The Null Device
Via found, a fascinating essay (PDF; ugly Google HTMLification available here) exploring the reasons why virtually every language in the world has words like "mama" and "papa" for "mother" and "father" (or sometimes vice versa). And no, it has nothing to do with any notion of those words having been inherited, miraculously unchanged, from a single ancestral language (the "Proto-World" hypothesis, now more or less universally derided among linguists, though still having a seductive popular appeal to the untrained, much like astrology or new-age mysticism), as the essay demonstrates.
The conclusion is inescapable. The mama/papa words are not fossilized relics of some ancient ancestral language at all. Instead, they are being created all the time. New examples of mama/papa words are constantly being invented and passing into use. At first these new words survive alongside the older ones as informal or intimate versions, but eventually they may take over completely and drive the older words out of the language.
The new examples, it is hypothesised, come from the sound babies make during their babbling phase. A babbling infant isn't trying to speak, but rather calibrating its vocal chords, though that doesn't prevent the proud parents from picking out its sounds and adopting them as informal terms for "mother" and "father" (and occasionally other things in the environment, such as older siblings or relatives; such words for younger siblings are conspicuously absent, as the theory would predict). The word sticks, and the child grows up calling its mother "mama" or similar. These new-formed words fall onto the conveyor belt of language, gradually fossilise into more formal forms, and ultimately fall into disuse as newer, fresher words take their place.
Another chapter in the annals of if-value-then-right: as maximalist interpretations of intellectual property dominate, defense contractors are fulfilling their duty to their shareholders by shaking model kit manufacturers down for hefty royalties, sometimes demanding as much as US$40 per kit. The old way of doing things, letting modelmakers sell kits for free and treating it as good publicity, is no longer accepted practice; these days, it's considered less as good publicity and more as negligence or mismanagement. Ironically, one effect this may have is the disappearance of kits for anything but royalty-free items, such as WW2 Nazi vehicles (for which there is no rightsholder*) and World War 1 items.
* Surely this is an oversight; had today's concept of intellectual property been current in 1945, the Allies would not have allowed the intellectual-property rights to Nazi vehicles to expire; perhaps they would have been auctioned to licensing companies shortly afterward. (On a tangent, had intellectual-property maximalism been the dominant doctrine in 1945, a lot of other things would have been possible, such assigning the swastika and the name and likeness of Adolf Hitler™ to an anti-Nazi foundation and allowing them to sue neo-Nazis for infringement, but I digress.)
Anyway, it's interesting to note that Allied vehicles from WW2 are still intellectual property. It was asserted, not too long ago, that the reason why historical cable-TV channels show so many World War 2 documentaries is because there is a lot of footage from that era which is in the public domain; elsewhere, it was suggested that in more recent documentary footage, if someone is accidentally filmed wearing a trademarked brand-logo hat, that requires the filmmaker to obtain rights from the owner of the trademark to use the footage. I wonder if whoever owns the rights to the Spitfire and such can figure out a way of putting these two facts together and monetising the rights to their trademarks appearing in WW2 documentary newsreels.
A list of a notional worst blogs ever, which reads more like a list of canonical blogger clichés, including the likes of IWillLinkToYouIfYouLinkToMe.com, BourgeoisBohemianHipster.com, VelvetClad.ChunkyGothGirls.com, and, of course, EmotionallyStuntedPolemicist.com and snarkette.com (the last one actually exists, but isn't a blog, but rather a site with photos of cats). (via bOING bOING)
The privatisation of the space of concepts keeps marching on; now, it turns out likenesses of the Eiffel Tower are copyrighted, and cannot be published without a licence. The city of Paris and the company which maintains the tower managed to do this by adorning it with a distinctive lighting display, which they then copyrighted; consequently, any recent night-time photograph of the Eiffel Tower is a derivative work. In their infinite generosity, they have said that they are not interested in going after amateurs putting holiday photographs of the tower on their web sites; they are, however, technically in violation. Which means that this WikiMedia image is technically in violation. And so, the space of free public discourse narrows slightly.
I wonder what's next: perhaps Ken Livingstone will copyright the names of London Underground lines and stations and demand licensing fees from fiction authors who mention them or something?
Eventually, we will get to the situation where all real-world objects and likenesses are intellectual property and use of them requires licensing fees. (After all, the dominant Reaganite/Thatcherite ideology of our time says that the way to maximise the efficient use of any resource is to monetise it and place it on the market; coupled with intellectual property, the natural conclusion is what Lawrence Lessig calls an "if-value-then-right" intellectual property regime, where for any value in an item, there is a right assigned to a rightsholder, who can license that right on the open market. Think of the colossal economic waste we had in the bad old days of the public domain and Jeffersonian copyrights.) As depicting any public figure, fictional character, location or privatised folklore will require a licence, costing fees and giving rightsholders vetoes over works they find objectionable, stories (well, those without the corporate media backing required to resolve all the rights issues) will move to generic locations; nameless, nondescript buildings, cities, countries and characters will take hold. To which, Big Copyright will respond by copyrighting categories of ideas (in the way that Marvel and DC Comics claimed a joint trademark on superheroes), or by patenting common types of plot devices and settings (which is probably not legal now, though given sufficiently pliant legislators and international treaty bodies, anything's possible). Galambosianism, here we come.
The latest criminal fashion in Russia, a country with more than the usual share of clever people in need of money: street hypnotism, in which thieves adept in hypnotic techniques (said to range from ancient Gypsy mind tricks to cutting-edge neuro-linguistic programming techniques), manage to persuade victims to give up vast sums of money, and forget what happened: (via bOING bOING)
"The essence of the technique is, form replaces content. Our brain is built so it can process only so much information over a certain period of time. ... In cases where the flow of information is either too powerful and fast, or on the other hand, too slow ... the brain slows down, and the person's level of vigilance drops," he said.