Setting the Record Right ...

That is, right as in "correct," not necessarily Republican.

I came across an article in the Mail & Guardian today concerning the speculation the the forthcoming Bush Library will be located at SMU.

Among the reasons why this particular story cited SMU as a lock was this statement:
"The institution, next door to the couple's church, recently gave the president an honorary doctorate."

This brought me up short. I am a member of the SMU Faculty Senate, and I was pretty sure this wasn't correct. But then, I only arrived at SMU in 2004, so it was theoretically possible.

But no, after doing my homework (4 minutes of it, anyway), I ascertained that the president did not receive an honorary doctorate from SMU. But his father did back in 1992.

So once again, the son gets confused for the father. And this one apparently nets him a rumored doctorate from SMU.

Once again, a couple of minutes in Google could have resolved this. It's called fact-checking, people ...

Forced to tighten the reins ...

It's a sad thing when ideals are crushed by reality.

Last night, after only 2 months in our new house, I finally had to take my wireless network down and restrict access to only our laptops.

It was a significant moment for me. I've had a wireless network in my dwellings since 2001, and I have never password protected it, nor restricted access to it in any way. In Austin, WiFi was ubiquitous (thank largely to the Austin Wireless City Project): we could find a signal driving around town at nearly every stop light. In our first home in Dallas, we were rather isolated. Sure I knew our neighbor sometimes logged on, but I have always viewed access as a resource to be shared.

But in our new house, one block from the university, our network has been constantly used by others. And last night when my wife irritably pushed her laptop away after getting slow performance, I decided to take a peek at the router logs. EIGHT other people were logged on, and a quick survey of my surroundings showed an iTunes download in progress and a Limewire library growing on a neighbor's computer.

It was simply too much. I firmly believe that wireless access should be shared. Yes, i read the New York Times article earlier this year about piggybacking. But with six other wireless routers within range of our house, there would seem to be plenty of signal for everyone. Ours being the only open network, it just took a couple of months to join the ranks of the "stingy WiFi brigade."

To be sure, there are a lot of questions about the legality of sharing Wifi connections. But that's not what deterred us: it's simply the abuse and its effect on our own own accessibility.

One more thing I dislike about Dallas ...

The Nations of the World (Copyright, 1993)

Another reason why I am not crazy about over-restrictive copyright laws: culture is meant to be reproduced and shared.

Today I encountered a very odd example of copyright infringement. I was listening to "The World," a radio program put together by Public Radio International. Towards the end of the hour, Lisa Mullins (the host) interviewed Shaunna Bresnahan, a New York City college student who can sing the names of all the countries in the world in under 60 seconds. (Here's the audio track of the segment).

Breshnahan received attention last week on the set of the Late Show with David Letterman (transcript) for singing her tune (the song puts 193 countries to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance).

The interview was about what you'd expect: how remarkable it was that a young woman had the ingenuity and the global awareness to set out to learn the countries of the world through song (though Mullins did point out several changes to the political world not reflected in the song).

But here's the irony: Bresnahan didn't write the song. The song was written by Randy Rogel for the now-defunct cartoon, Animaniacs. The song, called Yakko's World, was performed in the second episode of that series in 1993.

To her credit, Bresnahan said twice in the course of the interview that she had learned the song watching television, though Mullins seemed to take this as her adapting the tune from television to her own words.

All of which I am fine with, save perhaps the fuss that is being made over a struggling actress reciting verbatim the words from a cartoon performance.

However, this story got me thinking about copyright. Strictly speaking, Bresnahan performed the entire song on both network television and on national radio without giving credit to the lyricist or the copyright holder (presumably, Warner Bros.) Now I don't think she received any funds for doing so, but certainly a struggling actress could benefit from the attention drawn to her by such exposure. Should she somehow become a superstar, one wonders if the copyright holder of that song could make the argument that he or she (or it, Warner Bros.) deserved some compensation. Not that I think they would (I imagine Rogel would be pleased to know that at least one child benefited from his work). But a strict interpretation of copyright law (similar to those made in the dispute by the RIAA when communicating with Negativland, for example) keeps cultural expression from ocurring.

Culture is meant to be spread, performed, improved upon, reinterpreted and redistributed. To place firm restrictions on its use doesn't merely line the coffers of the few remaining media conglomerates in our world; it denies most of the world's populace access to the culture in the first place.

Wouldn't it be great if the members of all those countries could learn to sing the Yakko Song?