the public option isn't dead (but what if it is?)

For those who feel disappointed and disillusioned by the story this weekend that President Obama was abandoning the public option, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that he hasn't reversed his position. The bad news is that his position has never been what you thought it was.

At a town hall meeting on Saturday, Obama said something he's said before - that a public health plan is not the only important part of health care reform - and the AP and the media spun it into "Obama throws public option under bus". The AP article contrasts Obama's comment this weekend to an earlier statement that doesn't actually contrast with it. In July he said that "one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices and assure quality is a public option". Notice how he didn't say that a public option is the only way to achieve the goal? How he didn't say that health care reform without a public option is meaningless?

Obama thinks that a public health insurance program offered alongside private insurance is the best way to ensure all Americans can get the health care they need. However, if if health care reform without a public option makes it through Congress, he's not going to throw a tantrum and kill the bill. This is Obama's position. It hasn't changed.

President Obama still supports a public option. I don't believe he's given up on it. But other people have! And one of the best of them is Nate Silver, who explained on fivethirtyeight.com yesterday why he considers the public option unlikely to pass, what he thinks about the prospects for reform without a public option, and what to do next.

the internet vs. real life

Some thoughts evoked by this rant, and dedicated, with decidedly mixed feelings, to my old colleagues at Liquid Audio:

Sometimes I read about how the major labels are just in the music business for the money, they don't really care about music, and they're oppressing the artists. Sometimes I also read that they're oppressing innovative music industry start-ups.

Okay, maybe they are, but let's be honest: Internet start-ups are in it for the money too. Not that everyone who works there is motivated purely by profit. (Label employees aren't either.) But it's the nature of business. Businesses exist to make money.

This kind of false opposition is especially bewildering when the innocent start-up is imeem or Lala (partly owned by Warner), InSound (owned wholly), or Last.fm (a CBS subsidiary). Who does anyone think anyone is fooling here? Let's not talk about Big Music vs. iTunes, either.

On the Internet we used to talk about what was happening "IRL", in real life. Then gradually we discovered that the Internet was becoming real life, and vice versa. To a great extent the Internet is no longer separate from our daily lives.

Similarly, it makes less and less sense to talk about "the music business" and "the internet music business" as separate things. It's all part of the same mess: a great swirling ocean of venality with little islands of grace.

a footnote

One final quote from The Gift, a footnote from the chapter on gender, p. 97:
In the modern world the rights that adults have in their children - male or female - normally pass away slowly from parent to child during adolescence and become fully vested in the child when he or she is ready to leave home.

If our lives are gifts to begin with, however, in some sense they are not "ours" even when we become adults. Or perhaps they are, but only until such time as we find a way to bestow them. The belief that life is a gift carries with it a corollary feeling that the gift should not be hoarded. As we mature, and particularly as we come into the isolation of being "on our own," we begin to feel the desire to give ourselves away - in love, in marriage, to our work, to the gods, to politics, to our children. And adolescence is marked by that restless, erotic, disturbing inquisition: Is this person, this nation, this work, worthy of the life I have to give?

Dr. Liar

Chapter 7 of The Gift traces a history of usury in the Judeo-Christian world (with brief visits to Islam, Aristotle, and others). In Deuteronomy, a distinction is drawn: You can charge interest to a foreigner, but not to your brother. A gift economy prevails within the tribe, and a market economy with the outside.Collapse )

equal pay for equal work

Chapter 6 of The Gift is about market economies and gift economies as "gendered". I'm mostly going to gloss over that, as it's a complex set of ideas that seems risky to summarize. But toward the end (p. 106) he talks about a continuum between market-based work - "banking, law, management, sales" - and gift labor - "social work, nursing, the creation and care of culture, the ministry".Collapse )

Returning The Gift

Before I return The Gift (mentioned previously), I'm going to post a few more passages I liked. Here's one, from page 82:
"Academic freedom," as the term is used in the debate over commercial science, refers to the freedom of ideas, not to the freedom of individuals.... The issue arises because when all ideas carry a price, then all discussion, the cognition of the group mind, must be conducted through the mechanisms of the market which - in this case, at least - is a very inefficient way to hold a discussion. Ideas do not circulate freely when they are treated as commodities. The magazine Science reported on a case in California in which one DNA research group sought to patent a technique that other local researchers had treated as common property, as "under discussion." An academic scientist who felt his contribution had been exploited commented, "There used to be a good, healthy exchange of ideas and information among [local] researchers.... Now we are locking our doors." In a free market the people are free, the ideas are locked up.

tonight I'm gonna pirate like it's 1999

Over on the Tin Cat blog I wrote an open letter to a mother concerned about file sharing, one of many published today by blogging musicians around the web. Her son thinks he shouldn't pay for music because the money all goes to the label, and anyway bands make their money on touring. His mother thinks not paying for music is stealing, and anyway he's a musician and what's going to happen when he needs to make a living?

My favorite response is David J. Hahn's:
My perspective on file-sharing is probably different that you would expect. I think that your son should download every track he can find. I mean it. Download every song out there and sift through them one by one. And not just the genre’s he likes - but everything - Creole bandeon playing, French rap, hymns, metal, classical, South African jazz, samba - whatever he can find.
Go read his post to find out why.