June 30, 2012

Famous first words...

A few days ago I had my first (and hopefully the only) major surgery.  The reason was not life threatening, but the operation still required very deep general anesthesia.  After the surgery, when I regained a tentative and hazy post-anesthesia grasp on reality in the Intensive Care Unit, the first thing I saw was the love of my life being led toward me by an ICU nurse.  When she reached my bed, and before I could even stretch my parched lips into a weepy smile, the love of my life turned to the nurse and asked:  So, where is the plug?

June 17, 2012

Semantic grumbling...

In Russian the semantic connection between the verb which translates "to share" and the verb which translates "to divide" is syntactically explicit, i.e., the former contains the latter as a substring:
делиться (delitsya) and  делить (delit).  

In English the connection is only etymological (dating to something like the 16th century use of the verb "to share"), but the implication is still there:  To share X with others is to have less of X left for oneself, whether X is an object (a loaf of bread), or access to something (such as a computer, a car, or a mistress).*

With this in mind I find it remarkable that so many people who post digital copies of music recordings on the internet describe their activity as sharing.   After all, this activity reduces neither the number of recordings in their collection nor their access to those recordings.  My guess is that the pervasive use of "sharing" in this context is motivated by the desire to put a positive semantic spin on what -  in the case of commercial music recordings - is essentially an immoral act.  The kind of semantic spin that would be enthusiastically embraced by the OCCUPY EMI-BMG-SONY movement if there were one...**

After a bit of reflection I'm inclined to think that a semantically appropriate  way to describe the act of making a digital copy of a recording available to others on the internet is precisely the verb used in the FBI Anti-Piracy Warning on every commercial DVD:  distributing.  Whether the digital data file you make available on the internet contains some commercial recording or an amateur video of your bar mitzvah, you are simply distributing digital copies of the recording.   To call this "sharing" seems to me as semantically perverse as to call a beating administered by a loan shark's enforcer "debt negotiation".

 *  I refer here to sharing things (or access to things) that could be called "measurable", which automatically rules out cases where someone "shares" with others his wisdom, family troubles, or passion for sex in public places.
 **  Such semantic spins bring to mind a street protest I once saw in Manhattan on a weekday during business hours, when a group of unwashed, rent control-sustained social parasites (also known as "housing activists") carried signs saying HOUSING FOR PEOPLE, NOT FOR PROFIT!

June 8, 2012

greed... vandalism... high culture...

Imagine a restaurant which serves food in the following manner:  They begin by  serving you a part of your first course.  After you finish that, they clear the table and a bit later bring you the remainder of the first course along with a part of the second course.  And that's how your dinner continues, with each course being split between two servings.

The reason why no restaurant would ever dare to implement the above serving policy is obvious.   The very first group of customers would simply burn the motherfucker down without even waiting for dessert.  And afterward they would drag the owner to a nearby parking lot for a brief chat about the importance of making one's business model conform to some minimal standards of rationality.

There is one line of business, however, where the customers accept this kind of perverse treatment willingly, even enthusiastically.  The product in this line of business is "food for the soul", and it comes in the form of recordings of classical music.