“We Can’t Let You Go”

A story in today’s Globe is a lock to appear in the coming academic year’s copyright law discussions. Titled “Pay to Play–Strict enforcement of copyrights jeopardizing live music in small venues,” the story addresses campaigns by Performance Rights Organizations (PROs)–ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC–to require coffeehouses, cafes, and other small dining venues to obtain performance licenses and pay licensing fees for live music on site.  Venue owners claim the PROs are “aggressive” and “brusque” and are over-reaching:  “Magret Gudmundsson, who until recently hosted a monthly acoustic open mike in her Middleborough cafe, Coffee Milano[, said] ‘I like having it here, but we’re not making any money from it and they wanted $332 a year.  The town really needs something like this. They ruined it.’’  ASCAP has a different view:  “‘They’re selling coffee for four dollars and they can’t afford a dollar a day for music? If they don’t think it’s worth it, that’s their choice. But I have to say that most people recognize that music is a value to their business. Every now and then we run into people that think, ‘I’m just a small little bar; they’re not going to sue me,’ and that’s a mistake. Frankly, once you’re on our radar we can’t let you go.’’’ Which reminds me, but not quite, of the Jackson Five song, Never Can Say Goodbye.*

In 1996 ASCAP’s sledgehammer tactics–or alleged sledgehammer tactics, if you prefer–created a public-relations nightmare, when it (in the Globe’s words) “attempt[ed] to collect licensing fees from the Girl Scouts for singing campfire songs.”  Coincidentally, Legal Blog Watch points to a post on Overlawyered that asks why the Fox network’s high-school musical show “Glee” has failed to address copyright law, since “some of the activities depicted could result in some hefty fines.”  Legal Blog Watch also mentions–and provides a link to a 1996 NYTimes article about–the ASCAP-Girl Scouts dustup.  If you have any interest in music performance licenses, or would just enjoy reading about a PRO falling splat! on its face, the Times article is worth a look.

*Or maybe I Can’t Quit You, Baby

Un-Deluded Multitasker

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress. And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

From Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price, The New York Times, 6-June-10. On the other hand, “the brains of Internet users become more efficient at finding information, [a]nd players of some video games develop better visual acuity.”

The cited research pitted self-identified multitaskers against non-multitaskers in performing tasks that required filtering irrelevant information, differentiating information, juggling problems, and choosing whether to search for new information or rely on older, more valuable information.  Non-multitaskers performed better in all the tests.  An explanation–difficult as it is to accept for those who equate multitasking with higher brain function–is that

[a] portion of the brain acts as a control tower, helping a person focus and set priorities. More primitive parts of the brain, like those that process sight and sound, demand that it pay attention to new information, bombarding the control tower when they are stimulated.  Researchers say there is an evolutionary rationale for the pressure this barrage puts on the brain. The lower-brain functions alert humans to danger, like a nearby lion, overriding goals like building a hut. In the modern world, the chime of incoming e-mail can override the goal of writing a business plan or playing catch with the children.

Other research confirms that some “supertaskers” can indeed handle “multiple information streams.  Supertaskers constitute three percent of the population but, just as most people believe they, unlike the other idiots on the road, are excellent drivers, I expect most multitaskers number themselves among this three percent, research to the contrary be damned.

Classify me as an un-deluded multitasker.  I jump from emails to browsing to bill paying to texts, but I don’t think or feel that I’m being productive.  I move projects along by working on one thing for hours.  My problem is that I cannot do that at will.  I need either pressure, like a deadline, or intellectual immersion that results from interest, energy. open-mindedness, and focus.

Storm Damage

Some of the consequences of yesterday’s microbursts.  The first image is of an oak across Carlton Road, the second is the sheared-off top of an oak from my backyard that just missed my house and back steps, the third is of a large oak that fell across my neighbor’s driveway and atop their house, without causing apparent damage.

Maybe This Year

I am always most optimistic about the vegetable garden immediately after planting. This year, I think, the tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, basil, red leaf lettuce, buttercrunch lettuce, mesclun, beets, and pumpkins will be disease- and pest-free, plentiful, and photogenic. Gardening is an act of faith, but thank god I don’t have to live on the results.

Artisan’s Shop

On our way to dinner in Cortona one evening the view through an open door arrested our progress.  On the wall inside hung beautifully elaborate wood-inlay pictures amidst stacks of picture-frame lumber and packing material, beyond which a cluttered narrow hall receded into darkness.  We stepped inside to find the artist chain-smoking and bent over a drafting table in an impossibly crowded workshop.  Unsure whether to disturb him we watched quietly for a few moments until he turned and invited us in with a warm smile.  He–Nanni Fumagalli, we learned from his card–spoke no English but Judy’s Italian was sufficient to learn that he had recently taken his pension to pursue his art full-time.  Each work is mapped out with draftman’s precision on a wooden backing to which he affixes razor-cut fine-wood veneer to produce trompe l’oeil images of, say, an open cupboard door that reveals scattered books and drafting instruments reminiscent of his shop, or an arch opening onto Cortona’s Piazza Republica. The pictures below are all we took from the experience; Fumagalli’s pieces cost €2,000 and up.