Haven't been listening to many Teaching Company courses lately: I went through a lot of the more interesting ones, and they seem to be concentrating more on video versions lately. But I did get a few more courses the other day.
The first was Myth in Human History by Grant L. Voth. He concentrates more on the non-Greco-Roman myths since they're covered in other TTC courses. It's ordered by theme so you have creation myths, heroes journeys, goddesses, tricksters and so on. He covers both Joseph Campbell's "monomyth" but also the less well known Otto Rank who has a similar theory based on Freud instead of Jung.
A couple of things I found interesting. The Jewish origin story with humans being given dominion over the Earth's creatures is quite flattering: other myths have humans created just to do physical labour or provide sacrifices to the gods. A Chinese myth has the ruling class created by hand by the creator, and the lower classes made of offshoots of the clay, thus explaining their lower status.
According to one Amerindian myth from former Ontario Indians, the world was part created by a good brother and an evil brother. The good brother wanted all streams and rivers to be in pairs flowing in opposite directions, so wherever you wanted to get to you could go with current. Unfortunately the bad brother stopped him, which is why we have our inconvenient unidirectional versions. Overall, somewhat interesting. You learn some interesting myths and something about how they fit together. However, the length seems a bit awkward: sometimes by the third similar myth you start to get a bit fed up with them.
What I'm Reading
Finished Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives, by Michael Heller Another book on how too-extensive property rights cause problems, written by a professor of law, though with a focus on the economics too.
Heller considers both intellectual property rights and physical property rights, without differentiating much between them. Examples of physical property rights include Native Americans in the US, as in the 1930s parts of reservations were subdivided and allocated to individuals, but arranged so that the plots would be subdivided amongst their heirs. The results are now patchwork of tiny pieces of land, each too small to be farmed independently, but which cannot be sold on because of the effort and difficult of persuading a large number of people to sell, any one of whom can block the deal.
The author claims to have invented the term "tragedy of the anticommons", which describes this kind of situation, where too many owners mean that development never takes place since someone is always bound to block it.
Another example he gives dates from medieval times, when castle owners on the Rhine river each imposed tolls on their section of river, such that it became impractically expensive to navigate it. The incentive of each owner to maximize his personal profit, sabotages the overall use of the system.
More generally, the problem depends on whether individual ownership is of complements or alternatives. Consider these two diagrams of routes:
Here --- A --- B --- There
The first diagram shows alternatives. If each route is independently owned, there is competition between them: if the owners act in their own self-interest they will try to undercut each other and prices will fall.
The second diagram shows complements. If each owner acts in his own self-interest, he will raise prices for his own section to the maximum level. Prices for the whole route will thus rise to unaffordable levels.
Heller gives many examples of how complementary ownership is causing problems in the real world. Some examples are familiar. One often cited is the Martin Luther King documentary series "Eyes on the Prize" which was stuck in limbo for years while rights to the interviews were slowly and expensively tracked down and bought up.
Creative expression is handicapped in a multitude of ways as they cannot piggyback on others ideas. Public Enemy-style hip-hop could not be created today as the large number of samples is not affordable. Today, Shakespeare could never produce Hamlet, updating a cheesy revenge drama where a guy pretends to be mad to avoid suspicion, into a crazed meditation on the meaning of life, madness, decision and death.
Another example is deeply disturbing if true, but is based on anonymous sources communicating with the author, so is hard to verify. Apparently medical research is being handicapped as so many tiny stretches of DNA are patented, it's not cost-effective to develop therapies: companies move their research resources elsewhere.
Apparently some academic researchers simply ignore the law, and research without the right rights, just hoping that they won't be sued. It's interesting that "piracy" seems to be essential despite the opprobrium attached to it by copyright maximalists. It seems the way things work is: make everything illegal, then trust the corporations to only enforce the rules when it's best.
However, the book is more optimistic than some others. He looks at some examples of where things have worked and where they've failed.
One example is Russia shortly after the change to capitalism, where he points out that the shops remained empty, while there were thriving kiosks outside. The shops were controlled by a large number of rights-holders. The kiosks were run by Mafia gangs, who extracted an amount of protection money modest enough for them to stay in business, and had exclusive control.
Another example is of Lobster fishermen who kept fishing to within acceptable limits in their own ports, again by forming gangs who would destroy the equipment of outsiders and overfishers.
He also provides legal examples is of how a compulsory patent pool was created for the aircraft industry in America in the First World War, and how a ceiling was imposed on the height of ownership over property, after landowners tried to charge early aviators for flying over their property at any height
In the last chapter Heller describes a "solutions tool kit" of how to deal with examples of gridlock. These include:
"Spot and name gridlock": identify where it's happening.
"Language up the problem": Add "anticommons" and underuse to your vocabulary.
"Look for the cutting edge": The emergence of new technologies and markets.
is a dangerous time, when governments can create too many property rights.
"Ask why the grass is greener": compare markets with different property rights.
He also describes when voluntary agreements should be sought, when governments should mandate "one stop shops" for regulation, and when laws should be changed, and when a gridlocked property should be forcibly confiscated and redistributed by the state.
He describes legal solutions like condominiums and "unitization", where a group of property owners can vote collectively to make decisions, but without any one owner being able to veto it. For instance, consider an underdeveloped city block with very many owners, that could be very valuable if sold as a unit. If it's confiscated by eminent domain, the property owners get little money. If you try to convince every owner to sell, a few are bound to hold up the deal. But under unitization, if the majority choose to sell, they can still get a high value for the land.
Overall, an interesting and worthwhile book, that goes further than other books on the subject by looking at solutions in detail.
Saw Chekhov in hell at the Soho Theatre. Mysteriously revived in contemporary Britain, the confused playwright Anton Chekhov, portrayed as a Candide-like innocent, wanders through a series of set-pieces satirizing modern Britain. He meets a Russian people trafficker, a pop star, a fashion designer, a web guru, a prostitute, a builder who's discovered that plasma screens are cheaper than windows, reality TV producers and so on.
The satire is sharp, brisk and funny. There are no costume changes and the props are mostly mimed, so it moves like a rapid series of comedy sketches. The recurring ultra-sympathetic, politically correct PCSO is particularly hilarious. There's some clever use of Russian or mock-Russian where the actors convey what's going on through physical acting and the odd English word.
I've only seen a couple of Chekhov plays, so I probably missed a lot of references to them. Does have a slight weakness in that the plot is more of a series of set-pieces , and some elements seem to be left dangling.
Overall though: a funny, clever play, neatly straddling the Soho theatre lines in theatre and comedy. Worth seeing. Review/
What I'm Watching
Saw TT3D at the cinema. Documentary about the Isle of Man TT motorcycle race, following the entertaining Guy Martin through his attempt to win his first race.
There's some spectacular 3D footage of the race itself, as the bikers blast inches away from street furniture around the spectacular course. But it doesn't overdo that: there are lots of interviews with racers, their family, their crews, the participants as it investigates why people are drawn to the race itself. The race is notoriously dangerous: there have been 231 deaths since 1907, and every year more seem to happen.
Overall, good documentary, worth seeing. Definitely worth a 3D screening if you can get to one.
Any suit advice?
Looks like I'll be job-hunting soon, and may need a new suit as I haven't bought one in about a decade. Any suit tips? The papers keep telling me double-breasted is back: is there any truth to this rumour? How many buttons, are we back down to 2 again?
Some pics from Kew Gardens yesterday.
Articles. Selling heroin online (single-page). How to dig a pirate's cave. The Bible is not a book of answers but a library of questions. Hyperbole-and-a-half: Simple Dog Goes for a Joyride.
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