Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cardenio and King John

We attended the press opening of Cardenio on May 14 and the opening performance of King John on May 18. Both plays are trading primarily on Shakespeare’s name to sell tickets, but they could hardly be more different.

King John, written by Shakespeare, presents a steady pattern of relationships forming and unforming. The dispute over Falconbridge’s inheritance at the start of the play serves as a miniature of the struggle for the throne, and his shift in familial loyalty is echoed in several later conflicts. We see the English nobles forced to give up on their king, the French king forced to abandon an alliance with England by the demands of the church, and an intense scene when the young Arthur pleads with Hubert for mercy. The pain of torn loyalties is best given voice by John’s niece Blanch who, after being given in marriage to the French Dauphin to create a peace, sees her two families going back to war:

Which is the side that I must go withal?
I am with both: each army hath a hand;
And in their rage, I having hold of both,
They swirl asunder and dismember me.
This production by the Actors’ Shakespeare Project contrasts the coolly remote power couple of John and his mother Eleanor with the prone-to-hysteria Constance and her son Arthur. Casting Hubert as a woman adds a third maternal relationship when Hubert is given charge over Arthur, as well as adding some fascinating texture to John’s relationship with Hubert. The ASP also adds layering by staging the production in the basement of the Episcopal cathedral. The Catholic cardinal’s destructive meddling throughout the play foreshadows the foundation of the Church of England, and staring at the bare foundation walls of the cathedral brings that context, which was so immediate to Shakespeare’s audiences, closer to a modern audience.

The casting is mixed. Sarah Newhouse as Hubert is inherently interesting, and my reactions to her with Arthur are deepened by having seen her as Macduff and Lady Macduff in the fall. Bill Barclay gives a stand-out performance as the Bastard, neatly balancing his combined function in the play as dramatic agent and clown (an unusual combination for Shakespeare). John Kuntz as the Catholic cardinal grows more and more creepy simply by maintaining a constant smile as everyone else suffers, and Joel Colodner is a regal, powerful, and human King Philip. Khalil Flemming is a fine Arthur, grown by circumstance beyond the character’s or the actor’s years. Most of the rest of the cast is unfortunately forgettable.

Cardenio, written by Stephen Greenblatt and Charles Mee and having its debut at the American Repertory Theatre, is intended to evoke pieces of Shakespeare’s comedies rather than his histories. Some of the sketch comedy in Cardenio is wonderful, particularly Remo Airaldi’s one-man presentation of the play-within-a-play and Nathan Keepers’ solo wedding dance routine. I would not expect the standout scenes in a farce to be the ones where only one actor is on stage, but it highlights the relentless narcissism of the characters in Cardenio. Using simplified themes from a freshman Shakespeare course to plot a disjointed choose-your-own-Umbrian-adventure, Greenblatt and Mee abjure all attempts to evoke Shakespeare’s brilliance with language and with human characters, preferring to present an exaggeratedly negative and static view of contemporary marriage and courting (in that order). In three hours and a cast of 12, there should be time enough to reveal a character’s depth, or for a character to develop some depth. But that would presumably get in the way of lengthy parodies of the Overheard Conversation scene or the Surprising Arrival scene. The set is rich and lovely, but the writing definitely is not. Credit for the incredibly funny parts clearly belongs to the individual actors.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

KT Tunstall

For only having a couple of albums out, KT Tunstall has an incredible number of distinctive and wonderful songs. And she was having a blast last night at the Orpheum, performing with high energy for close to 2 hours. Not many songs were given new interpretations aside from being entirely acoustic instruments (except the keyboard), but the live performance did give fresh echoes at various points of early Cowboy Junkies and Natalie Merchant. I’d really love to see her in a venue with good acoustics some day. Can’t complain about our seats, though—directly on the center aisle 13 rows from the stage, with the two seats in front of us empty until the encores.

Paddy Casey from Ireland (in Boston to find his roots, as he put it) did a good opening set, though I did wonder how much of the DSM he was going to cover in a single set. Depression, fear, and loss were recurrent themes. As someone who happily listens to Pink Floyd and 4AD artists like This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance, I can go along with that. But for me, the real star of his set was Fiona Melady, who accompanied him on keyboard and took the lead for one beautiful song of her own. I love hearing new music this way.


We’re going on vacation soon, unplugged for a week, hoping to connect to sea and sky, fire and books (our four elements). We’ll be on the Maine coast with a beautiful deck and a private beach, waves and sea birds and clouds to watch, a massive fireplace and a charcoal grill, and a stack of books. Much as I’ve loved sitting on our back deck at home this month, I need the time away from work and home responsibilities to relax and shift focus for a time. And maybe even sleep.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Revels revised

It’s not about solving the problem; it’s about reveling in the problem.

A toddler was kicking up quite the fuss in the playground this evening, prompting the above observation. Do we improve as adults? As long as “tired” and “busy” are the only socially acceptable conditions to admit to, I’d say the answer is no.

Our brain chemistry is improved through forced smiling, and the social equivalent is to focus on sharing the positive with others. Problems are inevitable, and sharing them can help solve them or at least ease the burden. But we also need to revel in the positive, or lose our way.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Finding new music: comments

This is a comments thread for the current poll. How do you find new music? Do you still find new music, or are you content with the music you already know?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cars and guns

40 minutes into Boston this morning, 12 minutes back. Who was it that decided people should all go to work during rush hour? And why do they all work downtown?

There are 40% fewer gun licenses in my town than 6 years ago. Are there 40% fewer guns? 40% fewer gun crimes? Have the demographics changed so much in 6 years that there are 40% fewer applications for gun licenses? Or are we processing so many people through the criminal justice system that the police department has an excuse to turn down that many more applications?

Today’s post brought to you by the number 40.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Best Buy visits our range

One day, Michael and Lisa received a renewal notice from Best Buy for the service contract on their GE gas range. “That’s interesting,” they said, “apparently we have a service contract on our gas range. I wonder if Best Buy would fix the burner that doesn’t light reliably? It’s not a big problem, but we do have a service contract.”

So Michael called Best Buy, and Best Buy promptly offered to send an Expert to come fix their gas range the very next day. Lisa and Michael were very excited, and the next morning the Expert called and told them when he would arrive. “Between 9 and 11? That’s great!” So the Expert arrived when he said he would, and he fixed the problem immediately.

“This little metal igniter point on the burner and the corresponding little metal point on the burner cap just need to be cleaned off occasionally,” explained the Expert. He used a metal file for a few seconds on each point to make sure that they would make contact properly, and tested the burners to make sure they worked correctly now. “Thank you,” said Michael. “That couldn’t have been easier,” said Lisa. “You’re welcome,” said the Expert. And he gave them a receipt explaining what he had done and confirming that there was no charge for his work, and then he was gone.

“Wow,” said Michael, “I had no idea that Best Buy service was so easy! I didn’t even need to find my original receipt, and they came and fixed our range the very next day. We must be the luckiest customers in the world.” And they were.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Choosing a publisher for a monograph

In academia, publication is about perception. I prefer to view it as being about communication to present and future readers, about exploring and synthesizing knowledge, about the love of teaching in another form. But the reality is that most academic authors publish because hiring decisions and tenure decisions consider publication records as a significant factor.

The scholarly monograph is key in that publication record. Textbooks and teaching materials don’t count, even at most teaching colleges, even though writing a good textbook demonstrates more mastery of a subject area than any esoteric exploration of the margins. Editing a journal rarely counts for much, and a reasonable rejection rate for the journal means that the editor is necessarily alienating many of the contacts he is making. Tenure requirements may be rigid (one monograph and four journal articles) or flexible (one monograph and three to five journal articles), but the monograph remains the bane of the young scholar’s life.

For publishers, monographs have become difficult to justify publishing. Sales of monographs have plummeted over the past two decades, and the only reason that most publishers still consider monographs is because they are afraid of losing their position of importance in academia. If we don’t publish monographs, then we won’t be considered a serious publisher, and young scholars won’t continue looking to us for salvation, and established scholars won’t be as contented in their relationships with us. Academic publishing relies on an intricate web of relationships between publishers and professors, because publishers depend on professors being willing to serve on editorial boards, edit journals, act as peer reviewers, review books, write back cover blurbs, and make connections between publishers and authors or prospective authors. In return, the professoriate asks that publishers continue to publish monographs, and publishers feel obliged to oblige.

As academic publishing has grown, the chances that any particular scholar has read any particular book has dropped, so it is unusual for the actual merits of a book as a work of scholarship to become widely known. New printing technologies have made the size of the initial print run unimportant, so books are rarely still ranked based on that number. The professoriate no longer demands that publishers edit those monographs, or proofread them, or typeset them, or even market them (though some publishers still do). What publishers must continue to do is put covers on books and put logos on the spines. This vastly reduced set of expectations has made the reputation of the publisher take on an overriding importance, even when the criteria for evaluating a publisher are highly impressionistic and idiosyncratic. A young scholar seeking to publish a monograph must choose a publisher with a good reputation, and must avoid a publisher with a bad reputation, and must somehow divine which publishers are which.

Note that this is unrelated to deciding which publisher may do the best job of editing the book or marketing the book, or which publisher may help the book reach the most readers, or what the contract terms might be. Even the opinion of the author herself about the reputation of the publisher is unimportant. What matters is the opinion of the professors who will be on the tenure review committee or hiring committee. For an author given the choice between a publisher with a good reputation who in fact is little more than a glorified copy shop and a publisher with a bad reputation who in fact carefully reviews and edits the books they publish, the decision should always be the publisher with the good reputation.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hello, Adobe?

Hello, Adobe? I have a copy of Creative Suite Premium 1.1 for Mac which I need to reinstall on a laptop, but the second installer disk is unbalanced and won’t read. You have no actual replacement disks? And it takes 48 hours to send out a download link? Ok. A customer only pays about $700 a year for upgrades on this, so it’s probably not worth trying to help. Ok, sure, I’ll wait for 48 hours.

Hello, Adobe? You still haven’t sent the download link. Oh, I see, you transcribed both e-mail addresses incorrectly, and it takes 48 hours to create the link but you still need to remember to send it out? Ok, sure, I’ll keep waiting.

Hello, Adobe? The download link is for Creative Suite 2, which my serial number doesn’t work on. And your ftp server is rather overloaded, so it took close to an hour to get all four disk images downloaded in order to discover this. Oh, you claim the link is definitely for 1.1? And that I must be doing something wrong? Is this like ordering Pepsi, receiving a lobster bisque (which you’re allergic to), and having the waiter insist that it’s Pepsi? No, I can’t turn it into a Pepsi. Yes, I’m quite certain that it’s not a Pepsi. Is there anyone there who knows what they’re doing? Anyone at all? (Three people later.) You’ll send a correct link in an hour? Ok, sure, I’ll wait another hour.

Hello, Adobe? I’ve now spoken to tech support twice, customer support six times, and three days later I am no closer to having CS 1.1 reinstalled on my laptop. I’ve spent about three hours on the phone talking to those 8 people, not a single one of whom has actually taken a useful step toward solving the problem. In fact, not a single one has been able to correctly echo back to me simple statements of the problem on the first try. Is there any other department at Adobe? Perhaps a way to reach a person who knows what they’re doing? Or cares? Or both?

Hello, Quark? Yeah, I know it’s been a really long time, and you’ve probably moved on also (well, actually, you probably haven’t), but do you want to maybe go out for a drink? Just to catch up?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Whole Foods

Photo by Michael

Lisa and I walked over to the grand opening of our Whole Foods this morning, arriving a little bit before the speeches and bread-breaking. It is beautiful inside, and actually doesn’t look real yet because everything is so perfectly arranged. The meats section is only wrapped meats—no butcher counter—but they wrap the meat in the back of the store and can get you a custom quantity of something if you find the right person to ask. Everything else is pretty much ideal. The aisles are wide and well-lit, and the overall layout is not as confusing as many Whole Foods locations. There’s a huge prepared foods area, a florist who is really excited about her job and is happy to do custom work of simple bouquets up to weddings, a cheese counter where they are eager to serve samples, a small bakery section, and plenty of produce. Lisa and I shop the periphery of grocery stores far more than the interior aisles, and we are delighted with what we are seeing. And they gave us goodie bags as we left, which was certainly a nice reward for going over for the opening. After so much anticipation, and so many years of disappointments with Wild Oats, it is amazing to have this Whole Foods in our neighborhood. Walking distance from our house!

Bread-breaking, photo by Michael

By the way, non-press photography is not allowed inside Whole Foods. No, really. Especially when every person in local and regional management is walking around the store. As I explained about a dozen times over 45 minutes, [redacted] gave me permission. To their credit, every single person immediately said “Oh, it’s ok then!”

Wide aisles, photo by Michael

Fresh fish, photo by Michael

Fresh fruit, photo by Michael

Bakery, photo by Michael

Fresh flowers, photo by Michael

Monday, May 12, 2008

Where’s my solid-state drive?

Talking to myself here, other than to remind everyone out there to go back up their hard drive. My MacBook hard drive failed catastrophically this morning. I need somewhere to post what I think was on there that I need to restore to somewhere else (or make peace with losing):

Adobe Creative Suite 1.1: reinstall from original disks
Toast: reinstall from original disks
MS Office: reinstall from original disks
PitStop Pro: need to find original disk
Firefox: redownload
GraphicConverter: redownload
OS 10.4: need to find original disks
TextWrangler: redownload

2007 income tax files: new plan: reinstall TT2007, reimport carry-forwards from 2006, redo totals on forms from 2007, and then everything that carries forward should do so correctly for 2008

photos: only missing about 200 photos

web bookmarks: nothing crucial
music: random downloads from musician’s sites, nothing crucial
work files: intermediate stages only, no active projects, so no big deal
web files: everything important is live on the server, and is now backed up to the iMac

Because I have access to customer credit card data from that laptop, I cannot have it fixed by Apple even though it’s under warranty because they won’t guarantee returning the original hard drive. That’s frustrating. Update: Apple is shipping me a replacement hard drive under warranty and has waived the requirement for the original hard drive to be returned. First-tier support was utterly useless (as always), but second-tier sorted it out in one phone call. I can either replace the drive myself or take it to an Apple Store and have them do it under warranty, and the paperwork is supposed to convince them not to keep the original hard drive. The second-tier rep understood that my situation is similar to a lawyer with client files that they cannot risk releasing. Someday Apple will understand that most people have private data on their hard drives, and will stop confiscating hard drives as a matter of routine. Even better, someday Apple will understand that most people have data they care about on their hard drives and make backups as drag-and-drop simple and reliable as they were under OS 9. (Time Machine is cute, but it’s not a real solution.) But then I should probably add a “daydream” tag to this post.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Luke and the local fauna

The first time Luke caught a mouse was when my parents were visiting. We were all sitting in the living room, and Luke came bounding into the front hall with a new toy. Except the new toy was a mouse which had not fully survived the experience of being turned into a toy. We didn’t even know yet that we had mice in the house, though the next few months were quite the adventure for us, for Luke, and for the mice. Luke was better than glue traps, though not as efficient (or clean) as the RatZapper.

Luke also caught at least one blackbird. He trotted into the house with it, saw us, realized that we weren’t going to let him keep it (you could see the thought bubble), and went right back outside in a hurry. He dropped the bird in one far corner of the back yard, ran over to another corner of the back yard, and stood there pretending that he had no idea what we were looking for. That was almost as classic as the time that he found the steaks unguarded in the kitchen, snagged one, and went out to the back deck to eat it. Except that we were already sitting on the back deck.

And then there was the morning of the oppossum, which I think of as a Luke story even though it isn’t. Lisa got up to go to church one Sunday morning, went to the top of the stairs, looked down to the front hall, and exclaimed “Oh, my God!” An enormous possum was chilling out blocking the front door, around where Luke would normally be. We carefully went downstairs (towards the possum, which thankfully was playing, well, possum), grabbed a phone and a couple of other things, and found Luke happily chasing squirrels in the back yard. No indication that he realized his home had been usurped by a far larger rodent. I took Luke around the side of the house and put him in the car, out of harm’s way, while Lisa called the police to see if they could offer any assistance. They sent over an officer, and we took him around through the back door to see our possum. He then spent several minutes talking to dispatch, explaining repeatedly “No, it’s inside their house!” He told dispatch to send over a firefighter with a noose-on-a-stick or net or other animal control device, and shortly a full ladder truck arrived, sirens and lights and much excitement. Dispatch hadn’t bothered to tell the fire department why they were coming to our house. By this point Lisa, the cop, a neighbor, me, and several firefighters are all taking turns peering in at the possum from the back door, and the possum is still quietly blocking the front door. One of the firefighters saved the day by grabbing a 45-gallon trash barrel from our driveway, scooping up the possum (which immediately changed from a funny-looking stuffed animal into a possessed ball of rage), and carting it down to the river. Lisa made it to church on time, while Luke and I took a nice long walk not by the river.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Pallets and forklifts and waybills, oh my!

LTL (less than load) shipping is significantly better for books than individual package shipping in a key way: the boxes are rarely damaged. If you take a half-ton of boxes, put them on a pallet, and shrinkwrap them all together, then the boxes simply don’t get thrown around in transit the way they do if they’re all tossed into a container. Sure, I’ve occasionally received an LTL shipment where a forklift drove into the side of the boxes, but that only damages a couple of boxes. And it’s pretty rare.

It took me a number of years to figure out that I could have LTL shipments held at the terminal for pickup instead of dealing with the difficult logistics of a residential delivery, and it sure makes life easier. The forklift driver yesterday was able to slide the entire pallet straight into the back of my car with a few inches clearance. I’ve always wanted to try doing that, but usually the dimensions are wrong. I was a little disappointed this morning when today’s forklift driver chickened out of trying it with today’s pallet, but I can’t blame him given the dire warnings about the consequences if he screwed up from the terminal manager who was hanging out with some of his drivers by the ramp. So we took the five minutes required to unwrap the pallet and transfer the individual boxes into the car. The staff at the Roadway terminal have all been extremely helpful this year, and I’m glad to read that they are still a union operation.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


As I drive up and out of the tunnel below Boston, the sprawling and slow pastel sunset rises slowly over the horizon. I’ve stolen 30 minutes for myself in this hectic week to walk around Faneuil Hall and the North End. The windows are full of people, and I must have walked past 50 restaurants and bars on my loop. A truly terrible karaoke singer at one lingers in my ears until I find the band playing outdoors at McCormick and Schmick’s. Tour buses are emitting a steady stream of teenagers at one end of Faneuil Hall, while empty and stately horse-drawn carriages circle the other end. The source of the scattered balloon hats appears at the end of my wander, an old and quiet clown entertaining a father and young child amidst the chaos. Lisa’s on a bus to Maine, passing somewhere below me when I pause in the new North End Park, a peaceful slice of green where once stood only noise and rusty steel. I follow only slightly behind for my few miles toward home, hoping she too is watching the vast purpling sky.

Population size: comments

This is a comments thread for the current poll. In your imagined ideal place to live, how many other people live there? I grew up in a village of 3000 people and went to college in a similar-sized place, spent a lot of time in New York City (7,000,000), went to grad school in a city of 50,000 far from any larger cities, and now live in a town of 50,000 very near a city of 500,000. I love knowing lots of people in a small community, but the cultural resources of a large city are very appealing. There are many other factors that affect how enjoyable a community is other than population size, of course, but everything else being equal, how many other people do you want in your local area?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Aural knowledge

Siddur Audio (in their own words): “Here is a convenient online resource for learning to chant the Hebrew liturgy of the Siddur (Jewish prayer book), whether you just want to brush up on your davening skills, learn to chant the Shabbat services or prepare for your Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah!”

Many of their melodies are the familiar ones to me from the Conservative movement. You can buy individual tracks or audio CDs, but the streaming MP3 files are also free on their site. Some people may be uncomfortable hearing Adonai instead of HaShem in a teaching context, but I think this is a marvelous approach to preserving and passing on melodies. It’s certainly less work to create than the transcriptions I’ve done for the Friday night service and the Passover haggadah, and you don’t need to be able to read music to make use of the resource.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Following the rules

People are very fond of rule systems, and with good reason. We live together in large groups by constructing rule systems that tell us what we should and should not do, which gives us guidance and makes other people’s behavior more predictable. Chaos is only fun in a sheltered environment. So we have layers of laws and regulations, social mores and religious practices, and our own senses of ethics and morality. These are all useful, and they can be viewed as a vast interlocking and overlapping set of rules.

Personally, I want rules to be clear and consistent, learnable, predictable, fair, and justified by reasonable principles. (Other people have other priorities, and friends say that’s what makes the world interesting and fun. Normally I agree, though sometimes it also makes the world frustrating and incomprehensible.) I enjoy learning rule systems, and the only common thread among the academic areas of study that I’ve most enjoyed was that they could all be described as formal systems: math, chemistry, theoretical linguistics, computer science, constitutional law, logic. Much of my work in publishing (though not all) is also related to formal systems, though most often in applied modes: contracts and intellectual property law, style sheets, proofreading, taxes, and navigating the postal service.

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn is that understanding the formal rule system is not enough, because there is frequently no way to force people or organizations to follow even their own rules. Formal rule systems, of course, do not always correspond to actual practice. In some cases, such as traffic rules, it’s obvious that the rules are frequently violated without consequence. But we’re also under the impression that there is a hierarchy of traffic cops and traffic courts that tries to correctly apply the traffic rule system when you are pulled over. In many arenas, that simply doesn’t happen. Intellectual property law is a fascinating rule system, but in practice most issues are either unresolved (as in the case of most copying regardless of whether it is fair use) or resolved in favor of the party with the deeper pockets regardless of merit (Disney/RIAA wins). Fair use is a nice idea, but you, as an individual, will never be able to enforce your fair use rights in any practical or reliable way. The postal service has remarkably clear mail manuals, but when a counter clerk or other postal employee wants to do something else, your mail is under their control. The DMM is only authoritative if the postal employee is willing to defer to it. The Constitution won’t save you from wrongful arrest or prosecution, and the niceties of due process are rarely observed because the court system is designed to intimidate well over 99% of defendants into taking a plea. In common consumer transactions, your only real recourse in the case of a problem is through a chargeback on your credit card, and that only works because the credit card industry values consumers more than businesses. It’s not about right and wrong (as defined by the rules). You may be interested in following the rules, but unless the other party in a dispute is also interested in following the rules, resolution of the dispute falls to the party with control. And many people and organizations aren’t interested in following the rules. This isn’t new, but it’s not something that I learned in school.

A group of people and organizations voluntarily following a shared set of rules seems like a good working definition of a community. A police state may make everyone follow a shared set of rules, but it’s not a community because it’s not voluntary. Our society is composed of many communities, and obviously needs some enforcement mechanisms if it is going to function smoothly. We also learn from interacting with people who have different sets of rules. But in my day-to-day life, I most value the time I spend within a community.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Garden at the start of May

A solitary perfect orange-centered daffodil, spotlit at night. Yellow flowers bursting all around the apple tree, with a trio of lavender phlox and a trio of deep purple grape hyacinth anchoring the rainbow. Red hints, in the buds on the azaleas and the apple tree, new leaves on the roses, and we know there will be white when the lilac opens in a week. The path we laid last year is surrounded by ground covers we can no longer name, sedums near the front steps and some small purple-hearted cover past where we ran out of stones. And everywhere more columbine.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Going to the park

Photo by Michael

Names in orbit

Ad astra per web form.

Not unto us, this glory, but we commend our names to join the chorus. To the stars, to the stars, and there to wish for more.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

When I grow up, I want to be a...

The five fastest-growing occupations in the United States are registered nurses, retail salespeople, customer service representatives, food preparation workers, and office clerks. Are we properly preparing our young people for these exciting careers of the future?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Healthways and HIPAA

We received letters last year which told us we had fibromyalgia and that Blue Cross had contracted with Healthways to provide support services. We were surprised to be given fibromyalgia by mail, as were many other people. This year we received similar letters which told us that we had other health problems and that CIGNA had contracted with Healthways to provide support services. From what we’ve been able to find out, a number of insurers contract with Healthways to offer support services for various ailments; the insurer periodically sends anonymized claims information to Healthways, Healthways decides what ailments anonymous you might have and tells the insurer, and the insurer un-anonymizes the results and tells Healthways your name, address, phone number, date of birth, and putative ailments. Healthways then contacts you to give you the good news. There are a few problems with this practice:

1. Your health information is supposed to be private. That’s what HIPAA is all about. The insurer is allowed to contract with others (called “business associates”) to perform some of their essential functions, but the support services offered by Healthways do not seem like essential functions, particularly if the patient does not use those services.
2. Your personal data such as date of birth or unlisted telephone number are supposed to be private.
3. The program is opt-out, rather than opt-in. And you can only opt out after your data has been forwarded to Healthways, so all you’re opting out of is harrassing phone calls. You can’t opt out of having your insurer give your personal data and health information to Healthways.
4. Healthways routinely lies about who they are, claiming over the phone that they are part of your insurance company. They aren’t.
5. Healthways refuses to provide a HIPAA notice or a privacy notice upon request.
6. Healthways refuses to remove your personal data from their computers upon request.
7. The insurer’s customer service department initially claims they have never heard of Healthways and would never give your personal information to another company without your permission.
8. The only way to have Healthways remove an erroneous diagnosis from your record is to give them additional medical information.
9. It’s very unclear which way the money flows. Information has value, so Healthways could be paying insurers for access to their subscribers. Services have value, so insurers may be paying Healthways to offer these support services. Healthways claims that the employer’s HR department pays for this program as part of the benefits package, but HR has denied any knowledge of this program (and they usually make sure to mention everything that could conceivably be called a benefit).
10. Oh, and one more thing. It’s really disconcerting to be diagnosed by mail. Especially when it’s a wrong diagnosis.

Perhaps the Office for Civil Rights of the US Department of Health and Human Services can sort some of this out, if I just fill out the correct sort of form.

On second thought, maybe I’ll go to Yale

15-foot-high flames shooting out of manholes in Harvard Square at 2:30 a.m. I mean, what are the three terrors of the Fire Swamp Harvard Square? Flame spurts, panpipes, and Rents of Unusual Size.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Leave nothing but footprints

If a painting is old enough, then copyright no longer applies to the painting. However, museums still want to control (meaning “profit from”) reproductions of their paintings, and in particular they want to sell copies of photographs of the paintings to schools and publishers and prevent other people from putting those photographs on umbrellas and coffee mugs. They used to rely on copyright law, but this little corner of copyright law changed in 1999 when a district court decision in Bridgeman v. Corel said that photographs of paintings don’t have enough originality to qualify for their own copyrights, at least when the photographs are specifically trying to be perfect reproductions of the original image. Uh oh, said the museums. Woot, said everyone else. I am in ur museum, slavishly repurrducing ur priceless artworks, said photography cat.

Rebecca Tushnet has posted a transcript of the fascinating “Who Owns This Image? Art, Access, and the Public Domain after Bridgeman v. Corel” panel in New York on Tuesday, as well as a link to a very relevant Mellon Foundation study: Reproduction charging models & rights policy for digital images in American art museums. If you’re a fan of copyright law, or you have experience with the museums and teaching art history side of things, this is fun reading.

I’ve been surprised to see museums becoming more amenable to consumer photography over the past 10 years, though some such as the DeCordova are still very opposed. Tripods are still banned from most museums, but image-stabilizing lenses and cameras aren’t. Perhaps the museums realize that this is not a battle they can win on the access front while still remaining open to the public. Unless they can convince people that photography inside a museum is as much a security threat as photography on a train.