The article on electronic books ["On Pixel Pages It Was Writ," June 12] left out the most intriguing aspect of this new format: digital rights management technologies (DRM). These technologies are being developed by the electronic publishing industry to protect the rights of the copyright holders and, of course, are not so diligent about protecting the rights of readers. DRM standards, such as the XrML standard developed by Xerox and endorsed by Microsoft, contain mechanisms to allow publishers to put time limits on reading, to potentially charge by the page or by the minute, to protect against excerpting and printing. These "rights" go significantly beyond the rights recognized by copyright law.
Among the many annoyances of these systems is that works are generally licensed to a particular piece of hardware, such as an individual computer or e-book reader. While the hardware industry is working to make our computing devices obsolete, the content industry is tying our content to those same machines. Upgrade your computer, and you lose access to all the content you have licensed. So, the question is not whether we'll be able to read digital works in the bathtub or on the beach--the question is whether we'll be able to reread them in a few years, quote from them or offer them to friends once we've finished with them.
BREAD, CIRCUSES & MUSIC
Siva Vaidhyanathan, in "MP3: It's Only Rock and Roll and The Kids Are Alright" [July 24/31], suggests that Metallica has somehow "forgotten that it got rich through free music" simply because the band objects to Napster's accessory to theft. Giving away free music to build a following is a valid business model; as a musician, I may do the same thing. But the fact that Metallica gave away the music it once created has nothing to do with whether it wants to (or ought to) give away the music it now creates. That's Metallica's choice, but Napster, Gnutella, etc., make it easy to take that choice away; they don't distinguish between music that an artist has granted permission to distribute free and music that some unethical third party has offered without the artist's permission.
As we celebrate the demise of the recording industry's distribution near-monopoly, the distinction between freedom of information and respect for intellectual property is being ignored. Music fans rejoice in the "right to free music" Napster has brought them, but it has brought them no such thing; it has simply permitted them to do something possibly illegal without facing the consequences. Any musician will tell you that they're last in line to get paid; stealing from them and justifying it by pointing to recording industry profiteering is intellectually dishonest.
Vaidhyanathan levels fair criticism at the recording industry, which is clearly fighting a losing battle to retain its monopoly over distribution channels, but his dismissal of Napster as a serious issue defeats his own alternative. He points out that bands can bypass the entire conventional production/distribution/marketing monopoly through home production and Internet alternative-music websites, charging "$1 per song for MP3 downloads." But Napster, Gnutella and the rest don't come close to enabling that business model to be used; in fact, they make it absurdly easy to defeat. Certainly, these services are not going to go away, but it's crucial to recognize that they are morally and ethically neutral and that they fail to make distinctions between lawful and unlawful behavior. How to support the decision of the artist about how his or her music is to be distributed is the conversation we ought to be having. My music is not yours simply because I created it.
TALES OF 'OLD BUBBLEHEAD'
In a hagiographic review of the Culver/Hyde biography of Henry Wallace ["The Wallace Doctrine," June 12], Kai Bird rhetorically inquires as to "who wouldn't" like its protagonist. I, for one. Whatever Truman's failings, at least he didn't belong to a weird cult in which he used the code names "Shamballal" and "Logvan" (his wife was "Poroona") and uttered such inanities as "I shall obey the Gita as remorselessly as Krishna." For all his loony mysticism, Wallace was quite capable of double-crossing his guru, Nicholas Roerich, when he thought he had become a political embarrassment. Having sent him on a mission to Asia, Wallace prevented him from returning by threatening him with a $14,000 tax lien.
Wallace's insensitivity in personal relations was legendary. Given a new car when he married, he went off on a three-hour solo spin while his bride waited in bewilderment. A rich man, he was such a stingy tipper that at restaurants aides would have to surreptitiously flesh out his niggardly gratuities. In World War I, his well-heeled family kept him out of military service as an "essential farmer." After the 1948 election, he walked out of his headquarters without a word of thanks to devoted campaign workers. When asked by H.L. Mencken about the "guru letters"--fawning missives he had addressed to "Beloved Master" Roerich in happier days-- Wallace weaseled, causing intense mirth among the press corps, who unaffectionately referred to him as Old Bubblehead. Objective scrutiny of the man and his record makes Westbrook Peglers of us all.
So Wallace was quite a character! I'll still take his eccentricities any day over the men who defeated him.
BOWLING ALONE IN THE 8TH CIRCLE
The August 7/14 issue contained two articles that, when read against each other, produce serious discontent. In "The Crack in the Picture Window," Benjamin Barber's review of Bowling Alone, we are presented with an analysis of the loss of "social capital" and "civic grace" in the face of growing social isolation. It's astounding that no mention is made of the profound dominance of social life by corporations. In fact, no meaningful reference to the tyranny of corporate power occurs in the entire review.
If only Barber had read E.L. Doctorow's passionate polemic in the same issue, "In the Eighth Circle of Thieves." Doctorow sees clearly that American life outside and in is manipulated for the sake of corporate dominance and gain; the consequent result is distorted priorities, child poverty, media domination, the swelling of ethnic prison populations, the high cost of health insurance, international trade agreements that defeat national environmental laws--"the list is long."
Doctorow calls on the iconic power of Whitman and proposes a reform bill. Barber could not recognize corporations, but Doctorow cannot, apparently, recognize that corporations are embedded in a social-productive system--capitalism. Capitalism forces the movement of corporations among their various paths to venality and social-environmental destruction. What has come to dominate The Nation is a new populism, a recognition of large-scale social destructiveness unrelated to its underlying economic determinant.
S. Gardiner, Me.
E.L. Doctorow remarks that "campaign finance reform as a phrase has been bruited about so long and to so little effect and is so yawningly dull, dreary and unresounding, it makes one wonder if it's not partly responsible for the conditions it has so far failed to address." I totally agree. "Graft" seems the appropriate term. It puts the focus on the politician, which is exactly where it belongs.
And while we're calling a spade a spade, how about returning the name of the Defense Department to its historical and accurate name, the War Department? It would have a major effect in stemming that hemorrhage from the public treasury. Just imagine how it would sound: "President recommends increase in the war budget." It would be a well-placed thorn in the media's bag of foul air.
R. D. BALDWIN
OLD LEFT/NEW LEFT, RED LEFT...
Tom Hayden ["Harrington's Dilemma," June 12] draws a plausible lesson from Michael Harrington's life: The Shachtman-Harrington crowd shouldn't have been so nasty to the rest of the left. But there's another lesson, more relevant for today: The left is torn apart and weakened when part of it makes peace with the US war machine. When Harrington was expelled from Norman Thomas's Socialist Party in 1952 "because of his involvement in trying to take over its youth branch," the underlying reason was that Harrington was against the war in Korea, while Thomas was for it. And in Hayden's 1965 debate with Irving Howe, I'd have been more upset at Howe for supporting the Vietnam War than for his "paternalistic needling." Now that Soviet-style Communism is dead and buried, the US empire is more powerful and seductive than ever. Drawing this lesson seems more important than rehashing old feuds among ex-Communists, ex-Trotskyists and ex-New Leftists.
For those of us who knew Harrington and worked with him, one of his more endearing qualities was his capacity to reflect, in a self-critical way, on his political past. Both in his published writings and in conversation, he would forthrightly state that he mishandled the relations between the parent League for Industrial Democracy and the newborn Students for a Democratic Society in 1962, that he waited too long to express publicly his opposition to the Vietnam War and that his censure of the New Left had often been unduly harsh and unnecessarily polarizing. Harrington's description of that behavior as "stupid" in the copy of his autobiography he signed for Hayden was quite characteristic.
But Harrington and others from the old left had no monopoly on stupidity and sectarianism. Those of us who came of political age as part of the New Left contributed mightily in both of those areas, and any reasonable account of that period would have to address the incredible self-destructiveness of that movement, which ended with SDS dissolving into a bunch of warring sects adhering to the worst caricatures of Marxism-Leninism and Stalinism. Until the New Left is as direct and as honest in our self-evaluations as Harrington was, we will be willfully blind to our own history. Hayden made his share of mistakes, and then some, as a leader of SDS and the New Left, and one would have hoped he would use this review to acknowledge them. If there is a "true believer" in this story, it is much more my fellow New Leftist Hayden than Harrington.
"Indeed, it seems to me that Nader, who is a reformer acting empirically, has in many ways raised more radical questions, and possibilities, than the European social democrats. His lead should be carefully followed."
Prophetic words? They were written by Michael Harrington in 1972, in Socialism, chapter 12. The torch was passed, unremarked, nearly thirty years ago. Now it's up to the rest of us to unite behind another torchbearer in an international Green-Red movement. Is that Michael's ghost with a hopeful smile?