Saturday, September 11, 2010


Ah, copyright law, is there any malfeasance it cannot do? In my life I've "bought" assorted computer programs for myself, my kids, my uncle... physical copies with fancy packaging (that I promptly lost) which take up shelf space in my living room. But I now discover I did not, in fact, "buy" anything at all. I rented. And I do not own these pieces of software, if they contain licenses for use. The Supreme Court says that license is not transferable, as it has been since 1909. My ancient copies of "Family Tree Maker" and "Encarta" and Berlitz are not actually mine- because I am not permitted to sell them. Mind you, not that there's anyone out there who'd actually want my twelve year old copy of FTM, but if they did, I couldn't pop it into a yardsale and let it go for a quarter- because Ancestry (who bought the company) isn't making any money on that quarter. And If I do it, I might be jailed or fined or what have you, like a proper criminal.

And of course, if "shrinkwrap" licensing can apply to software, why can't it apply to everything else? Put a sticker on the book covers, cd covers, etc "Thou shalt not sell or give license to use this product." The First Sale doctrine is dead.

When will the public wake up and realize how much the changes in copyright law have taken from us? I talk about this with most people and get glazed eyes, confusion, or outright hostility. "Why shouldn't copyright be forever? Why shouldn't people get paid for their work?"

And that is NOT the issue. Of course people should be paid for their work- because if they aren't then they've no incentive to go on working and creating new things. But where does that right stop? How long and for how much are we on the hook? Because if copyright is eternal, then ownership never transfers. IDEAS will never transfer, never go viral and morph and change into new things. Cultural transmission will be hampered and crippled, and society as a whole will be impoverished, rather than enriched.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

baby talk

I can't help it- I think this project sounds utterly fascinating. I often wish I'd made more detailed observations on my own boys' speech acquisition. Of course, full-time audio/video coverage for the first. three. YEARS. would've been hard to pull off in the mid-nineties. But still- imagine getting access to that much data, being able to have it evaluated independently by multiple observers- this fella has given us a whole database of information on language acquisition. I hope someone else tries this. Lots of someones, maybe.

I also like the idea that recordings allow both the child's output, and the parents' input, to be examined. It might shed light on how "impoverished" the stimulus really is. I know in our house, I talked to the boys an excessive amount. I had to; they were my only conversational partners for about five years! So I tended to provide running commentary on everything, all day long. I've known other mothers who are equally verbose with their infants; I suspect there's a lot more exchange going on than Chomsky thinks.

My grandmother used to do this thing with babies. I know everyone does their own kind of babytalk. We all pitch our voices up to some degree and talk expressively. But mamau had her own odd little babytalk thing going on. A baby would babble, and she'd look at it seriously, in dead earnest, and conversationally go, "You say your chicken died?" (No kidding- that was a regular knee slapper around here.) But the funny thing I recall is how babies less than a year old frequently responded as if she wasn't making any sense. They looked- confused. Sometimes they'd stop talking completely, other times they'd get sort of irate, and the jabbering would be louder and more insistent. They responded much better to her alternative? "Really? Well... You don't say!" But tinier babies would just gibber back enthusiastically to anything. It was as if they recognised they were being engaged in conversation, they just didn't have the code yet. Older babies recognized conversation, and seemed able to intuit that the speech itself wasn't "right."

(And yes, I have asked babies if their chicken died. I'm not sure where she got it, but it must have pinged itself into my babytalk repertoire in infancy.)

See, this is why English is a fun language...

I've had a while to think on Sarah Palin's weird little portmanteau "refudiate," and I find that I like it. It adds a single-word shade of meaning that encompasses both refutation and repudiation at one blow. But then, I'm usually happy to embrace new words into my vocabulary... they just aren't usually so highbrow. I'm partial to the dichotomy embodied in words like "shitastic" and "craptacular," for example, when attempting to express overwhelming levels of suckitude. Incidentally, I'll also say "underwhelmed" and have actually said things like, "moderately whelmed" when the occasion calls for it. My vocabulary also incorporates such phantom adjectives as "ginormous" at times.

Go ahead, pelt me in rotten vegetables or whatever. I don't care. And I'll still come out swinging with my second-person plural every time, y'all. Don't misunderestimate me.