have done."

"So far I've lost, lost at every level."

What about Eldred v. Ashcroft, where Lessig took a case that no one thought plausible and now has it before the Supreme Court, with a chance to make history? Glass half empty. "So far I've lost," he says. "Lost at every level."

Still, those representing the dinosaurs of the old economy would be mistaken if they assumed that the introspection of the private Lessig in any way compromises the strength of the public Lessig. Fighting the government will be a mesmerizing speaker armed with the confidence of superior brainpower and a conviction that he's on the side of the angels. It was this belief that made his 278-plus hours as a special master a blissful idyll: Despite all the previous failed attempts to do so, Lessig felt he could see the right way out. And he feels it again now. "You know," he says, "going to the Supreme Court with this case — I created this case — is that kind of chance."

To anyone who's followed Lessig's brilliant career, the Microsoft episode is long over. But to the man himself, the legal boxes and loose-leaf binders he carried to Stanford are very serious baggage. On October 9, Larry Lessig will get his chance to finally leave it behind.

Contributing writer Steven Levy (, the author of Crypto, profiled Stephen Wolfram in Wired 10.06.

Copyright © 1993-2004 The Condé Nast Publications Inc. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1994-2003 Wired Digital, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lawrence Lessig copyright liberator by Lyrical Expressionist
Bernard Re, Jr at
Year: 2003 Medium: Oil Size: 4 x 6 Price: upon request

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mujer en la corte para la pintura que se besa

Beso en $2.8M que pinta más que apenas un beso

¿Qué precio un beso? Ésa es la pregunta que una corte francesa está intentando decidir en el caso de una mujer que besó una pintura todo-blanca del artista Cy Twombly american.

El SAM de Rindy, artista francés 30-year-old, fue el martes de ensayo en Avignon, Francia, en cargas voluntariamente de dañar una obra de arte. Lejos de un acto del vandalismo, el SAM dice, su beso era un "acto del amor." "no pensé. Cuando lo besé, pensé que el artista habría entendido, "SAM dicho durante su ensayo. Ella dijo que la "habían superado con la pasión" en ver untitled el trabajo. Los querellantes no convienen.

El lápiz labial dejado detrás por el beso impulsivo todavía está en la pintura y los restauradores tienen todavía encontrar una manera de quitarla. Llamaron para que el juez imponga una multa de 4.500 euros ($6.240) y solicitaron que el SAM atiende a un curso en buena ciudadanía. La pintura, que vale $2.830.000 estimados, es poseída por el colector Yvon Lambert. Él pedía $2.878.000 en los daños, que incluyeron el valor de la pintura y del coste de $47.000 restauraciones.

Twombly se conoce para sus pinturas abstractas que combinan técnicas de la pintura y del dibujo, las líneas repetidoras y el uso de la pintada, de letras y de palabras. Llevado en Lexington, la Virginia, en 1928, Twombly ha vivido en Italia por casi un mitad-siglo. Él ganó la concesión de oro prestigiosa del león en la Venecia Biennale en 2001. El ensayo de martes viene los días justos después de que otra pintura - d'Argenteuil de Le Pont "de Claude Monet impresionista francés del pintor" - fuera destrozada. Los intrusos, bebidos al parecer, se rompieron en el museo domingo temprano de Orsay de París y perforaron un agujero en el trabajo renombrado.

El ministro francés Christine Albanel de la cultura, reaccionando al incidente de domingo, prometió para buscar seguridad mejorada en museos y sanciones más fuertes contra las que desecrate arte.

This artical is also in English

Woman in Court for kissing Painting

Kiss on $2.8M painting more than just a kiss
Last Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2007 | 3:16 PM ET
CBC News

What price a kiss? That's the question a French court is trying to decide in the case of a woman who kissed an all-white painting by American artist Cy Twombly.

Rindy Sam, a 30-year-old French artist, went on trial Tuesday in Avignon, France, on charges of voluntarily damaging a work of art.

Far from an act of vandalism, Sam says, her kiss was an "act of love."

"I didn't think. When I kissed it, I thought the artist would have understood," Sam said during her trial. She said she had been "overcome with passion" on seeing the untitled work.

Prosecutors do not agree. The lipstick left behind by the impulsive kiss is still on the painting and restorers have yet to find a way to remove it.

They called for the judge to levy a fine of 4,500 euros ($6,240) and requested that Sam attend a course on good citizenship.

The painting, which is worth an estimated $2,830,000, is owned by collector Yvon Lambert. He was asking for $2,878,000 in damages, which included the value of the painting and the $47,000 restoration cost.

Twombly is known for his abstract paintings combining painting and drawing techniques, repetitive lines and the use of graffiti, letters and words.

Born in Lexington, Va., in 1928, Twombly has lived in Italy for nearly a half-century. He won the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale in 2001.

Tuesday's trial comes just days after another painting — French Impressionist painter Claude Monet's "Le Pont d'Argenteuil" — was vandalized. Intruders, apparently drunk, broke into Paris' Orsay Museum early Sunday and punched a hole in the renowned work.

French Culture Minister Christine Albanel, reacting to Sunday's incident, pledged to seek improved security in museums and stronger sanctions against those who desecrate art.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Marla Olmstead, My Kid could paint (with trailer from film)

( I remember when this young girl was at the height of her popularity. At that time I didn't think her works were all that exiting. I never heard about her eventual career collapse until I came upon this notice about an up coming documentary:)

My Kid Could Paint That is a documentary about a 4-year-old girl whose abstract paintings fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars. She was a darling of the media, a target of art critics, and an alleged victim of manipulative parents.

It opens October 5 in LA and NYC.

In the span of only a few months, 4-year-old Marla Olmstead rocketed from total obscurity into international renown -- and sold over $300,000 dollars worth of paintings. She was compared to Kandinsky and Pollock, and called "a budding Picasso." Inside Edition, The Jane Pauley Show, and NPR did pieces, and The Today Show and Good Morning America got in a bidding war over an appearance by the bashful toddler. There was talk of corporate sponsorship with the family fielding calls from The Gap and Crayola.

But not all of the attention was positive. From the beginning, many faulted her parents for exposing Marla to the glare of the media and accused the couple of exploiting their daughter for financial gain. Others felt her work was, in fact, comparable to the great abstract expressionists ñ but saw this as emblematic of the meaninglessness of Modern Art. "She is painting exactly as all the adult paintings have been in the past 50 years, but painting like a child, too. That is what everybody things but they don't dare to say it," said Oggi, the leading Italian weekly. Through no intention of her own, Marla revived the age-old question, ëwhat is art?'

And then, five months into Marla's new life as a celebrity and just short of her fifth birthday, a bombshell dropped. CBS' 60 Minutes aired an expos? suggesting strongly that the paintings were painted by her father, himself an amateur painter. As quickly as the public built Marla up, they tore her down. The New York Post asked whether "the juvenile Jackson Pollock may actually be a full-fledged Willem de Frauding," the Olmsteads were barraged with hate mail, ostracized around town, sales of the paintings dried up, and Marla's art dealer considered moving out of Binghampton. Embattled, the Olmsteads turned to the filmmaker to clear their name. Torn between his own responsibility as a journalist and the family's desire to see their integrity restored, the director finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into a situation that can't possibly end well for him and them, and could easily end badly for both.

The Trailer:

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Art, Truth & Politics

I came upon a video of this lecture by the playwrite Harold Pinter on 7 December 2005, in Börssalen at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm.(link at bottom)
It's also a good read. And a history lesson. My favorite line, which I think applies to all artist is:

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

Nobel Lecture
Art, Truth & Politics
Harold Pinter

In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'

In each case I had no further information.

In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn't give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter.

'Dark' I took to be a description of someone's hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light.

I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), 'Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don't you buy a dog? You're a dog cook. Honest. You think you're cooking for a lot of dogs.' So since B calls A 'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.

'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with drinks. 'Fat or thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C (later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her back to them, her hair dark.

It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Political theatre presents an entirely different set of problems. Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always work. And political satire, of course, adheres to none of these precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.

In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation.

Mountain Language pretends to no such range of operation. It remains brutal, short and ugly. But the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed of course by the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts only 20 minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.

Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating; the woman a lost figure in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others.

But as they died, she must die too.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.

I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally - a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort - all other justifications having failed to justify themselves - as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm Explaining a Few Things':

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!*

Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda's poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity - the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons - is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force - yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection - unless you lie - in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'.

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?

Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?

Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man.

* Extract from "I'm Explaining a Few Things" translated by Nathaniel Tarn, from Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems, published by Jonathan Cape, London 1970. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited.

Link to video of this lecture

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